On Repeat: Wrap-Up

On Repeat


Simon During

Author and critic, Centre for the History of European Discourses, University of Queensland


Drew Daniel

Professor of English literature, Johns Hopkins University; member of experimental-music band Matmos

John Malpede

Director and performer; founder of the Los Angeles Poverty Department

Amy Taubin

Contributing editor, Film Comment and Sight and Sound


Claire Jarvis wrote :

Thank you all for this wonderful Forum. My questions circle around the purchase melancholy has in many of your posts. For example in Drew’s second posting: “If the melancholy poetics of art as a caretaker of pastness acts as a soporific consolation for a political morass, could art work with time in ways that invigorate us, that slap us awake?” Isn’t it possible that the poetics of art, even if the politics it circumscribes are indeed hopeless or negative, might not be melancholic (or, its close cousin, elegiac)? Why must haunting be melancholic: put more simply, why is the future less melancholic than the past? Simply because we don’t yet know how much we’ve screwed it up?

The improvisatory model Drew comments on in his post is predicated on constant collapse and adjustment; thus it works within a limited set of possibilities. Indeed, its ongoingness may feel hopeful, invested in potential, while all the time aware of what’s lost, but I wonder how sustainable such a formation might be as a politics. Is it necessary that repeated forms work themselves towards a less stable, poorer future? Is the authority given to decay over time certain (I’m thinking here of the instability of the feedback loop, always moving towards an eventual dissolution or quietening)?

As John Malpede’s posts make clearer, repetition and haunting don’t have to be connected. His major claim, that art projects can draw attention to the overwhelming power of democratic state capitalism as ideology, suggests repetition might be a way of “breaking through” DSC: can art do this if it doesn’t occupy an ideal space? “Pressurizing” might be possible, but it’s all too likely that art’s proximity to and dependence on DSC (for support and funding) makes it a difficult site for revolutionary practice. Malpede puts his finger on one of the major problems facing the art world’s efficacy as instigator: its adoption not only by an art world than coins “art stars” but by an educational system that suggests that it might in fact increase one’s chance of becoming an art star. If this carrot’s held out alongside a call to revolution, might it not dampen the power of that call?

The biggest problem, as far as I can see it, is that art’s purview increasingly fragments into cultural niches. Art worlds work in many ways as subterranean aspects of the “real” worlds. Your rich discussion has led me to ask what happens when the repetition under observation is not visual, auditory, or felt but written (and I wonder, more, what the relationship might be between melancholy repetition and linguistic repetition—if we copy a page again and again, the resolution eventually fails. Is this the same thing that happens to a repeated word?). And this, eventually, led me back to a writer I find myself increasingly interested in and perplexed by: D. H. Lawrence. Lawrence has been dismissed over the past 35 years as a pervert and a slob. His writing is not polished like his fellow high modernists; his politics, when recoverable, are simplistic; his view of women, mystical, cryptic, and misogynistic. All of this may be true, but what Drew says happens in musical improvisation happens in Lawrence: language, especially repeated language, breathes: it changes form, adjusts and collapses. A word repeated over a page is an altered word. At times this repetition might be melancholy, aware of a loss; but at other times it gets closer to the giddiness of a joke. Or even, as Drew suggests, to the punctuation of a slap.

A change in pressure: is this the only recipe we have for a revolutionary repetition?

Claire Jarvis posted on 06/29/10
reel aesthete wrote :

I think repetition in art comes from the desire to negate the contemporary negation of individuality. To negate: excessively and creatively do something that seems like it has been done before, but, sheerly based on the numbers, has not! Repetition is a desire for individuality, the last gasp-breath-scream against the emerging 6 billion+, human-hive mentality.
reel aesthete posted on 06/26/10

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