“The joy of repetition really is in you”: Lee Edelman and Hot Chip’s “Over and Over”
I’m going to argue that Hot Chip’s “Over and Over” (mainly the song, but also somewhat the video) evinces/endorses what Lee Edelman calls “sinthmosexuality.”
Queer theorist Lee Edelman argues that, in the West, “queerness” has come to represent the “death drive” at the heart of all our humanist ideals. Freud posits “Thanatos” as the flip side of every “Eros” (i.e., aggression as the complement to affection), and it is this aggressive, literally inhuman(ist) negativity that heteronormativity attributes to teh queers. As Edelman explains, “queerness…figures, outside and beyond its political symptoms, the place of the social order’s death drive…queerness attains its ethical value precisely insofar as it accedes to that place” (3). Rather than trying to prove their “humanity,” Edelman argues that queers should embrace and positively value this inhuman negativity (4). Edelman names this queer embrace of the death drive “sinthmosexuality” [now nicely homophonous with “synth”-mosexuality…] in order to emphasize the role of death/the death drive in jouissance (or, as Edelman says, “a fatal, and even murderous, jouissance” (39)). Sinthmosexuality privileges pleasure over “deep meaning” by “insisting on access to jouissance in place of access to sense” (37). Moreover, it is “as stupid enjoyment” that sinthmosexuality takes on the character of “senseless compulsion” (38). Because of its “repetitive insistence” or “repetitive investment in the Same,” sinthmosexuality finds pleasure in “machine[s] for producing sameness” (59). Sinthmosexuality is, for Edelman, the joy of machinic repetition.
The quote in the title is a line from Hot Chip’s song “Over and Over,” which, as you can see by the title, is a song whose musical and lyrical content is about repetition. Here’s the video, with lyrics:
“Over and Over” is a “sinthmosexual” text in the following ways: (1) At the level of musical form, it refuses to “secret” repetition behind some notion of development or progression (the form could be roughly schematized as follows: Intro-A-A1-A1-B-B-A1-B-B-C-A2-A2-B-B-A); (2) It rejects the humanist preference for musical authenticity, be it in “warmth” of sound, the use of “real people” playing “real instruments,” and humanism’s general tendency to equate electronic sounds with alienation (indeed, the “live video” takes place in a digital editing environment, as the close of the video makes explicitly clear); and (3) It posits and positively values “joy in repetition,” and compares the abstract second-person addressee to a machine for producing sameness (“like a monkey with the miniature cymbals”). The pleasure here is the pleasure of synthmosexuality (and, of the synthesizer), joy in cold, meaningless repetition. Indeed, as the break tells us, “k-i-s-s-i-n-g” and “s-e-x-i-n-g” are equated to keyboarding (i.e., a “casio poke” – fingering, so to speak, either a piano or a computer keyboard). The song doesn’t attempt to make some sort of profound statement, but purports instead to “give [us] ‘laid back’”. This isn’t supposed to be “serious” or “deep” music—it’s just fun, senseless fun, and that’s a good thing. The song uses electronic instruments and feedback and thus distances itself from the “warmth” of live instruments, i.e. of “real people”. Also, (4) The dancers are all in motion capture suits. A very embodied activity is presented as something whose telos is not corporeality, but digitization—in this instance, dancing doesn’t bring us closer to our bodies, it is the medium in which kinaesthetics is abstracted into data.
All quotes that are not from the Hot Chip song are from Lee Edelman’s 2004 book No Future.
I feel you may have stretched the analysis a little far here, though it’s an interesting one nonetheless. The reason being that the song itself could actually be read as an implicit critique or at least parody of sinthmosexuality/repetition.
There are numerous examples of this in the clip/song – “like a monkey with a miniature cymbal”; the purposefully sped-up footage intimating a stupid repetition; the video itself as a critique of hackneyed and ‘fake’ uses of greenscreen (crowd-multiplying, etc. – in fact the video you posted cuts out the captioning that’s central to the whole premise of the video, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gs9NgGZkErU instead), etc. etc. They all add up to a pisstake on repetition and technological reproduction itself, even as the song celebrates it.
Apart from this, the band themselves are singing “laid back, we’ll give you laid back” in reference to the British press’s summary of their first album as too chilled, a kind of faux-aggressive, white-boy take on rap’s bravado.
The dealbreaker, though, is that the band themselves have publicised their attempts to reinstate something like ‘natural’ and ‘authentic’ playing to electronica, deciding to play their instruments ‘live’ and in person in a reactionary gesture against the very excorporealisation that makes electronic music interesting in the first place.
As such, I think you might need to reconsider your analysis of this song/clip, which is far more conflicted than it first seems.
Thanks for the feedback. I don’t know that authorial intent is really pertinent to my analysis. One could argue that the band is interested in a “straight” reading of their video (i.e., hetero-macho critique of the ‘fakeness’ of electronic reproduction…interesting that you call it a “pisstake”…). What I’m trying to do, however, is precisely a QUEER reading of the video. Edelman’s point is, after all, that queers need to embrace and exploit all the “bad” things that hetero culture accuses them of. So, while HC themselves may be trying to make fun of machinic reproduction, what I’m doing here w/Edelman is arguing that fuck yeah, the joy of repetition really is in us queers.
Excellent analysis Robin,
I was studying listening to this song, and all I wanted to find out was about what the word he spelt out in the song was, now i’ve found your analysis.
Very well put together and far better worded than the usual trash you find on song analysis sites. Also Lawson, well worded and meaningful response to Robin, again, infinitely better than other responses you find on the internet.
Thanks to both of you
These analyses where really worth a read. Thank you for making the last ten minutes of life fulfilling and educational on the queer sexual life.
You need to get out more love.