Morphologies of Repetition in Texts / Films and Interpretation:

Going in Circles: Interpretation as Hermeneutic Circle and as Vicious Circle


Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason and Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (overcoming the vicious circle)

Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher, Hermeneutics and Criticism: And Other Writings, moving from part of the text to the whole text and back from the whole to another part, and so on.

Circle as expanding, rising, deepening, widening, geometrical, storied pattern, moving at a steady pace (no turn of the screw, no irony, no vertigo), like a program, videotape, or audiotape you can run backwards and forwards without loss; reading then becomes a retracing of writing.

"What is decisive is not to get out of the [hermeneutical] circle but to get into it in the right way. . . . The circle of understanding is not an orbit in which any kind of random kind of knowledge may move . . . It is not to be reduced to the level of a vicious circle, or even of a circle which is merely tolerated. In the circle is hidden a positive possibility of the most primordial kind of knowing, and we genuinely grasp this possibility only when we have understood that our first, last, and constant task in interpreting is in never to allow our fore-having, our fore-sight, and fore-conception to be presented to us by fancies and popular conceptions, but rather to make the scientific theme secure by working out these fore-structures in terms of the things themselves."

Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, Revised Trans. Dennis J. Schmidt, 148; see also pages 147-48; 163; and pages, 300-02.

See Leo Spitzer, Linguistics and Literary History: Essays in Stylistics (1962), 1-29.

Palmer, Richard E., "The Liminality of Hermes and the Meaning of Hermeneutics"

Psychoanalysis: Interpretation / Cognition as Pathless, Errant Loop, and Detours (Drifts, Digressions, Tangents)

Sigmund Freud:

Repetition Compulsion (Beyond the Pleasure Principle) and the Uncanny (a pathless loop whch does not rise or expand, that has no fixed speed, and that may be broken--requiring skips--and lead to impasses (dead ends) and vertigo.

"Analysis Terminable and Interminable"

"Repetition and Working Through"

A consistent tension in Freud between topographical and dynamic models of the psyche emerges early on in his career. See "Psychotherapy of Hysteria," Standard, Edition, Vol. 2, 289-291. (Freud adopts a file / dossier simile on p. 288 and then on p. 298 adopts the simile of concentric stratification to describe the exhibition of linear themes in the orderly file / dossier arranged around "the pathogenic nucleus." Unlike his co-writer Josef Breuer's topographical model of the psyche as house storeys simile ("the complex of ideogenic, psychically determined symptoms is erected on it as a building is on its foundations. And it is a building of several storeys [sic]. Just as it is possible to understand the structure of such a building if we distinguish the plans of different floors, it is, I think, necessary in order to understand hysteria to pay attention to the various kinds of complication in the causation of the symptoms. If we disregard them . . . we shall always find a very large residue of unexplained phenomena left over. It is just as though we tried to insert the different rooms of a many-storyed house into the plan of a single storey. p. 244; 245), however, Freud notes in hte course of articulating his concept of "overdetermination" (p. 290) that his three concentric strata do not fit comfortably together because one of them is dynamic rather than morphological. Freud describes "a logical thread which reaches as far as the nucleus and takes to take an irregular and twisting path, different in every case. This arrangement has a dynamic character, in contrast to the morphological one of the two stratifications mentioned previously. While these two would be represented in a spatial diagram by a continuous line, curved or straight, the course of the logical chain would have to be indicated by a broken line which would pass along the most roundabout paths from the surface to the deepest layers and back, yet would in general advance from the periphery to the central nucleus, touching at every intermediate halting-place--a line resembling the zig-zag line in the solution of the Knight's Move problem, which cuts across the squares in the diagram of a chessboard." On p. 291, Freud inserts a parenthetical paragraph in which he acknowledges the contradictions between his many similes but rightly refuses to stop from to continuing to pile them on, the first one beng Chinese boxes (p. 291).

Martin Heidegger (does not cite Freud) on the uncanny and ghostly doubles that know no boundaries in "The Ister."

"Foreign loan-words are the Jews of language."

Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia


Jacques Derrida on "destinerrance"; letters do not always arrive at their destination

"Iterability" in Limited, Inc

Deconstructive precursor: Soren Kierkegaard, Repetition

Going in circles on auto-pilot?

"Deconstruction is generally practiced in two ways or two styles, and it most often grafts one on to the other. One takes on the demonstrative and apparently ahistorical allure of logico-formal paradoxes. The other, more historical or more amnesiac, seems to proceed through readings of texts, meticulous interpretations and genealogies.

