Paranomasia; Repetition & Ritual in Language
(figures and tropes are ‘little’ rituals in language).
Thesis: Figures and tropes are to language as rituals are to life; intensifiers that call upon histories, codes and identities reinforcing them even as they are performed and understood…
How much of the power of figure is due to ritual force? Not the force of habit, of repetition as cultural continuity (although this too is important, as all figure is at some formative stage learnt, cumulative); but the force of repetition as echo, as the picking out of a recently experienced word, phrase or image, be it a recognisable lexical item or just a rhythm, a pattern of words, an item of music (usually in the same text, image or flow of images). The suggestion is that repeating, doubling (echoing) is more. Means more. Such that there is in this form of repetition a strong sense that the sum is larger than the individual parts, a ‘something’ that is promised surmounting the particular instances. Larger even than the repetition or doubling that brought it to our attention (bringing with it the intimation of second meaning, of more meaning, even where it does not exist).
And just as cultural repetition consolidates collective being, and before the shoring up of meaning, there is the sharing of meaning which we perform every time we read, decode, comprehend some feature from our world of signs (telling us, a priori, whose world it is, which world it is, what kind of a world of meaning it is we are taking part in), so repetition as echo consolidates this process by intensifying it and positing it afresh, by bringing to mind anew the problem of meaning making – of meaning making as a problem, not to be taken for granted, yet unavoidable, a condition of existence. A condition of our self-recognition as sentient and as belonging to a community of interpretation. A community to which we are not to be denied access by a lack of understanding. Solving the problem of local repetition, of repetition as echo, is part of our self-esteem, a reminder of our membership and place in the world (in whatever world, real or imaginary). Furthermore the effect of rituality brought about by this reference to identity is sealed by the reference made ‘elsewhere’ in the quest for larger meaning, in quest of the solution to the riddle of the echo, to the infinite paths of interconnected meaning that make up our meaning works, our networks, webs, nets of semantic relation, significance and so contains the trace of appeal to eternity that is at the heart of ritual. Rituality in both cases, background (habitual repetition, mere insistence) and foregrounded (trope as repetition, instance of intensity) functions to cement the self in community and in universe.
All tropes of repetition work this way; can therefore be read as conveying ritual impact, partaking in ritual function. (And what tropes, or figures, are not, evoked, provoked or, in some way triggered by an apparently innocent echo in the preceding context)? This effect of local repetition is as much a key part of the meaning resources of language, as the repetitive cycles of ritual behaviour are of the order of the action or event (of which patterns of language use are as much a part as performance, not least in the shape of the performative, is a part of language). The intensification of quantity which induces in us the felt intensification in the quality of experience, in turn leads to a transformation of that quality into an (apparently) higher order, a richer vein of significance. This intensification is what sets apart such effects from the everyday (although here also the effects of repetition appear everywhere on a smaller scale). An exception would be language used in an emptied out, 'literal' fashion (as if there could be such a thing). All this adds to the intensification of textual effect (affect); very much like the ritual intensification of a sense of place, of being, of identity, of a social atmosphere, also achieved by repetition, by something coming back around, by a recognition of a repetition and an inference of its gift of extra-meaning. Ritual. Making intense; making meaningful. The result on the human nervous system: lyricism; a heightening of mood. Intensity in the text is effected by these means. Figure as ritual. (The exchange of meanings, figurative for literal, often based upon some initial transgression, like the exchange of meanings, of things for community, of objects for self, found in ritual exchange, the affect mobilised in support of a vision, a belief, a way of life...). Little rituals.
Humanity is endlessly fascinated by the uncanny powers of repetition, the hold it has on us. And rightly, for this hold is ritual, is constitutive. It is as if we glimpse the clockwork behind the curtain that is our face onto -our 'interface' with- the world 'outside'.
Copyright 2005 Peter Nesteruk.