Eternal Return and Repetition

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In Difference and Repetition, Deleuze analyzes repetition and how it leads to the production of something new. He credits Kierkegaard as being keenly aware of how repetition was opposed to habit and memory. Kierkegaard understood repetition not merely as reproduction or recollection. The only thing repeated in repetition is the very impossibility of repetition. One can quickly see the analogy between the Christian’s conversion experience of being born again. In the Gospel of John, Jesus tries to explain to Nicodemus that he must be born again, or he must be born again with a difference (repetition with a difference). Kierkegaard also thought of Job as the tragic hero who experienced repetition. Recall that God gave Job everything back before the calamities that befell him (minus all of Job’s kids that God killed), again a repetition with a difference.

The ever-vigilant atheist Deleuze however raises some criticisms of Kierkegaard’s conception of repetition. Kierkegaard believed that faith was the supreme repetition of the future, and one can see that authentic faith could help one break out of the endless cycles of habit and memory. Unsurprisingly, Deleuze perceptively notices that faith, in the end, will unite the self and God again in eternity. Deleuze argues that Kierkegaard, “realize(s) Kantianism by entrusting to faith the task of overcoming the speculative death of God and healing the wound in the self…Beneath it (faith) rumbles another, Nietzschean, repetition: that of eternal return. Here, a different and more mortuary betrothal between the dead God and the dissolved self forms the true condition by default and the true metamorphosis of the agent, both of which disappear in the unconditioned character of the product” (Difference and Repetition, 95).

Deleuze believed Kant shirked away from his discovery in the Critique of Pure Reason that the speculative death of God led to the fractured I. Furthermore, this would ultimately result in the disappearance of rational psychology and rational theology. Recall, that Kant bracketed metaphysics or knowledge of the thing-in-itself (hence this should lead to an end of speculative knowledge of God). Thankfully, Kant resuscitated God by positing that the existence of an all-knowing God was necessary to reward man for all of his virtues in the afterlife. Also, Deleuze’s interpretation of eternal return is quite nuanced. He did not think of the eternal return as the cyclical repetition of the same, but rather eternal return selects the superior form of everything. Its guiding principle is to deny everything that can be denied. Deleuze paints a nice picture “if eternal return is a wheel, then it must be endowed with a violent centrifugal movement which expels everything which ‘can’ be denied”. He goes on to compare eternal return to a distorted circle whose center is Difference and whose periphery is the Same. Here we can see where Deleuze understand difference ultimately as form of “Yes-saying”, a true affirmation to welcome the eternal return.

Deleuze’s criticism of Kierkegaard then is ultimately that faith re-establishes habit and alienates the believer He believes that the believer’s condition is not only alienated from his original sinful nature, but also likewise doubled in it. “The believer does not lead his life only as a tragic sinner in so far as he is deprived of the condition, but as a comedian and a clown…in so far as he is doubled in the condition” (Difference and Repetition, 95). Fortunately, eternal return is the truth of faith because it exposes and isolates this doubled position and emancipates the comic to allow it to participate in the element of the superhuman.

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