Thoughts on philoSOPHIA 2011 #3: Nietzsche, Beauvoir, and Repetition

Elaine Miller gave a super-interesting paper on repetition in Nietzsche and Beauvoir. She finds in both a contrast between inauthentic, lazy conceptions of repetition (I’ll call this lazy repetition), and rigorous, accurate accounts of repetition (I’ll call this real repetition). Lazy repetition is the idea that repetition is the lack of progress; it is a distinctly Enlightenment, European notion of repetition. Real repetition is like the eternal return: it acknowledges that repetition happens, but repetition is not seen as a hindrance, but a necessity. What is particularly interesting to me is the way this lazy/real distinction mirrors distinctions that African-American Studies scholars make between Western and Afro-diasporic concepts of repetition. Tricia Rose talks about this in Black Noise, where she summarizes James Snead’s work on the topic. Western culture tends to, in Rose’s words, “secret” repetition: it disguises repetition as development, as progress towards some goal. So, for example, in sonata form, the recapitulation, er, repeats, the exposition, but because it concludes on a root-position tonic in obligatory register, it is seen as somehow a “development” on/from the exposition. Afro-diasporic cultures privilege repetition as a site of creativity, agency, and, well, the creation (rather than the lack of) difference and development. Hence the importance of looping, for example, in 20th C black musics like disco, house, techno, and hip hop. Miller’s paper shows that Nietzsche and Beauvoir make a similar critique of traditional Western (mis)conceptions of repetition, and offer European-based theories of repetition that are complimentary to those found in Afro-diasporic musical practices. Interestingly, especially in Beauvoir’s mid-20th-c case, it is perhaps the increasing influence of Afro-diasporic “soft power” on Euro-Western culture that makes such a critique more plausible?