With no particular view or agenda, I feel compelled to talk about repetition in literature and art. I was watching this video from Tao Lin's YouTube channel the other day, which is from a reading he did in Brooklyn four years ago. I normally like to consider videos optional, as one of my least favorite things about the Internet is how easily online friends and acquaintances can simply stop talking to you and start linking you, or sending pictures and videos in lieu of conversation. But because of the nature of the subject matter, you should probably just watch it before you proceed, or else deal with the insidious lack of knowledge which will become more and more apparent not only as you continue to read this blog entry, but as you go about your daily activities in the coming days, weeks, and months (which, to be fair, is a totally legitimate option).
My first instinct, when I realized what was going on, was to stop watching. Why continue? With no feelings of anger, annoyance, or cynicism, I simply decided, "Oh, this is what this is," and closed the window. Later that night, though, I became aware that I was hearing the sound of Lin's voice repeating, "the next night we ate whale," in my head. Potentially annoying, like a song that had gotten stuck there, but also no less pleasant than a song I like. By the next day, the urge to watch it again was apparent. So I did.
The camera is on the audience rather than the reader, and for a person watching the video, the variation in the performance is provided by the audience members. We get to watch them shift nervously, burst into laughter at random intervals, and finally give up, each in their own way, around 3 minutes. There are many levels to this that can be picked apart, some more interesting than others, but what I started thinking about immediately afterward was repetition itself. In short, pretentious bullshit or some category of meaningful? I'm inclined to think either answer could be fine as long as it's an honest judgment of a thing that has actually happened.
There are probably a lot of examples of repetition ad nauseum in literature, but the one that comes to mind immediately for me is the story "Real Estate" by Lorrie Moore, which involves two pages of nothing but the exclamation "Ha!" I have never questioned it, the same way you don't necessarily rely on practical factors like physical strength, height, fighting skill, etc., when provoked to brawl by a crazy person.
When I was a kid, I would annoy my mom every year during the holidays by playing the carol "Good King Wenceslas" over and over on the piano. Ten, twenty, thirty times. I never ceased to find it funny, which might tell you something about me. I don't know if there is a place in everyone's head where they can lapse back into that age of repetition, when it's amusing to ask "why?" again and again of a person who tries for a time to answer diligently, but sometimes I feel it, and there's something more behind it than car trip boredom. Sometimes it feels profound.
In life, excessive repetition on an external level is a sign of insanity. On an occasional, internal level, it is a device for the achievement of inner peace. In art, like anything else, its effect depends on its surroundings.