I have a frictious relationship with repetition. On the one hand, I don’t believe that anything ever repeats, not really, at least not in the strict sense of a “repetition of the same.” For example: I I I I I I I I. This is not the repetition of the same I. Each I is different. Each occupies a distinct space and has resulted from a distinct pressing of my computer’s keyboard. In casual conversation, one could easily suggest that I have repeated I. But when I really think about it, I don’t see a single I repeated. I see I and I and I and I, always new.
On the other hand, my body seems to feel the return of habitual action, specifically habitual actions that trouble me. The air seems to thicken each morning at 7am when my three-year-old bolts out of bed to start a new day. My body drags itself to an upright position so as to follow and hesitates because of a deep uneasiness about doing this again, of trying to get energy again, of repeating the struggle of parenting. I could possibly describe this as a “continuation” of parenting, instead of a “repetition,” except that there is something very Groundhog’s Day about it. Same with the non-linear path of potty training: poop, again! In this scenario, it doesn’t feel like new poop. It feels like I’m re-living the totality of the “training” process. At the other end of the continuum, where this repetition feels most invasive, I encounter trauma, which is the epitome of this bodily sensation of repetition: I, in the present moment, feel again a series of affronting and unwanted bodily reactions that I have experienced before. This is related to the idea of nomos that I wrote about last time, the habit of experience that instantiates itself through (ostensibly) repeated action.
I have a frictious relationship with repetition. Does it exist as a natural phenomenon of life, or am I the one who fabricates it? To answer this question, I have, for years, explored the topic of repetition in theatre and performance studies. Each time one performs (any habitual activity) or each time an actor steps onstage to enact a part in a pre-designed performance, what precisely is happening? Do we repeat our actions, or is each time a totally new experience? The most intriguing treatment of these questions, however, appears not in theatre and performance scholarship but in philosophy and psychoanalysis. Gilles Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition and Jacques Lacan’s re-workings of Sigmund Freud’s thoughts on repeated (neurotic and desirous) behavior are texts I return to, repeatedly (?).
Will Daddario is a historiographer, philosopher, and teacher. He currently lives in Asheville, North Carolina.