Kierkegaard Year 2014. 2nd International Kierkegaard Conference.

Kierkegaard Year 2014
International Workshop and 2nd International Conference
Central European Research Institute Søren Kierkegaard, Ljubljana
Director: Dr. Primoz Repar

23- 26 September 2014: Škocjan, and Cankarjev dom, Ljubljana, Slovenia 
Topic: How to Avoid the Totalitarianism of Consumerism: Ethics of Otherness from a "Historical Point of Departure".

From Dr. Primoz Repar's call for the conference: 

"Kierkegaard will be presented in the context of modernity and criticism of the ruling (non)ideology. How in the middle of the ideology of choice to think about the choice of most significant decision? What is subjectivity, so that the choice can be reflected? How is with a concrete practical-ethical choice of single individual, which is primary to any theory? It is also to deepen in the sense of reduplication of last year's theme of the symposium in honor of Kierkegaard About the new oikonomy of relationships. From this context we can thematize Kierkegaard thought in view of gender studies, theory, psychoanalysis, critical theory, etc. Subtitle: Reduplication: How to philosophize after/according to Kierkegaard? Address by Prof. Dr. Jasna Koteska (University Ss. Cyril and Methodius, Skopje, Republic of Macedonia)." 

Author: Jasna Koteska, "The Ideology of Consumerism in Kierkegaard's Repetition" 
Book: Soren Kierkegaard, International Workshop and Conference, How to Avoid the Totalitarianism of Consumerism, editor Dr. Primoz Repar, KUD Apokalipsa and Central European Institute Soren Kierkegaard (CERI-SK), Ljubljana, 2015, 23- 33.

Jasna Koteska

Kierkegaard 2014 Conference (Address)

Dr. Primož Repar from the Central European Research Institute Søren Kierkegaard Ljubljana honored me with an invitation to address this year’s conference on Kierkegaard and totalitarianism of consumerism, under the general title: How to Avoid the Totalitarianism of Consumerism: Ethics of Otherness from a Historical Point of Departure (Reduplication: How to Philosophize after Kierkegaard?).

I will start this address by following the notorious advice from psychoanalysis: “Take a look at the children!”, as children are often the most vibrant examples of the essential elements which constitute human nature. Let me start by one example. If you are telling a child a bedtime story, the story must be repeated, word for word, tonight the same as the night before, brought to the level of ritual, with a clear request that the details should remain unchanged, as they were previously carefully memorized by the child. If you skip an item in the Little Red Riding Hood’s basket, the child shall tell you to go back, to list all the articles from yesterday’s storytelling. If the child, all of a sudden, one night, adds a new item to the basket, it actually starts to place the consumption into the service of appetite. It opens the idea of the ludic, which can be found only in the new. But, what happens when the appetite for the new appears? Answering this question seems to be at the heart of the Kierkegaardian quest for achieving self-realization, as both aesthetical and ethical, but also as a religious question. If the child shows an appetite for something new, if s/he sees that there are other things in the world that it needs, even if it does not really need them, the idea that the world is changeable returns, but at the same time, some consumer impulse opens!

This consumer impulse, according to Kierkegaard, is monstrous! The monstrosity does not come only because the human has deserted the safe place of repetition, but also because he/she made a choice, and according to Kierkegaard, that choice always has to be made by a leap of faith. That means that a human cannot know whether he/she is making the right choice, because humans have limited knowledge, therefore the choice must be made without a clear understanding of the consequences, which causes the anxiety. But, once the child decides to substitute the repetition of the same, for something new, the choice is made. According to the basic logic, it is good to periodically desert the repetition and start seeking the new. To avoid seeing the new piling up, means that human agrees to automatization. Of course, Kierkegaard was aware that the Automaton is a buffering of the “surplus sense,” a need to forever stabilize in the same. That is why the repetition often starts to demand the new. It no longer is the repetition of some need, but a quest for a need beyond the need itself. But, at this precise moment, the topological hole of consumerist desire spreads out, and Kierkegaard was not at ease with this possibility. Thus the Kierkegaardian question: How to resolve the paradox of accepting the world as changeable, yet avoiding the wrong choices which may amount to piling up of the desire-based consumption, and vice versa, how to avoid the traps of automatization without freezing the world flux?

