Ritual, Routine, and Regime: Institutions of Repetition in Euro-American Cultures, 1650–1832

Friday, March 2, 2001–Saturday, March 3, 2001
All Day

William Andrews Clark Memorial Library
2520 Cimarron Street

—a conference organized by Lorna Clymer, University of California, Bakersfield

What does repetition—at once the act and instance of repeating—indicate about constructions of agency and authority during the long eighteenth century in Euro-American cultures? Repetition is often thought of as a tedious or reassuring sameness with some measure of continuity, especially when we rely on a traditional Freudian account of the repetition compulsion or on post-modern explorations of the radical alienability of a repeated element from its original. But these models cannot adequately explain the centrality and ambiguity of ritual, routine, and habit in many aspects of early modern British, American, and Continental cultures.

In early modern contexts, there emerged a number of alternate, competing, or even incongruous perspectives on repetition’s value. Both an imperative and an increasingly devalued strategy in early modern life, repetition could be understood as an attempt to impose continuity on incongruities, or as an effort to come to terms with difference located within sameness. Imitation in a Neoclassical context was simultaneously recapitulation and creation. While a relatively new scientific method derived its authority from the replicability of experiments, the proof of creative authority shifted from effective imitation or translation of the past to the production of an ostensible original. The issue of repetition also in part provoked the ancient and modern controversy: should a nation reiterate another era or move ahead into a modernity that self-consciously separates itself from a past? In another emergent arena, national identities can be seen as formulated through repetition to become regime, either at institutionalized levels or as the incorporation of individual values that are attributed to national character and habit.

The conference seeks not only to address contested meanings given to repetition in early modern Euro-American cultures but also to explore possible negotiations between early modern practices and twentieth-century accounts of the institutions of repetition.