In Uncategorized on September 6, 2011 at 2:13 pm



This Thursday September 8th at 7pm sees the launch at X Marks the Bökship of 100 THINGS NOT WORTH REPEATING: ON REPETITION, edited by Marianne Holm Hansen, who describes the book as follows:


100 THINGS NOT WORTH REPEATING:ON REPETITION is part of a series of projects that all examine repetition in general, and the usefulness of assuming repetition as a model for progression, in particular.

In 2007, and in response to a situation where repetition of the same task was beginning to seem pointless, she initiated the project ‘100 things not worth repeating’; an online public survey with the specific aim of collecting-to-share examples of when repetition proves futile. As survey responses where received, conversations regarding repetition in general, and the usefulness of assuming repetition as a method for progression, in particular, took place.

The publication 100 things not worth repeating: on repetition presents one hundred selected responses to the online survey ‘100 things not worth repeating’. These survey submissions are contextualised by artworks, essays and textworks on the topic of repetition, including contributions by David Berridge, Marina Grzinic, Rupert Hartley, Juliet Haysom, Roni Horn, Barbara Johnstone, Joan Jonas, James Morris, Jonathan Ree, Fred Scharman, Mike Solomon, Sue Tompkins, Jill Townsley and Lucy Wilson.


For the launch we met on Sunday to devise a reading performance of the section of the book comprising answers to Marrianne’s questionaire. The rest of the book, a reader on repetition, includes my essay REPETITION LECTURES, a series of imaginary lectures.  I will be exploring how to make these actual lectures for a workshop around the project that will take place in November. Here are the first three lectures:





…Artists relish repetition, committed as they are to the micro-level of difference, where the “same” utterance is altered by an always changing context. I’m thinking of a certain kind of artist: Stein, Stockhausen or Cage, for whom repetition is successful when it’s not. As Cage observed in his Lecture on Nothing, “it’s only repetition if you own it.” [1]

In everyday conversation, the stakes are different. One mustn’t be seen to repeat too much, or be deemed boring. My parents and their friends watch each others conversations, fearing for repetitions that might signal early alzheimer’s. Yet that admonishment of repetition is, of course, itself based upon the repetition of habit, the necessity of repeated actions of eating, sleeping, learning…

Repetition is the tangled condition of our lives. In this series of lectures I will engage more consciously with an already existent, necessary practice of repetition, welcoming its paradoxes, with the aim also of seeing how the repetition of the avant-garde and that of daily life could work together.


Tuesday evening. ‘Have you been getting enough material?’ Stockhausen asks me after dinner. ‘It’s going everywhere.’
    ‘Yes, it has to be corralled.’
    ‘No, it would be marvelous if the book communicated this multiple quality.’
    ‘Every once in a while,’ I say, ‘you return to things you’ve discussed before, and sometimes I think you’re repeating certain things, but actually I realize later that you’ve been speaking from a different perspective and therefore what you’re saying is new.’ [2]


… If repetition is defined by the gap between two acts, then a conscious practice of repetition has to focus on that gap, what happens between the two moments, which might have nothing to do with the repeated act itself.

This act itself wouldn’t be the same, of course, although we are assuming it is. A sentence would be emphasised and enunciated differently; a physical action would fail by millimetres to occupy the template of its predecessor.

A poetics of repetition, if that’s what I’m after, is about faith and amnesia, a willingness to ignore the gap and live in the moment as magic or boredom or both…





… I’m looking through a certain history of American poetics, which offers a rich engagement with repetition across poets and generations, seeing how its components and tension points are expressed by different writers. Take Lyn Hejinian:


Repetition, conventionally used to unify a text or harmonize its parts, as if returning melody to the tonic… Here, where certain phrases  recur in the work, recontextualized and with new emphasis, repetition disrupts the initial apparent meaning scheme. [3] The initial reading is adjusted; meaning is set in motion, emended and extended, and the rewriting that repetition becomes postpones completion of the thought indefinitely. [4]