Kierkegaard witnessed the beginnings of modernity, and strongly oppose the modern view that humans crave only agitation and desiring. He considered agitation to be the perversity of humanity and most precisely of early capitalism. In the recent years, there is a growing literature about Kierkegaard and capitalism, and although Kierkegaard did not write about the capitalist issues, he was one of the most remarkable writers of existentialism, and his greatest contribution to economics, besides his contributions to human psyche and religion was his elaboration on the importance of individual choices and decisions. In this sense, this year’s conference is also a continuation of the last year’s International Symposium dedicated to Kierkegaard and organized by the Central European Research Institute Søren Kierkegaard Ljubljana and its founder Dr. Primož Repar, New Oikonomy of Relations: The Neighbor and the Existential Turn, with over sixty participants for all over the world, which was held between June 12 and June 19, 2013 in Ljubljana and Škocjan, Republic of Slovenia. Kierkegaard writes that a human makes choices without a complete knowledge of the consequences of his/her decisions, and his philosophy overlapped with the growth of the modern western economy, which started around 1800. The birth of different industries in the western parts of the world, forced people to make rapid decisions based on limited knowledge and risks, essentially the same questions that Kierkegaard raised.

One of Kierkegaard’s most famous accounts on these issues, however, is not connected to economy, but to one of his favorite topics, Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni. As is well known, Kierkegaard went to the Copenhagen opera on most evenings, and he wrote extensively about the plays he saw. His analysis of Mozart’s main character, Don Juan, goes as follows: Don Juan seeks pleasure in seducing women, but once he conquers them, he no longer has an interest in possessing them, as his pleasure stops at the moment of his triumph. Kierkegaard offers that Don Juan is an exception of humanity, a mistake, even a monster, and his quest is not about satisfaction, but about keeping his desire alive. Don Juan does not “imprison” others, as much as he himself is a prisoner of his very desire. This makes Don Juan not a deceiver (something that would require self-reflection and cunningness), but a figure who by his own choice-is deceived by his own desire. As written earlier, the most basic ideology of Kierkegaard is that a human is fundamentally free, and that a life consists of one choice after another, therefore decisions a person makes are strictly his or her own.

But, here comes important twist: Kierkegaard did not consider Don Juan’s metonymical hunger to be of an objective nature, but a mere subjective choice. This is a new philosophy, and decisively different from the narrow world of the ancient Greek heroes who address the sky with the cry, “I suffer injustice.” The Greek man suffers a terrible punishment, without subjective guilt, but when s/he wants to discover the name of the agency by which s/he suffers, the sky and the earth turn so that s/he can see. When Oedipus wants to know what happened in his past, a witness stands ready to appear already in the next act. Kierkegaard’s Don Juan is not a holder of such prophecy; therefore he is not entitled to a dialogue with the gods. Oedipus is not a victim of deserving subjective guilt; he has to suffer because the gods intended such a prophecy for him, so he is allowed and welcomed to search for answers about his prophesy. Although, for Kierkegaard the sky is not closed, and he was a religious thinker, the Kierkegaardian man still does not arrive from the narrow world of the gods, but from the civilization of early capitalism and as such is himself responsible for his own actions. Kierkegaard says that Don Juan has chosen his lifestyle, that he was entitled to free choice, that his life-style is his own decision, that he himself made the choice to endlessly serve his own metonymic appetite. If there is a tragedy in his decision, it is only the tragedy of an uneducated man lacking awareness that there is no amount of food (women, commodities, etc.) that could satisfy his desire. The more he swallows, the hungrier he is, thus he is doomed to float from one erotic adventure to another. If he is a victim, he is a victim of the growing capitalism rather than negligent divine intervention. But there is still salvation for Don Juan in Kierkegaard: all he needs to do is resist the temptations of capitalist consumption. Don Juan is free to change his destiny. Don Juan’s life could have been different, Don Juan can be different.

