Wednesday, April 1, 2009

On the Importance of Repetition

Repetition reverberates throughout world literatures. Repetition, repeating, sometimes verbatim, as often can be found in the Epic of Gilgamesh, or with slight variation in the retelling that gives subtle hints of shifting perspectives, which I would argue happens in the Iliad (e.g., when Achilles retells what happened in his argument with Agamemnon to his mother), is often one of the most illuminating aspects of literature. You can find it in biblical literature, near eastern literature, greek and roman literature, all the way to the present (Dadaism, anyone?). Repetition keeps track of time, creates rhythm, denotes emphasis, and provides ever-new perspective and, in fact, allows a text to comment on itself. So, I felt a certain resonance in my own experience of repetition when i read...

...if one does not perceive how a work repeats itself, the work is, almost literally, not perceptible and therefore, at the same time, not intelligible. It is the perception of repetitions that makes a work of art intelligible. (Susan Sontag, "On Style")

Repeat. Reread. Very fittingly, Sontag creates repetition in her statement about repetition as intelligibility.

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