Nathaniel Mackey relates repetition to the serial poem, its practice in Robert Duncan’s “The Structure of Rime” and “Passages” sequences as well as his own “Song of the Andoumboulou” series, installments of which appear in several of Mackey’s books, assessed at one moment in its unfolding writing as follows:


As for serial form, lately I’ve been more attentive to a dark accent or inflection running through its recourse to repetition, the sense of limits one again andagain bumps up against, limits one would get beyond if one could. This qualifies, if not brings to a crisis, the form’s promise of openness, possibility, advance. The form lends itself to a feeling for search but to one of insufficiency as well, to prospects of advance as well as to the not always happy fact of déjà vu. [5]


… To fuse the avant garde and the everyday, I decide that I will repeat the story in the pub. The hilarious story of X. I thought at first this meant I would “just” say the same thing again and again. Actually it means I am responsible for what happens in between, in changing, well, everything, so that my repetition can be heard as a new utterance. I am daunted and depressed.

I will repeat my story weeks apart, and people will not know it is repetition… Only they do know. They roll their eyes. They interrupt and try to stop me. My compulsion to tell it again is matched by their desire not to listen. I need to break out of this cycle.


The idea that my life is a collection of emotions cycling has made me somewhat depressed. That the sadness I feel for a particular thing over a particular time will be replaced or washed out by some good news that carries me for a while, which subsequently is dulled by a period of confusion – that confusion becoming complexity resulting in the writing of a book, whose subsequent deliverance in the world creates happiness, then numbness. To see all of this repeating, when I am so hot and live so far away from the center of my new city, is more than I can bear. But even that is somewhere in the cycle. [6]


Renee Gladman’s To After That (Toaf) is a novella about a novella that was never published. She works on this novella extensively over many years, through a series of repetitions/transformation within the concept of “draft.” Stubbornly, the planned novella never shifts from “work-in-progress” to the quality of “absorption” by which Gladman identifies a finished, publishable work.

Or, rather, to be published it has to become this other book, this book about the (never) book. For Gladman this is how the book can be finished, resolved. Because a writing about repetition, a poetics of resolution, needs to think about resolution, ways of stepping outside of the cycles. Drafts are not enough. There needs to be X.

Is there repetition or is there insistence. I am inclined to believe there is no such thing as repetition. And really how can there be. [7]

In Gertrude Stein’s “Portraits and Repetition”, written in 1934 for her US lecture tour, she observes how “There is only repetition when there are descriptions being given of those things not when the things themselves are actually existing.” [8] Throughout Stein’s lecture a quality of “being most intensely alive”[9] is articulated through but against repetition, with Stein aware that repetition is how her writing will be commonly perceived and dismissed:


If it had been repetition it would not have been exciting  but it was exciting and it was not repetition. It never is. I never repeat that is while I am writing… existing as a human being, that is being listening and hearing is never repetition. [10]


Stein unfolded such positions from her sense that “this generation has conceived an intensity of movement so great that it has not to be seen against something else to be known” [11]. The strip of film, with its series of images, each containing “a slightly different thing” and combining “to make it all be moving” [12] is the model for Stein of how this non-repeating recurrence operates.

Like Stein, I find myself making sense here by moving between acts of writing and everyday life, but I find it impossible to confine “repetition” to a sense of “existing” as “that which you are actually doing.” [13] Reading “Portraits and Repetition” I inhabit the creative possibilities of both this ongoing film-like sequence of differentiation, and of what so abhors Stein: the descriptive, dead, stationary, and not themselves.




… I propose a poetics of repetition suitable both for being on the page and for being read aloud. It is formed by this tension and simultaneity. In any one state, its potential for repetition in the other is insistent.

This requires a particular form of writing that, in its eagerness to be both, fictionalizes everything. Such a strategy invites writer and reader to wait with relish for the moments when it breaks down.



Exercise (1): Get rid of the traditional poet and text. Repetition moves us into a textual landscape of statistics, averages and means.

