Possession Through Repetition

In my last post, I discussed the ways that repetition with a difference results in progress. I find this idea interesting, especially when applied to the reading and writing processes. Due to new experiences and knowledge acquired during the time between a first and second reading, new meaning can be drawn from a text. Additionally, while writing, an author repeats their argument, story, or history until it is representative of the most recent iteration of their thoughts and ideas. Using my newly acquired knowledge, I reread Possession by Suzan-Lori Parks through the lens of repetition and noticed how she describes the writing process as repetitive.

When we read Possession at the beginning of the semester, we were given specific tasks to focus our thoughts. Between then and now, I have thought a lot about repetition as a process that can be applied to learning, and more specifically to writing. Using this new perspective, when I went back to the text I noticed how the first paragraph is a description of this process. Parks writes how she reads the words “This is the death of the last negro man in the whole entire world” and writes it down. She says that “Those words and [her] reaction to them became a play.” This is essentially Park’s way of introducing her ideas about rewriting history through theatre.

Parks says that African-American history has been “unrecorded, dismembered, washed out.” The history is there but it “has not yet been divined.” She argues that “a play is a blueprint of an event: a way of creating and rewriting history through the medium of literature” and, in this way, she claims that theatre can “make” history. To Parks, this process occurs through listening to the voices of her ancestors, effectively resurrecting the dead. She writes that “the bones tell us what was… their song is a play.” This is repetitive in the sense that she is telling their stories again but also because the ancestors are living again through Park’s “figures.” In this way, literature keeps people alive long after they are dead. The repetition of “his bones cannot be found” draws attention to the importance of the ancestors that Parks is referring to and the repetition that is inherent in Possession.

The other thing I noticed was the two quotes Parks uses from other scholars. This is an example of repetition with a difference. She repeats the exact words of someone else but changes their meaning by changing the context in which they are read. With this difference, the words do not become hers (she gives credit to the individuals who originally wrote the words) and yet they are read within her work, furthering her purpose. This made me think of found poetry. For example, someone can take a poem and rearrange the words into a new poem, but the word choice isn’t theirs. Is the poem theirs then? Is credit given to the author of the original poem?

The first time we read Possession, we discussed what it means to possess something. We talked about how the definition of the word is both transitive and recursive, it “cancels itself out.” To possess something also means to be possessed by it. Applying this to writing, if you possess what you write then it also possesses you. But do you actually possess your writing? As I have said, the process of writing is repetitive, a reiteration of arguments and histories that have already been told. So what is the relationship between repetition and possession? How many times do you have to apply “repetition with a difference” to something for it to become yours?

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