From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The chief character in this work is "The Young Man" who despairs over the ethical dilemma of whether or not to break off an engagement with his former fiancée. Staying with his fiancée, he reflects, would require an on-going dedication to one person, a willingness to be with her repeatedly, as it were. Instead of embodying this form of 'repetition,' The Young Man decides to leave his lover so that he can recollect her imaginatively. Recollection in Kierkegaard is an aesthetic category. This work is seen as a reflection of Kierkegaard's own breakup with his former fiancée Regine Olsen.
Lacan reads Kierkegaard's Repetition in light of Freud's Fort-da narrative to examine the play of signification, the real, and the subject's relationship to trauma in The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis (60-62).
Kierkegaard's central relationship echoes Dante's love for Beatrice Portinari in The Divine Comedy and La Vita Nuova. Dante falls in love with Beatrice, the most beautiful woman in Florence, only to have her die. But she returns, in beatific vision (and as a guide) whose unfolding embodies Dante's concept of the Christian afterlife. Having (repetitive/immanent) love and losing it teaches Dante about the transcendent elements of divine love.
Samuel Butler's concept of Habitus in his Life and Habit (1878) may be seen as analogous to Kierkegaard's understanding of repetition as a principal means of knowing. By repetition we re-cognize what has come before (how otherwise would we know it was repeated?), thereby drawing connections between a cognitive event in the past and its 'recurrence' in the present. Both thinkers were inclined to credit the means by which repetition renders a knowledge unconscious, as repeatedly playing scales on a piano results in your being able to play them without consciously thinking about every note: a potentially deeper form of knowledge. Something of the spirit of Kierkegaard's 'recollection' may also be discerned in Butler's Habitus.