“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.