“Merging past and present, it charts a repetitive circular journey, one wherein I move around and around from place to place, then end at the location I started from….I find repetition scary. It seems to suggest a static stuck quality. It reminds [me] of the slow languid hot summer days of childhood where the same patterns of life repeat over and over. There is much repetition in this work. It spans all my life. And it reminds me of how my elders tell me the same stories over and over again. Hearing the same story makes it impossible to forget. And so I tell my story here again and again and again.”
– Bel Hooks, Belonging: A Culture of Place, 2009, p3
“To state the problem: what some see as a single moment repeating, others see as a nonrepeating series of similar moments. The difference in perception indicates not only how closely one is prepared to examine any given moment, but also a basic difference in philosophy. As John Cage said in his “Lecture on Nothing”, “Repetition is only repetition if we feel that we own it.” To restate the problem: does one see the repeating/nonrepeating moment as occurring inside of or outside of a language? Because with his invocation of ownership, Cage perhaps refers not only to possession, but also to understanding, recognition, and especially familiarity. An authority on dance, whom we may refer to as an informed viewer, upon seeing a dance perform two similar moves, may conclude, “The dancer repeated the step.” One who is ignorant of dance and claims no ownership of its language, whom we may refer to as an ecstatic viewer, at this same moment might say, “The dancer performed two similar movements — the first in one place in the room, the second a little later in a different place in the room.” The differences observed by the second viewer might seem to insignificant to the first viewer that he chose to ignore them altogether, concentrating instead on the larger patterns which confirm to the language of dance which he feels he owns.”
– Matthew Goulish, 39 Microlectures, 2000, p 33
“There is nothing that commends a story to memory more effectively than that chaste compactness which precludes psychological analysis. And the more natural the process by which the storyteller forgoes psychological shading, the greater becomes the story’s claim to a place in the memory of the listener, the more completely is it integrated into his own experience, the greater will be his inclination to repeat it to someone else, sooner or later. This process of assimilation, which takes place in depth, requires a state of relaxation which is becoming rarer and rarer. If sleep is the apogee of physical relaxation, boredom is the apogee of mental relaxation. Boredom is the dream bird that hatches the egg of experience. A rustling in the leaves drives him away. His nesting places — the activities that are intimately associated with boredom — are already extinct in the cities and are declining in the country as well. With this the gift for listening is lost and the community of listeners disappears. For storytelling is always the art of repeating stories, and this art is lost when the stories are no longer retained. It is lost because there is no more weaving and spinning to go on while they are being listened to. The more self-forgetful the listener is, the more deeply is what he listens to impressed upon his memory. When the rhythm of work has seized him, he listens to the tales in such a way that the gift of retelling them comes to him all by itself. This, then, is the nature of the web in which the gift of storytelling is cradled. This is how today it is becoming unraveled at all its ends after being woven thousands of years ago in the ambience of the oldest forms of craftsmanship.”
– Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, 1968, p 91
“It is, in short, music which observes neither end nor beginning, music with neither real climax nor real resolution, music which, like Baudelaire’s lovers, “rests lightly on the wings of the unchecked wind.” It has, then, unity through intuitive perception, unity born of craft and scrutiny, mellowed by mastery achieved, and revealed to us here, as so rarely in art, in the vision of subconscious design exulting upon a pinnacle of potency.”
– Glenn Gould, liner notes to The Golberg Variations, 1955
“One fine winter’s day when Piglet was brushing away the snow in front of his house, he happened to look up, and there was Winnie-the-Pooh. Pooh was walking round and round in a circle, thinking of something else, and when Piglet called to him, he just went on walking.
“Hallo!” said Piglet, “what are you doing?”
“Hunting,” said Pooh.
“Tracking something,” said Winnie-the-Pooh very mysteriously.
“Tracking what?” said Piglet, coming closer.
“That’s just what I ask myself. I ask myself, What?”
“What do you think you’ll answer?”
“I shall have to wait until I catch up with it,” said Winnie-the-Pooh. “Now, look there.” He pointed to the ground in front of him. “What do you see there?”
“Tracks,” said Piglet…
[they continue, now walking together]
“What’s the matter?” asked Piglet.
“It’s a very funny thing,” said Bear, “but there seem to be two animals now.”….
[again, they continue]
Suddenly Winnie-the-Pooh stopped, and pointed excitedly in front of him. “Look!”
“What?” said Piglet with a jump. And then, to show he hadn’t been frightened, he jumped up and down once or twice in an exercising sort of way.
“The tracks!” said Pooh. “A third animal has joined the other two!”
[they continue like this, walking and discovering increasing numbers of tracks, speculating that whatever they have been following is joined by more of its or a similar creature’s numbers, and scaring themselves, until finally Christopher Robin calls to them from a branch of a tree overlooking them.]
“Silly old Bear,” he said, “what were you doing? First you went round the spinney twice by yourself, and then Piglet ran after you and you went round again together, and then you were just going round a fourth time——“
– A. A. Milne, Winne-The-Pooh, 1981, p34-43
repetition resists ownership and forgetting, but not variation, inspiration, transmission, mystery, ecstasy, or unity
is this what makes it so dangerous?
because under its mask of recognition and boredom, it can hide so much life
it can catalyze states of wonder