Kierkegaard’s analysis stood at the beginning of early capitalism, which he described as an endless self-feeding metonymic machine, an evil genius of hunger for pleasure-inducing objects, which in today’s non-ideological world achieved its final shape: the global market today is set in such a way that it prevents desire from exhausting itself before the goal is reached, and the game is self-perpetuating, addictive and seemingly endless. How to escape this metonymic logic of capitalist consumption? The Kierkegaardian answer, paradoxically once again returns to the question of repetition. Kierkegaard theorized the repetition as a concept which rotates between aesthetics, ethics and religion, and a concept which has a potential to both silence the demons of consumerism, and also to foster them (again, depending on the subjective choice a person makes). While Don Juan, as a representation of the aesthetic paradigm in Kierkegaard, uses repetition in erotic and sexual encounters, the repetition has a completely different meaning in ethics, for example, just as much as ethics cannot be thought about and practiced without a repetition for religion depends on repetition in prayers and rituals. To Kierkegaard these three are essentially different practical phenomena of repetition, although they are tightly connected to the same notion; Don Juan’s activity is by no means similar to religious or spiritual repetition. In his book by the same name, Repetition, Kierkegaard admits to being obsessed with the nature of repetition, and what it brings to a human; whether a person wins or loses by practicing the repetition. Art is known to be repetitive, many artists tend to endlessly repeat their obsessions (with themes, structures, or styles), with images that are multiplied in order to stall the passage of time, so that the movement leads to invariance very similar as in a religious encounter. Only a person, who succeeds at failing to engage to repeat, but remains at rest, might achieve the focus needed for self-realization. The repetition is obvious in sleeping, eating, sex, and in aspects of life that demand the satisfaction of our needs, in which case people emerge not as sinners, but as repeaters. Kierkegaard loved this aspect of repetition cherished in the manner of the real need. At the same time, only a machine is capable of a true and precise repetition, one that will be both endless and perfect, so eventually the repetitions in humans always fail, which partly explains the profound melancholy in parts of Kierkegaard’s work related to meditating on the choices made by humans.

There is something utterly mindless in repetition, but at the same time, mindlessness is another name for what Freud later called the splitting of consciousness, which helps a person put the variety of life on pause, and the consumerism at rest. Freud’s famous example of the non-pathological “splitting of consciousness” is an image of a person who reads a book in the most correct grammatical order, only to realize, after finishing the book that he/she does not understand a word of what was just read. For Freud this practice, paradoxically, is the healthy way of putting the mind on pause. Prior to Freud, Kierkegaard wrote the same. That it is healthy to be in repetition, because the repetition frees a person from the anxiety of choices. Even if repetition cannot be totally achieved, it cannot be (and should not be) totally avoided. Kierkegaard’s general ideology favored the repetition. Kierkegaard wrote: “Repetition, if it is possible, makes a person happy, while recollection makes him unhappy.”[1] Freud later threw similar light on repetition and alienation, as in Freud the automated repetition of a meaningless operation is also a dictation that comes from the outside, as a work dictation and a need for self-preservation. Repetition for Freud is not moved by the principle of comfort (but mere survival), and also by one additional factor. When a person endlessly repeats an operation, the person does so in order to master a trauma that would arise if he/she saw the work in its essence. When the workaholic works continuously, he/she repeats the action in order not to realize that the work is senseless. Repetition saves you from coming to meet the truth, which is an “unsuccessful encounter” with the senselessness of work. Prior to Freud, Kierkegaard offered a very similar explanation: “He who wills repetition, he is a man, and the more emphatically he has endeavoured to understand what this means, the deeper he is as a human being... He goes calmly about his life, happy in repetition. What would life be without repetition? Who would want to be a tablet on which life wrote something new every moment, or a memorial to something past?”[2] And while Kierkegaard was clearly in favour of repetition due to its calmness; a tool for fighting the hectic, inhuman consumerism, he was also aware that human nature is inclined towards the new, always the new: “Recollection is discarded clothing which, however lovely it might be, no longer suits one because one has outgrown it”, he wrote. As soon as he opens the question of the new, Kierkegaard retreats after facing the “dizziness of freedom”.

The dimensions of consumerism rooted in the non-ideological abstract bureaucratic machine that we live in today were unknown to Kierkegaard. We have spawned in an infantile world ruled by merchants, which has turned all people into a single generation of infantile children aged 7 to 77, drafted for shopping expeditions. Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays is partly responsible for such infantilism. For after his emigration to America, he began creating a doctrine on propaganda, combining the Freudian concept of desire with the concept of manipulation of the masses and derived his central thesis: the manipulation of public opinion for the sake of consumerism - is the essence of democracy Bernay’s operation created one of the most monstrous processes in contemporary society: the conviction that people long for something that they did not know existed until yesterday. Today, people are being influenced by mass forms of schooling, health, entertainment, consumption, mass media and propaganda (the scales of which were not known to Kierkegaard), a situation which has further created an inability to distinguish good from evil, and which created the narcissistic infantilism of entire generations that refuse to grow up, but who are nonetheless exploited by the abstract bureaucratic machinery, which attacks people with contradictory requests: to enjoy, but also to restrict the enjoyment at the same time. At the same time, of course, as Bauman writes in Consuming Life, Kierkegaard too “consumed, as all people at all times did and still do”—he had to consume to stay alive, but did so in accordance with the standards of decency and propriety of his time. Needless to say, his general philosophy remains fundamentally opposed to falling into the traps of consumerism.

How can Kierkegaard be of use for the critique of today’s ruling non-ideology? How can he be thought about from the standpoint of contemporary critical theory, activism, movements for social justice, gender studies, psychoanalysis…? Although, the dimensions of today’s consumerism were unknown to Kierkegaard, he remains the disturbing reference for understanding the non-ideology of consumption, but he also remains a provider of some of the most important insights into the nature of such consumption and the powers of its resistance.

1) It was precisely Kierkegaard who, even before Marx, Hegel and Freud, concentrated on what automated repetition means? How does one become an “automaton?” Just as Marx did later on, Kierkegaard placed the Automaton in the field of labour: “What does this life mean, anyway? If we divide people into two classes, we can say that the first group works to live, while the other does not need to do that. But, working for one’s living can’t be the meaning of life… To say that the meaning of life is to die seems again to be a contradiction,”[3] Kierkegaard wrote. And he continued that both the servants and the masters are Automatons. The servants work to survive, while the Masters destroy the conditions for their work (they are not the ones working, the servants work for them), which means that the self-realization that work gives you is impossible for the masters to find. Where do they find their self-realization? In destroying the working conditions for the servant! Neither can the servant be without the master, nor the other way around. They are both caught in a fundamental metaphysical drama, and both alienated from themselves.

2) Kierkegaard was also among the first thinkers, prior to Marx and Hegel, to tie the dynamics between the master and the servant to the dramatic question, “freedom or death?” The servant says: There is no freedom without life, and s/he chooses life. The master says the same, but chooses death. In this way, the master gives up his/her being-as a result, he/she becomes alienated. If you choose freedom (as the servant), you lose both, if you choose life (as the master) you lose freedom, and this deadly factor is in hearth of the Kierkegaardian paradox concerning the deadlock of the choice.

3) And thirdly, just like Marx, Kierkegaard too was obsessed with the possibility of ending the master-servant dynamics via revolution, as every revolution means a departure from the closed circle of automatic acts and Automaton. In his study Two Ages, Kierkegaard thematized two ages: the present age (slow, lazy, passionless) and the revolutionary age (passionate, heroic, active). Despite the fact that Kierkegaard’s prognosis was rather gloomy, he was the first modern thinker to describe the world of non-ideology, in which we all live today. Kierkegaard describes the present age as one suffocated by laziness, lack of passion, inertia, postponement of any action, transformation of the public into a “monstrous nonentity” as he writes, of the endless chattering which annuls the passionate disjunction between being silent and speaking, thus preventing important events from happening. He states: “The present age is an age of publicity, the age of miscellaneous announcements: nothing happens but still there is instant publicity. An insurrection in this day and age is utterly unimaginable; such a manifestation of power would seem ridiculous to the calculating sensibleness of the age.”[4] Kierkegaard’s portrait is accurate and error-free: the present time is not only ruled by propaganda which prevents events from happening, but is directed towards the annihilation of any already present event in time, too. Thomas Eriksen in his study Tyranny of the Moment retells a scene from the novel Slowness by Kundera in which a Czech scientist sits in a hotel room and stares at a news broadcast, which achieves such speed, he comes to compare it to a concert where the orchestra plays all of Beethoven’s 138 works, but only the first eight bars of each. “In the next ten years, he reflects, they will only play the first note of each piece, 138 notes altogether. And in twenty years, the whole of Beethoven’s music would be summed up in a single very long buzzing tone, like the endless sound he heard the first day of his deafness.”[5]


KIERKEGAARD, S. (2009): Repetition and Philosophical Crumbs. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
KIERKEGAARD, S. (1992): Either/Or, A Fragment of Life. London: Penguin Books Ltd.
HONG, V. H. in HONG, H. E. (2000): The Essential Kierkegaard. New Jersey: Princeton University.
ERIKSEN, T. (2001): Tyranny of the Moment. London: Pluto Press.

