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Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Aesthetic Principle of Repetition

 "The search for novelty leads in the end to boredom.  We are bored when we have run out of "interesting" things to do, or when our own lack of vital energy disgusts us.  We are not bored with our personal obsessions, our natural functions, or the periodicity of nature- no matter how familiar to us they may be.  The short shortsightedness of the conventional view of repetition as repetitious is evident in the words of our most absurd contemporary politician, "You seen one redwood, you seen em' all."

  - Telling it Again and Again: Repetition in Literature and Film by Bruce F. Kawin. (Cornell University Press, 1974.)

  If I had to make one specific criticism about the manner in which the internet has harmed aesthetics it is in the utter negation of repetition as a valued aesthetic principle.  The best illustration of this impact is in the phenomenon of the "viral video."  In this article about Jonah Peretti the demon king of buzz (creator of buzzfeed) the New York Magazine identifies the three underlying principles of virality:  "virality depends on novelty, cleverness, and luck." (New York Magazine Profile of Jonah Peretti.)

   Really though it's only the first of those three factors that have any meaning in terms of aesthetics, "cleverness" and "luck" being either specious of aesthetically neutral.  Novelty though- the pursuit of novelty at all costs means the exclusion of Repetition, the aesthetic opposite of Novelty.  The obsession with novelty and the pursuit of virality inevitably relegates Repetition to the cheap seats.

  Additionally non-Aesthetic concerns of the Marketplace are natural collaborators with the conditions that support the advancement of Novelty as the ultimate aesthetic principle.  It is common knowledge that the largest possible general Audience requires a mixture of novelty and repetition, but that the Market requires new products on a timely basis, creating an endless demand for so-called "Novel" variations on established artistic formulas.

  There is no sadder sight in contemporary art criticism then the critic who castigates an Artist for lack of novelty.  Such a critic is no better then a kool aid drinking hack for the forces of market capitalism and the internet novelty generating process.  Being a critic today, in 2013, requires a deep appreciation of the aesthetic value of Repetition.

  Repetition is not boring, it is actually the central fact of human existence, and it has been recognized as such by thousands of years of religious and philosophical, not to mention artistic, thought.  Only within the last few centuries has Novelty arisen AT ALL let alone as a directly countering aesthetic principle.

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