The Pleasures of Repetition and Recollection

Repetition and recollection are two contrasting ways of trying to maximize enjoyment. Repetition serves multiple purposes for Kierkegaard. First, it has an important aesthetic function. People want to repeat particularly enjoyable experiences, but the original pleasure is often lost in the repeating. This is due to the expectation that things will be just the same the second time as the first time. The pleasure of expectation clouds the fact that the original experience wasn’t undertaken with a specific idea of the joy it would cause. Repetition can produce powerful feelings but usually only when the experience occurs unplanned. In this case, the pleasure might even be magnified at the sudden resurgence of happy memories—in other words, the recollection. There is pleasure in planned repetition, but it is a comfortable pleasure, not an exciting one.

While repetition offers the joy of anticipation—joy that seldom materializes in the actual event—recollection offers the joy of remembering a particularly happy event. Recollection can be cultivated along with the imagination to increase one’s day-to-day aesthetic pleasure. Often, recalling a pleasant occurrence is more enjoyable than repeating the same event: remembering the Christmases of your childhood is often more pleasant than Christmas is in adulthood. Indeed, much of the pleasure of Christmas, for an older person, can come from nostalgia. The pleasures of recollection, which are best enjoyed alone, are well suited to the aesthetic life. Unplanned repetition is a truly aesthetic pleasure as well, while planned repletion, such as that represented by marriage, affords more ethical pleasures than aesthetic ones.

Popular pages: Selected Works of Søren Kierkegaard