The fate of the repeat in music and other arts

If interpreters of classical music are free to ignore at will repeats of any kind, then interpreters of, say, modern Greek culture, should perhaps feel equally free to omit in their anthologies, textbooks, festivals, or exhibits comparable repeats such as recurring sex episodes from the 8-volume novel The Great Eastern by Andreas Embeirikos, parts of long shots and scenes from Theo Angelopoulos’ 4-hour movies, several of the formulaic angels on bikes in Alekos Fassianos’ paintings, as well as stanzas from “Gloria,” the last section of Odysseus Elytis book-length liturgical poem The Axion Esti. If early audiences needed to read or see parts of these works repeatedly in order to absorb its innovative elements, today’s readers and viewers are sophisticated enough to negotiate swiftly such challenges (and too busy to sit through all their repetitions). Isn’t the era of the vinyl 12″, 45 RPM, EP (=Extended Play) single long gone?

While unexpurgated works certainly belong to projects like “Collected Works” or Catalogues raisonnés, non-scholarly, non-comprehensive editions, compilations, and retrospectives may drop repeats as they see fit, starting with the monotonous Homeric formulas. It is already done (without any mention of specifics in programs and booklets) in performances of plays by Shakespeare, cantatas by Bach, oratorios by Handel, and operas by Verdi. Why not extend the practice to uses of poems by Kenneth Goldsmith, paintings by Ellsworth Kelly, performances by Marina Abramović, compositions by La Monte Young, and movies by Andy Warhol, or for that matter Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project?

To do that, though, we would have to determine first what constitutes a repeat (and what that is a repeat of), which would give us a wonderful occasion to return to Gilles Deleuze (and the composer who inspired him, Olivier Messiaen, the master of the non-return repeat). Since at least the “generalized anti-Hegelianism” of his doctoral thesis, Différence et Répétition (1968), the French philosopher worked with multiple variations on what is repeated (the refrain that places, the dogmatic meter) and what differs from the repeated (the different that decenters, the critical rhythm).  Pantelis Polychronidis, who remains my “other self” by never repeating me, would love such a return to Deleuze’s collaborative musical thought.

January 4, 2016

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