Where Is The Progress?

You’re all probably getting sick of my posts about repetition, but I haven’t repeated these ideas enough to be sick of them myself. So far, in The America Play, I have been intrigued by Parks’ ideas about repetition and the writing process. In class today, we talked about Parks’ obsession with repetition and her idea of “Rep & Rev” which reflects what I have been thinking about in my posts. I have been struggling to find something to blog about that interests me and I was hesitant to bring repetition up again. That was until I read Molly’s post “Healing is not linear.”

While reading Big Machine, I thought about repetition and, like Molly, thought about rehabilitation through repetition and how the path of recovery is not linear, it is recursive. This would be a “text which cleanly ARCS” (like the diagram Dr. McCoy keeps drawing on the board to ingrain in our minds). Parks says these recursive stories use “repetition with revision” to create a “drama of accumulation.” She claims that “characters refigure their words and through a refiguring of language show us that they are experiencing their situation anew.” Through this process, we, as readers, are waiting for the climax which “would be the accumulated weight of the repetition.”

Using these ideas, it is easy to see how important “Rep & Rev” is in African American culture. We have talked a lot about repetition in fractals, African quilting, jazz music. It is especially important in African American oral tradition, for example, in the poem “Bars Fight” by Lucy Terry. This poem was repeated many times before it was finally written down and published. A lot of complaints about this poem in class had to do with the lack of a climax. What are we supposed to take away from this poem? Where is the progress if nothing happens. According to Parks, this would be a poem of accumulation where “incremental refrain” causes weight and rhythm and we are given information that doesn’t necessarily follow the “traditional” framework of storytelling.

Naturally, I looked up “incremental refrain” to see what it is all about. The definition that came up was for incremental repetition: a device used in poetry of the oral tradition in which a line is repeated in a changed context or with minor changes in the repeated part. It might be a stretch to apply this to “Bars Fight,” but in a way, the speaker recalls each of the various ways the (otherwise interchangeable) white people were killed. All of the characters tried to fight or tried to run and ended up dead except for Samuel Allen who “was taken and carried to Canada.” The rhyme scheme is also broken at this last line, which is interesting. While it seems like nothing is said in this poem as there is no “traditional” climax, there is meaning to be drawn from this poem, however simple it may seem. The meaning is drawn from the form which is intertwined with the content.

Thinking back to Big Machine, in class the other day many people were frustrated because they just want to know why everything is happening. We are all anticipating the climax. Every day, the characters go back to their offices and read newspapers even though they don’t know what they are looking for, the same way we keep going back to the book and reading page after page with no idea where Victor LaValle is taking us. I have been reading this book for plot purposes, eagerly awaiting answers to all of my questions. Taking into consideration this alternative way to read, through the accumulation of information, I think I am going to reread Big Machine and pay more attention to noticing the things LaValle wants us to notice. 

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