Repetition is Worth Revisiting. I Insist.


Gertrude Stein denied repetition’s existence even while she did it. She said, “There is no such thing as repetition. Only insistence.” It is a line often repeated. She also wrote, even more famously, in her 1913 poem “Sacred Emily,” “A rose is a rose is a rose” a phrase oft quoted since. And she repeated many other words and phrases in her insistent prodigious writing. When I hear this “rosy” phrase, I think, in a tangential way, of Rrose Sélavy, Marcel Duchamp’s punny pseudonym and persona, which appeared in 1921. His repetition of the ‘Rs’ suggests, to me, quotation, or at least a nod to Gertrude. The two “Rs” become ahr-rose or e-rose, or Eros. What play repetition can make!


Repetition. It’s everywhere, so ubiquitous we become oblivious to it.


How many silver-grey Toyotas have driven past you? How many times have you heard “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones?  How many movies have you seen where people get shot in close-up with blood splashing on the wall behind them? How many suburbs have you got lost in because each unit is identical? How many times have you flipped open an art book or clicked open a web page to find a painting by van Gogh?


Repetition can be a blessing and a curse, a curse and a blessing. “You’re repeating yourself,” a criticism. “That bears repetition,” an encouragement. How to know which way to go, when to restate and when to stop?


Artists – poets and songwriters in particular – love repetition. “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Andy Warhol, with variation, exhausted it. Composer John Cage, insistently, with verbal adornment, piled it – stacking the name “James Joyce” vertically in his extended mesostic poems.


Maurice Blanchot, French philosopher on the ‘question of literature’ says, of eternity and “eternality,” that “all is present in this unique instant that repeats itself, and there is nothing but this repetition of Being….”


It is difficult for us humans, within the demands of daily life, to comprehend, let alone embrace such an eternity, and eternal state of “beingness.” But if we experience a moment of good sensation we do want it to happen again, and again. Over and over. We want it to feel part of an eternal, soothing, reassuring rhythm. But of course each occurrence is different, because the context is different, and displaces our sense of eternity. And a bad experience – yang to the yin of “good” – will likely puncture our bliss. Perhaps then, repetition – that is, the recurrent same – is elusive.


We at BOULDERPAVEMENT have picked “repetition” as the central concept for this issue, perhaps because it is issue number nine. Remember the Beatles The White Album –  that song “Revolution 9,” John Lennon chanting: “number nine, number nine, number nine ”? This piece of music was apparently inspired by Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage, no strangers to repetition.


Repetition? Insistence? Eternity? Or just the same old? Well, let’s see.


We’ve selected works that enact the concept of repetition. We’ve found two fine American poets – John Taggart and Elizabeth Willis – of different generations and with different poetic approaches to repetition. We’ve turned trendy, including the GIFs of Erdal Inci – artistic, engrossing and fun at the same time. Visual images dominate the issue, with the inclusion of PUTPUT’s pop(sicle) art; visual artist Betsy Rosenwald piles boxes and renders their images in encaustic, and talks to us about repetition in her work. Chris Wood contributes a found, looped, and shaped sound composition from a road race in Banff in the summer of 2012. Finally, Jaap Blonk dazzles with his oral pyrotechnics, stretching the bounds of speech and understanding with phonemic recombinations. It’s an issue full of “re” – re-petition, re-cording, re-casting, re-shaping, re-cognizing, re-velation.


It all strikes me as a blessing, an insistence that we need to see and see again, to hear and hear again, with rewards to be found, and found again. Dig in, dig in: form your own opinion – prove or disprove Ms. Stein’s audacious proclamation.