Kierkegaard writes, ‘Repetition and recollection are the same movement, except in opposite directions, for what is recollected has been, is repeated backward, whereas genuine repetition is recollected forward.’
I have a very repetitious life. I am a little obsessed with repetition right now. For example (and this is just one of many), when I go to Wolverhampton, I park the car in the same carpark. I pay for the ticket from the same machine. I walk across the road to the main building of the university. I head straight for Starbucks. I order a medium Americano with room for milk, to take out. I give them my name (Becky – I never make it up). I pay £2.05p. I wait for my coffee. I take a photograph of my coffee and / or Starbucks and post it to Facebook with a comment along the lines of ‘COFFEE – I need this’ or ‘What a nightmare parking, I need coffee’. I grab the coffee. I add milk and one sachet of brown sugar. I pick up my bags, and walk out of the building. I cross the ring road (carefully and only when the lights are green) with coffee in right hand. I enter the art building. I go up to the 7th floor in the lift. I check my phone on the way. I sip my coffee. I find my desk. I dump my bags. I drink my coffee.
There is very little variation in that routine. If that routine is upset (if the carpark is full and I have to park somewhere else), then my whole day is disrupted and potentially ruined. I feel anxious. In addition, the timings are all out, the coffee is further away from the car, the stress levels are inevitably higher and the queue is likely longer.
Why do I love this repetition so much, when it all falls into place? Why does it upset me so, when it doesn’t? It has become such a routine for me, that the repetitious act itself seems to have agency without reference to an original thought or act which sparked it off. I don’t remember the first time I carried out this act of coffee grabbing. If I try to imagine arriving in Wolverhampton and not asking for a medium Americano with room for milk from Starbucks I feel quite odd. I couldn’t do it. If I was asked to do it for a challenge. I’d decline. No, thanks.
If I picture this scene now, it reminds me, oddly, of a Edward Hopper painting: my favourite Hopper painting.
I love this painting. It speaks of repetition to me. It looks like a scene that happens with regularity. It shows people drinking coffee in a diner. It shows people looking content, happy in their evening routine. This is me, in Starbucks, in Wolverhampton at 9.42am.
To return to Kierkegaard, this repetitious act is of the backwards kind rather than the forwards kind. It may feel as if I am repeating an act every future day, but in fact I am re-enacting an act from the previous day. It is as if I am recreating something comforting, something I don’t remember clearly enough to articulate, i.e. the first time I did this. It isn’t a genuine ‘forward’ repetition. It is a nostalgic act, Proustian.
Repetition comes in many guises. This is just one of many. This could be an example of what is called ‘radical’ repetition. This is repetition for imitation’s sake. Or, repetition which highlights at some point (today) the absence of an original.
Tomorrow is another Wolverhampton day. I have no doubt that I will be grabbing my usual medium Americano with room for milk again.
To quote Shakespeare’s Macbeth now ‘Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow’. Here Macbeth is stating that life is full of events and action, however, absurd and short and completely meaningless at the end. However, my coffee routine might seem meaningless and devoid of interest to many, oddly, t o me it is something of great substance.