Rhythm, then, is the basis of life. The heartbeat and the breath measure out our days and nights, repeated feats of unconscious endurance. A word or phrase repeated ad infinitum, ad absurdum, ad nauseam until the fine thread – a brittle hair tying a word to its meaning – unravels finally and the thread becomes a threat. A threat to the ordered logic of language and understanding, inescapable, even with the fastest running, talking, repeating.
So the anxiety of misunderstanding is not dispelled by faster talking, plugging silences and gaps and gasps with talking (a finger in the dam). The superstition of order and alphabetized lists as the antidote to confusion is a false comfort. Rhythm, then, is the basis of life, but rhythm is a flow, swinging round obstacles, sometimes crashing into them, wrecking meaning and behaviour.
Repetition is the essence of ritual as it is the essence of learning. Delivered in Gertrude Stein’s lulling intonation, it becomes the essence of life, of man’s lived trilogy ‘when he’s a young man, when he’s an old man, when he’s an older man’. Her syntactical variations, the recurring ‘then’ of her speech, a beat, a mantric marker, stake out the different but essentially equivalent elements of father and son, of cruelty and nobility, embodied in a dilapidated sign in a field in Spain, which reads ‘fascists, traitors, thieves’.
Stein’s ‘little description of something that happened once’ tells the story of a young boy, fascinated with butterflies and beetles, convinced by his father that ‘killing things to make collections of them’ is wrong. But the noble hour is a short one, and the little son is betrayed the very next morning, by his father’s own inability to resist the exquisite cruelty of trapping, killing and pinning a wonderfully beautiful moth. And repetition, then, is the basis of life.
And functional rules join with ritual and repetition as necessary components of learning. But malfunctioning is what defines a body, so the disjunction between rules and repetition widens and narrows according to a body’s ability to grasp the father’s words, according to the father’s ability to embody the rules.
Text from exhibition publication for allsopp&weir, Some Time Repeating An Embarrassed Word, Studio 1.1, London, 2007