The book introduces the theory of four matrices of repetition – the distinction between deflation, reformation, inflation and production as principal ways of conceptualizing repetition in the field of philosophy. This theory proceeds from a reflection on the basic scheme of repetition as a relation between two objects (or events) of repetition and the difference between them. The basic presupposition of this theory is that repetition does not imply a multiplying singularity but a fundamental duality, a relation between two things determined by their difference. The notation of the basic scheme of repetition is repeated <> repeated. From this basic scheme, four matrices of repetition are derived according to two criteria: the criterion of the exclusion or inclusion of the difference (this criterion determines whether the difference between the two objects/events of repetition is excluded from their relation as external to them and inessential to their determination or the difference between them is, on the contrary, that which essentially concerns or determines them) and the criterion of wholeness or unwholeness (this criterion determines whether the system generated through repetition is determined as an open or closed structure).
Further on, it is proposed that the four matrices of repetition can be understood as four fundamental ontological perspectives through which we can read various philosophical theories and various ideological and economic conceptions. This theory both systemises the explicit conceptualisation of the concept of repetition in the history of philosophy, and (through the analysis of Plato’s, Kierkegaard’s, Freud’s, Lacan’s and Deleuze’s ontology and the conception of repetition) shows that the philosophical schemes that are seemingly indifferent to the concept of repetition itself or exclude it entirely from their field also get caught in one of the four matrices of repetition. It thereby shows that both the contemporary (for example Deleuze’s) concept of repetition and the (retroactively established mythical) field of metaphysics, which this concept of repetition posits as its own conceptual opposite) are merely two inflections of a more broadly understood fundamental scheme of repetition – it thus does not place repetition in opposition to the classical metaphysical scheme, but, on the contrary, claims that metaphysics is nothing but one of the forms of repetition.
The conception of the fourth matrix of production can be traced back to the Pre-Socratic period, to the function of memory as mnéme, as the openness of time through the duration of the moment, precisely the moment that Kierkegaard draws from ancient Greece and injects it into his own conception of repetition based on the idea of restoring Christianity. Kierkegaard is talking about re-novation, repetition within which the new arises as unexpected, an exception. This is precisely Freud and Lacan’s perspective – not in variations, but in the repetition of the same is difference born as the driving wheel of repetition and the constitution of the modern decentralised subject.
The main conceptual opponent – but also collocutor – of repetition as production proved to be the first matrix of repetition as deflation which can be discerned in the ancient Greek function of memory as anámnesis, and was then, through the metaphysics of one and the narrowed conception of mimesis as imitation of a supposedly original reality, anchored in the 2000-year-long history of Platonism (within which Plato himself can be considered as the first anti-Platonist). The matrix of deflation involves philosophical idealism whose catch is that it does not touch its outside in a metonymic sliding, but with the help of the criterion of similarity sets itself against it in metaphorical thinking, that is, it posits barricades between thought and its object through which it then abolishes itself through the help of the illusion of self-affection.
The second matrix, the matrix of reformation, which opens the scheme of deflation so that it understands the copy as something that with the minimum of reality it possesses retroactively affects the original, is, in an inkling of the unpredictable power of the copy that cannot be systemically regulated, delineated already in Plato and is then tacitly present throughout the entire history of European philosophy as the repressed flip side of the metaphysics of the one and the idea of mimesis as imitation of original truth.
With the destruction of metaphysics and the dethroning of the original from the position of the One, Origin, Truth and Sense, the first and second matrix of repetition are in 20th-century philosophy and theory opposed by the scheme of inflation, postmodern multiplication of simulacra freed from reference to any presupposed original. This scheme of pure multiplicity and absolute unbinding in a paradoxical way does hit upon a limit – as soon as it tries to think a relation, it comes into contradiction with its own presuppositions due to which it becomes conceptually impossible to introduce into the system the function of the subject.
Because multiplicity as pure positivity cannot produce anything determined by restriction, lack or loss, which is crucial for the establishment of any relation, the fundamental matrix of modernity and modern subjectivity did not prove to be the matrix of inflation, but the matrix of production. Insofar as the matrix of production is established through the fundamental unbinding of subject and object, it nevertheless constantly revolves around what it has left on the other side. Heterogeneity which the matrix of production persistently thinks by way of an inherent strangeness, present absence, internal externality, carries the name of the real.
The two first two parts of the book follow the historical establishment of the concept of repetition and the emergence of its fourth scheme – from Presocratics to Plato and from Kierkegaard to psychoanalysis – encountering the other three matrices of repetition along the way (especially the first realised by the classical metaphysical scheme of imitation as a bad repetition of the original), and consider the key phenomena and relations that traverse the concept of repetition and determine it from various aspects. These include especially the relations between representation and the unrepresentable, the finite and the infinite, necessity and accidence, sameness and similarity, truth and illusion, the real and semblance; the phenomenon of memory and the question of the temporality of repetition, the question of compulsion and freedom, the question of reproduction and the new, of the exception that arises through repetition – but, in the first line, the problem of the connection or disconnection between thought and body in which, according to our presuppositions, lies the crux of the concept of repetition, whose (paradoxical) convolution it determines.
The third part proposes the theory of enactment as the fundamental function of the subject and the thesis on theatre as a specific doubling of that function – the enactment of enactment. The enactment of enactment is taken as the basic theatre matrix, which is nothing else but the doubling of the fourth matrix of repetition as production, in which, through the alienation in the Other, there emerges the subject, which is realised as enactment. The key point here is that this repetition does not take place as a copy, but as a renovation, as a potentiated self-enacting mechanism of the constitutive function of the subject, as a realisation of the real that, in the suspension of the intrusion of the real, precisely through the duplication of repetition, for a moment unmasks the elusive function of enactment. In parallel to this, theatre as the enactment of enactment is conceptualised through the triple perspective of realization, gaze and desire.
Further on two thesis on mimesis are developed: the thesis that the concept of imitation is essentially and historically determined by the criterion of truth, and the thesis that strictly speaking, 20th-century art is not an abolishment, but a realisation of mimesis.
The transition from the original meaning of mimesis as a dance and mimic expression to it denoting imitation was essentially determined by the introduction of the criterion of truth as the fundamental regulator in the functioning of a moral dogma which maintains the distinction between the original as something primary and the copy as something secondary in view of the origin. It is precisely due to the criteria of truth that the concept of mimesis is, already upon its emergence in ancient Greece, determined by a multiple ambivalence, which persists and persistently mutates throughout European history all until the 21st century. This ambivalence is primarily manifested in the split between the conception of mimesis as creation, free formation, creation of one’s own reality and the establishment of an independent field of truth of the artwork itself, and its understanding in the sense of imitation as a representation of a presupposed and superior truth external to art.
The development of the concept of mimesis is traced from its initial meaning of art as creation to its narrowed Western European meaning of art as a copy of reality. It is therefore proposed that, by declaring the destruction of all mimetic art, the 20th century turned away only from the narrow uses of the term mimesis, and thus in a way returned to its original meaning. Strictly speaking, 20th-century art is not an abolishment, but a realisation of mimesis. The key emphasis here is that, in every radical elimination of a phenomenon, we abolish something that never existed in itself or something that is established precisely through its own abolishment. From this perspective, mimetic art is nothing but a phantasmatic creation of historical avant-gardes, which are children of modernity in the true sense of the word: it is precisely in this way – as a retroactive production of the original – that the fourth matrix of repetition fundamentally determines the constitution of modernity.