Exercise (2): Invent a comedy act generating humour through repetition not identification. [14]


everybody said the same thing over and over again with infinite variations but over and over again until finally if you listened with great intensity


Some things, too, that are amusing when you first see or say them become immeasurably sad upon repetition


you could hear it rise and fall and tell all that that there was was inside them, not so much by the actual words they said or the thoughts they had but the movement of their thoughts and words endlessly the same and endlessly different.” [15]


… I’m trying to make some characters, out of people I know, “figures” through which I can think about repetition in the everyday. X did the same job every day for fifty years. Y’s work was a repetitive task eight hours a day.

Both are one dimensional figures, deliberately so to enable a meeting of idea and experience, but someone/ thing else soon takes over, repeating tropes, the gathering of words and thoughts, on a level of anxiety I thought behind me-


This was supposed to be a part time job selling secondhand books. Everyone loves me where I work, but it is because I am not real when I am there. One day everyone happens to exhale at the same time and I am blown out of the bookshop into a passing lorry and its going to Scotland so why not, I think, a new life.

Working at the bookshop was always posited on the day when I would not be there, so I was always expecting some sort of magical air lift or removal beyond its endless shelves. This was that moment, I guess, but all five senses have broken down after my brain was infested by a tiny bacteria you only get in old books, so it’s hard to work out what’s happening.  

When I started work at the bookshop I promised myself that when I left I would focus only on my writing, nothing else, total dedication, but the lorry driver wants me to have a conversation…


… I’m going to step outside in order to experience repetition more directly. In attempting to shift from monograph to workbook Robert Filliou’s Teaching and Learning as Performing Arts (1970) leaves a third of each page blank for readers notes and comments.

I wanted to repeat that here, repeating the old style yellow notepaper of my i-phone notepad, although I think, as gift and as assumption about participation, Filliou’s book-gesture fails. I’ve only ever since expensive copies of Filliou’s book in second hand book shops, and no one has ever written into the blank spaces. As repeated here it will, therefore, be a conceptual white third of the page, and compliance will be compulsory. Now write.





[1] John Cage, ‘Lecture on Nothing’ in Silence (Wesleyan University Press, Hanover, 1961), 110.

[2] Jonathan Cott, Stockhausen: Conversations with Composer (Picador, London, 1974, 122).

[3] Hejinian is discussing Robert Grenier’s Cambridge M’ass, Bruce Andrew’s “Love Song 41” and her own My Life.

[4] Lyn Hejinian, The Language of Inquiry (University of California Press, Berekeley, 2000), 44.

[5] Nathaniel Mackey, Paracritical Hinge: Essays, Talks, Notes, Interviews (ThMadison, 2005), 336.

[6] Rennee Gladman, To After That (Toaf)(Atelos, Berkeley, 2008), 47.

[7] Gertrude Stein, “Portraits and Repetition” in Look at Me Now and Here I Am: Writing and Lectures 1909-45 (Penguin, 1971), 100. To give a sense of how “repetition” might be a trope around which to construct literary community and lineage: Stein’s lecture is also heavily cited in Hejinian’s The Language of Inquiry, with Hejinian one of the editors at Atelos, Gladman’s publisher.

[8] Ibid.,102.

[9] Ibid., 102.


[11] Ibid., 99-100.

[12] Ibid., 107.

[13] Ibid., 107.

[14] Jokes eluded me, but I perfected the physical mannerisms and timing of the comedian, until I could repeat them exactly, inserting the unfunniest language into their container. Abandoning language altogether would have made me mime and unbookable. Body language is elliptical, but the hopefulness of my endeavour, I believe, won over some in the audience who were initially hostile.

[15] Gertrude Stein, quoted in Hejininan, ibid., 290.





100 things not worth repeating: on repetition edited by Marianne Holm Hansen LemonMelon 2011 | £10 | Softback | 244pp | 16.5 x 21.5 cm | ISBN 978 1 908260 01 7 | Edition of 350. Order here.


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