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The idea of repetition in Marx, Nietzsche and Freud, and problems of modernity

Abstract

The purpose of this study is to examine what Marx, Nietzsche and Freud make of the idea of repetition, and how their concepts of repetition relate to what they perceive as problems of modernity, in a selection of their works. This thesis first looks at how teleology, a concept of time characteristic of the Enlightenment, faced competition from other temporal ideas like repetition during the nineteenth century, and the interrelationship between repetition, modernity's relentless aspiration towards newness, and memory as a means of mediating between past and present. Chapter 1 explains three different meanings of repetition for Marx: the recurrent use of the past in history for political purposes, the repeated failures of a proletarian revolution in France from 1830 onwards, which also poses the problem of modernity for Marx, and his rhetorical textual repetition as a means of inspiring proletarian revolutions. For Nietzsche, repetition plays a formative role in language and metaphysical entities. Chapter 2 explains how the bankruptcy of metaphysics results in nihilism, and how the eternal return upsets teleology, typically realized in the Christian assumption about sins and sufferings. Chapter 3 discusses how Freud assaults teleology by reversing the chronological order of a trauma and its ensuing neurotic symptoms, and how the compulsion to repeat, which seeks death, casts serious doubts on the supposed progress of humans the Enlightenment promises. Finally, the conclusion highlights the anti-foundationalism in the three thinkers' concepts of repetition in face of problems of modernity in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries

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