[1] Kierkegaard, Søren. Repetition and Philosophical Crumbs, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009, 3.
[2] Ibid, 4.
[3] Kierkegaard, Søren. Either/Or, A Fragment of Life, London: Penguin Books Ltd., 1992, 49.
[4] The Essential Kierkegaard, edited by Howard V. Hong and Edna. H. Hong, New Jersey: Princeton University, 2000, 252.
[5] Eriksen, Thomas: Tyranny of the Moment, London: Pluto Press, 2001, 49.

Program of the Conference:

Wednesday, 24. 9. 2014 ŠKOCJAN/SEŽANA
Thursday, 25. 9. 2014 ŠKOCJAN/ŠTANJEL
Friday, 26. 9. 2014 ŠKOCJAN/LJUBLJANA
 8:30, Pr’ Vncki (lodging house)
Breakfast with philosophy
Cyprian Turčan, Michal Valčo, Katarina Valčova,  Martina Pavlíková (all SK)
(anchored by Primož Repar + mutual communication)
8:30, Pr’ Vncki (lodging house)
Breakfast with philosophy
Jasna Koteska (MK)
Christine A. Habbard (FR) Joaquim Hernandez-Dispaux (B)
Vaclav Umlauf (CZ)
(anchored by Primož Repar + mutual communication)
8:00, Pr’ Vncki (lodging house)
Breakfast with philosophy
Abrahim H. Khan (CAN)
Žarko Paić (CRO)
Goran Starčević (CRO)
(anchored by Janko Rožič + mutual communication)
10:00, The Museum

Philosophical workshop
Presentation of the theme of the symposium (15 minutes):

Uroš Milič (SLO)
Tomaž MIkelj (SLO)
Andrej Božič (SLO)
Roman Králik (SK)
Peter Kondrla, Cyril Diatka (SK)
(anchored by Janez Vodičar)
12:00  Workshop CERI SK
10:00, The Museum

Philosophical workshop
Presentation of the theme of the symposium (15 minutes):

Cyprian Turčan (SK)
Iztok Osojnik, Stanislava Repar, Ana Makuc (all SLO)
Michal Valčo, Katarina Valčo (both SK)
(anchored by Bojan Žalec)

11:00 Conference opening

11:10 Jasna Koteska
11:30 Christine Anne Habbard
11:50 Abrahim H. Khan
12:10 Primož Repar
12: 45 Andrej Ule
13:05 Martina Pavlíková
13: 25 Vaclav Umlauf
13:45 Janko Lozar
15:00, The Museum
Philosophical lectures
(30 minutes each):

Joaquim Hernandez-Dispaux (B)
Vlasta Cabanová (SK)
Janez Vodičar
Cvetka H. Tóth (both SLO)
(anchored by Primož Repar)
18:00 Sežana, Kosovelov dom
The opening of the exhibition of posters Global Dane
The opening of the photography exhibition by Bojan Stepančič (DVD projection)
18:30 The Third Testament (a Kierkegaard film screening)
15:30, ŠTANJEL
International exhibition of  Kierkegaard's publications

Philosophical lectures
(30 minutes each):

Goran Starčević, Žarko Paić (both CRO), Janko Rožič, Ana Makuc, Andrina Tonkli Komel, Bojan Žalec (all SLO), Miroslav Micov and Daniela Kuhnová (UKR/SK)
(anchored by Jasna Koteska)
19:15 AD SE IPSUM (philosophical miniatures)
20:00 Concert:
M. Smetanka
14:20 Presentation of international publications of the 4th International Symposium of Miklavž Ocepek in Honor of the Bicentennial of the Birth of Søren Kierkegaard
Acta Kierkegaardiana
Apokalipsa – slovene issue
Apokalipsa – english issue
Khan, Králik, Repar, Agoston

14:50 Kierkegaard animation by
H. O. Vilaseñor
21:00, Pr’ Vncki (lodging house)
Primož Repar
Roman Králik
Ana Makuc
(anchored by Andrej Božič)
21:00, Štanjel
Michal Smetanka
Stanislava Repar
Iztok Osojnik
(anchored by Primož Repar)
15:00  Conclusion of the International Conference and Workshop Kiekregaard's Year 2014



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