Posts Tagged ‘pleasure’

How should we think about intertextuality – the tendency for texts to echo/imitate/parody/rework/quote/vaguely remind one of/etc. other texts? In this week’s research seminar, Elena Lombardi from the Bristol Italian Department, as a prelude to her detailed discussion of how Dante, Ariosto and Tasso reworked episodes in Virgil and Lucan, suggested that we needed to think above all in terms of pleasure: the pleasure of the moment of recognition that something familiar has come back, just as children take endless delight in endless games of ‘now it’s here – now it’s gone’. The play between closeness and distance, possession and loss, the ever-ambivalent status of the mother, is reenacted in our experience of reading an author’s (pleasurable) revival of or reference to a text that might otherwise seem to be lost in the past.

Hmm. Well, as a jazz fan, with ears finely attuned to picking up that little allusion to Charlie Parker’s solo in the famously chaotic pre-breakdown recording of Lover Man, I can scarcely deny that this has to be part of the story. Is it the whole thing, though? I can’t help wondering whether it’s wholly accidental that a theory which establishes the pleasure of repetition as a basic human drive ingrained in childhood should be developed by a literary scholar who naturally takes pleasure in recognising textual allusions – it’s a little bit like, though much less dangerous, the way that the running-dogs of capitalist tend to claim self-interest as a basic human drive, purely by accident legitimising their own behaviour. There was talk in the seminar of other sorts of pleasure to be gained from intertextual repetitions – rather less talk of the pains and anxieties and sheer boredom that such repetition might arouse in a different reader. And isn’t this all a bit unilinear in temporal terms – the theory seems to assume that a significant part of the pleasure comes from the recovery of that which was thought lost (classical literature) through recognising it in a more recent artefact, but isn’t there also pleasure (as well as anxiety etc.) to be derived from recognising later ideas in a much earlier piece – finding Hobbes in Thucydides, for example? But perhaps my lack of appreciation for this simply comes down to a more troubled childhood…

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