Pursuing repetition in a world of novelty and spectacle

When I assign full books for my classes to read, one complaint I hear consistently from students is this: the book is too repetitive – the author keeps making the same point over and over. I admit to having similar thoughts at times where I wonder if a book could have been ten pages long and effectively made the same argument.

Yet, one of the jobs of an author is to remind their reader of their argument. Readers should not easily get lost. I distinctly remember my eighth grade Language Arts teacher telling us that we need to keep restating our argument. Granted, the author should do this in new ways each time.

Is the problem then that the book authors are indeed too repetitive or are we today less interested in repetition? A Foreward of a recent book I read included these lines:

But the best books aren’t the ones that have all brand new information. We don’t have context for that. Instead, we need new voices telling us old things…

Many of the questions that vex humans are not new ones, even if their form might change. The quote above is from a book about living in the suburbs. Even though suburbs in the current American form have been around about 100 years (thinking about suburbs based around driving and featuring mass-produced housing), the questions are similar: how does one find fulfillment? What leads to lasting success? What is the good life?

But, how do you answer such questions if modern life is about new experiences and novelty? Perhaps this is supposed to be an answer to those questions: the good life involves new adventures and change.

Or, perhaps repetition helps answer these big questions. Patterns. Habits. Consistent behaviors. Rituals. In a religious setting, liturgies. Novelty can be good but what is it anchored in? Can humans truly go from topic to topic or experience to experience without anchoring beliefs?

Repetition can be hard to get excited about yet it is a regular feature of our lives. Washing the dishes. Regular interactions with people. Doing the laundry. Making food. The activities may not be exciting and novel but they do help form us.

Going back to the book example, repetition is good. Having read many books and written pieces, I am not sure exactly when an author crosses a line between good repetition and annoying repetition. However, maybe we all need a little more repetition of good arguments, experiences, and patterns.

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