One often associates the theme of undecidability with deconstruction. Yet, the undecidable is not merely the oscillation between two significations or two contradictory and very determinate rules, each equally imperative . . . The undecidable is not merely the oscillation between two decisions. Undecidable--this is the experience of that which, though foreign and heterogenous to the order of the calculable and the rule, must nonetheless . . . deliver itself over to the impossible decision while taking account of laws and rules. A decision that did not go through the text and ordeal of the undecidable would not be a free decision; it would be the programmatic application or the continuous unfolding of a calculable process.

This deconstruction does not apply itself to such a text, however. It never applies itself to anything from the outside. It is in some way the operation or rather the very experience of this text, it seems to me, first itself, by itself, on itself. What does this mean? Is it possible? What remains, then, of such an event? Or its auto-deconstruction? Of its just and unjust completion? What is the ruin of such an event or the open wound of such a signature?"

--Jacques Derrida, "Force of Law," in Acts of Religion, 250; 252; 264

Freud's Uncanny / repetition compulsion--circle as a pathless loop that compulsively returns to the traumatic event but not where it again (but not far from it either)

Repetitions without loss--Hegel: dialectical negation as an encircling of the totality--circle from thesis to antihesis includes both in a synthesis.

Repetitions with loss (circle is incomplete, unfinished such that negation, negativity is not totally redeemed:

Kirkegaard, Repetition and The Concept of Irony

Juan Luis Borges, "Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote" (ironic or not?)

Marcel Proust, The Lemoine Affair

Thomas Bernhard, The Loser and Correction (revising and posthumous editing as subtraction)

Honore de Balzac, The Unfinished Masterpiece--the work of art as its self-cancellation, unrecognizable as such to anyone except its possibly / probably insane painter. See Jacques Rivette's film adaptation, La belle noiseuse

Signifying and Non-Signifying Patterns (repetitions that may serve as symmetrical frames or bookends rather than circles):

Some repetitions create patterns in films and literature that are significant. Some repetitions are ornamental; they serve as a design that helps unify the film but that do not have any symbolic value.

Main title and end title sequences often work both ways at the same time in serving as metaphorical frames or bookends.

Interpretation often moves in a parabolic zone (with undefinable borders) between significance and insignificance.

Parabolic Narratives:

Parables of Jesus

Someday you may understand them, if you keep trying. (There's something to understand.)

Zen Koans: Ditto

Parables of Kafka

You'll never understand them, no matter how hard you try.


Stories and Sayings of Dr. Phil, Deepak Chopra, Yoda, and so on.

There's nothing to understand.

Aphorisms (one liners) / Burtisms / "Dr. Phil."

"Just because you're broken doesn't mean you're broken down." (And vice versa.)

--Richard Burt

You know you understood something, but you're not quite sure if you understood it correctly.

Transmission (over and out) versus Traumission (traumatic emittings)

Transmissions get through because of static, delays, deferrals, errors, and so on (traumissions), not in spite of them.

Failure is productive; frustrated pleasures are the best kind.

Erro comes first.

Clarity versus Obscurity

"clear and distinct ideas" are the criteria for determining what is true.

Rene Descartes, Discourse on Method, Meditations 3 and 5

"Clear ideas are ideas that are dead and finished."

--Antonin Artaud

Visibility as Remedy in Film to Various Exclusions, Deprivations (Representation versus Rights of Wo/Man Discourse (Fill in the hole criticism, as opposed to drawing blanks)

Identity Politics and Multiculturalism (Bush Co administration); Slavoj Zizek "Multiculturalism as racism"

Can a wound can be healed?

As opposed to thinking of history as an open more or less hidden wound in which blood has begun coagulating but does not redeem (wash away "sin").

Assumes the center is a better place to look than the margin to understand how film / History works.

The Violence of Interpretation /

This violence, however, should not be confused with an action that is wholly arbitrary. The interpretation must be animated and guided by the power of an illuminative idea. Only through the power of this idea can an interpretation risk that which is always audacious, namely, entrusting itself to the secret élan of a work, in order by this élan to get through to the unsaid and to attempt to find an expression for it. The directive idea itself is confirmed by its power of illumination.

Martin Heidegger, Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, 207

First and Second prefaces to Martin Heidegger, Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics