Let’s do anything, they say, anything at all, so that history doesn’t repeat itself. Let’s write a book, let’s shoot a movie, let’s write an official report engraved in marble… so that history doesn’t repeat itself. Let us go to the village sorceress, let us cling to old and new amulets, let us pray on our knees even if we no longer feel a shred of faith… so that history will not repeat itself. Peace, reconciliation, an end to fanaticism, let us cancel the fanatic and let us undertake a publicity campaign in favor of the official and hygienic forms of moderation. Let us commemorate every year the day of the non-repetition of history. All that so history does not repeat itself.
And yet, we practice these secular rituals over and over again, we repeat the magic formula, “may history not repeat itself,” knowing that history only knows how to repeat itself, knowing that history is perhaps that repetition itself, that the repetition is its most intimate spring on which pivots everything that we experience as progress in history. If we were not rational and sensible people, citizens endowed with good judgment, we might think that we have made a diabolical pact with history: compelled to repeat it and compelled to repeat aloud that, please, let us not repeat history.
According to an oft-repeated phrase on the Internet, Einstein said that stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result each time. Well, I think Einstein, or the anonymous person who, relying on the repeating powers of the Internet, made up that phrase and attributed it to Einstein, was dead wrong. Maybe we should try harder to repeat history better and better. Let’s repeat it until we get it right. Let us repeat it voluntarily so that it does not repeat itself as a failed act of the unconscious. Let us make of repetition a project of emancipation. Let us do it and do it again, let us do the same with the most precise of our calculations and wait to see what happens. Nothing you do turns out the same, each repetition is unique, as any student of music knows. Each repetition contains the seeds of the unforeseen and the rotating reiteration can only give it momentum, make it grow at every turn.
The plan would be to desire the irruption of the new by the calculated repetition of the obsolete. It is an old idea, I know, an idea I am repeating and has already occurred to us several times throughout history, an idea that has given rise to horrors, that has given rise to the most conservative and the most liberating, a reactionary and a revolutionary idea at the same time, I know. We all know it. But I felt like repeating that idea here, as a pure display of repetitions or perhaps it is history itself that speaks through me and makes me repeat this, I don’t know.
The other day I heard Juana Molina offer a very shrewd description of what she thinks is a loop, the sound loop on which all electronic music is based: it is not a simple weary repetition of a monotonous cycle, she said, it is rather like a wheel that crosses a landscape and at each turn touches a new, different surface. This is how I imagine I would like to repeat history: advancing through the landscape of time on the back of a wild, untamed loop.
Repetition will set you free. Or not. Who knows.