A Theater of Ideas: Performance and Performativity in Kierkegaard’s Repetition

In Eric Ziolkowski (ed.), Kierkegaard, Literature, and the Arts. Evanston, IL, USA: Northwestern University press. pp. 115-130 (2018)
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In this essay, I argue that Søren Kierkegaard’s oeuvre can be seen as a theater of ideas. This argument is developed in three steps. First, I will briefly introduce a theoretical framework for addressing the theatrical dimension of Kierkegaard’s works. This framework is based on a distinction between“performative writing strategies” and “categories of performativity.” As a second step, I will focus on Repetition: A Venture in Experimenting Psychology, by Constantin Constantius, one of the best examples of Kierkegaard’s innovative way of doing philosophy. This strange and elusive book introduces the difficult and counter-intuitive notion of repetition. Repetition is a category of performativity that aims to activate the subjectivity of the reader. This performative effect is achieved by confronting the reader with an “unresolved”existential problem that is not yet drawn into clarity but is staged in all its confusions and contradictions. Kierkegaard’s pseudonym Constantius relies here on a performative writing strategy that is animated by a dialectic of advance and withdrawal. In the last and third step, I will analyze Constantius’s own reflection on the performative dimension of his text. Constantius has left several clues behind, each of which suggests that he deliberately developed a performative writing strategy.

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Martijn Boven
Leiden University


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