In Defense of Repetition

Repetition is not a bad thing. In fact, I’d argue that it’s a good thing. Despite redundancy often being considered a flaw in one’s writing, I would posit that redundancy can, in fact, be quite beneficial, depending on what one is writing.

Some forms of intentional redundancy (e.g., choruses) are quite enjoyable and help hammer in the theme of dramatic and/or musical works. These redundancies are so enjoyable, in fact, that I would posit that these redundancies are almost certainly not unpleasant. When something is enjoyable enough or not too unpleasant, repetition can be delectable, I would posit, like a second plateful of deviled eggs at a potluck in which deviled eggs are the only offering that’s the least bit palatable, so you get a second plateful of deviled eggs in order to not appear disrespectful but also attempt to enjoy yourself a little bit, which elements (i.e., not being disrespectful and convincing the people around you that you want to be in their presence) are the heart of the American potluck. Redundancy is like those deviled eggs at that potluck. 

Redundancy also helps one remember things, especially if one is one who is reading something. Back before typographical conventions such as headers and chapter titles and italicized and/or bolded text existed to draw attention to important concepts in texts, authors emphasized whatever point they wished to get across via repetition. They used repetition because they knew their audiences had limited attention spans. Their audiences’ attention spans were so limited (I would posit that short attention spans are hardly a new phenomenon) that authors had to repeat themselves over and over and over again. 

Too often, I get down on myself for being redundant in my own writing. At least, I would posit that I can, at times, be repetitious. I’ll often read over something I’ve written and think, Why did I write that sentence? Or that sentence? These sentences just restate what I already stated in an earlier sentence with slightly different syntax and word choice. But then I remember that such repetition needn’t be considered a bad thing. They are good things. They can even be pleasurable things, like a song’s chorus or the sinewave regularity of a boat’s motion on open water.

I’m reminded of Gertrude Stein. I’m reminded of Gertrude Stein because Gertrude Stein was repetitious. And Gertrude Stein was repetitious because that was her aesthetic choice, and that aesthetic choice was her repetitious style. She was one most certainly repeating and turning that repeating into an aesthetic, an aesthetic which was deliberate, an aesthetic which, one could posit, she chose. 

I’m also reminded of Thomas McGrath’s This coffin has no handles, a novel about a labor strike in New York City shortly after the end of WWII. This novel, set in post-WWII New York City shortly after the war ended, has characters talking about “the strike” quite a bit, almost as if the strike is a pending storm, a god to be waited upon like Godot, or an extended weekend. Characters are constantly talking about “the strike” to the point where “the strike” is all you end up thinking about, which I think helps the reader remember what the novel is really all about—the strike. It’s all quite poetic and poetically written, one would almost say as if a poet had written it. If you’re interested in reading This coffin has no handles, it’s fortunately available for any interested reader at the NDQ archive

It is a poetic choice. It is a writer’s choice. Writers who write poetry or any form of written material need not be afraid of appearing redundant to ones who are reading. Much like the archetypal plate of deviled eggs that manages to find its way to every American potluck, those repeatable morsels of written language are repeatable and deliciously repetitious.