Encountering Temporality VI: Pedestrian Crossings and Repetition

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In the last blog post, I focused on the affective temporalities of waiting and rushing that I experienced at pedestrian crossings on Lewisham Way. This week I concentrate on another affective temporality: repetition. Whereas the last blog post included some raw video footage, in this one I include sound recordings, captured on a free iPhone app called Recorder.

 

Repetition

Walking often involves repetition. There are certain streets that we may frequently travel, on our way to or from home, work, bus stops or train stations for example. There is a particular pedestrian crossing on Lewisham Way that I often use. Over the past few days, I have been audio recording crossing it.

 

Recording I: Recording without crossing the road

 

Recordings II-V: Recordings whilst crossing the road

 

Repetition is usually understood in terms of ‘the same’. Indeed, one dictionary definition of ‘repetition’ is ‘something the same as before’, while synonyms include ‘replication’ and ‘duplication’ (Microsoft Word dictionary). According to such an understanding, I move across the same pedestrian crossing in the same way organised by the same visual and audio technologies. In these terms, listening to the audio recordings, I may pay attention to the repetition and regularity of the beeping that marks out the time given to cross the road. My footsteps – which can just be heard at different volumes on the different clips – also have a certain regularity to them, indicating that I walk at roughly the same speed on multiple occasions (I never reach the other side before the beeps stop: I always have another two or three steps to go).

 

Repetition and difference

However, within each of these crossings is difference, not only because each crossing is made at a different time of day, but also in other mundane ways. For example, while the beeping and my footsteps have a certain regularity to them, the ways these sounds co-exist with those of the traffic that passes, stops and starts again, and with other noises including music, demonstrate that no two crossings are the same.

 

Deleuze argues that ‘To repeat is to behave in a certain manner, but in relation to something unique or singular which has no equal or equivalent’ (2001: 1). In this way, while repetition involves a particular kind of behaviour – walking across the road at a specific pedestrian crossing – attention is drawn to what might be ‘unique or singular’, that is novel, new, creative, in each crossing. In the examples that I am focusing on here, there is novelty in each crossing in that none sound the same. The lengths of the clips also differ, depending on when I arrive at the crossing, how long I wait to cross and when I end the recording. Here, novelty refers not so much to the spectacular or exceptional, but more to the everyday and ordinary; the activity of crossing a road and recording it.

 

Repetition, difference and futurity

If the difference that may be found in repetition involves novelty, this implies that repetition concerns, in part, temporality. As difference and novelty, repetition involves change and the potentiality of transformation. Another way of putting this is that repetition is oriented to the future (e.g. see Deleuze 2001: 93-94).

 

One way to develop this idea is through the relationship between repetition, habit and the habitual. As with repetition, a prevalent way in which habit is understood is as the unthinking, automatic replication of the same activity or behaviour. However, as Elizabeth Grosz notes, habit also involves change. No two repetitions of a habit are the same, and habit concerns the transformation of an activity. As such, ‘habit [is] fundamentally creative and addressed to the future’ (2013: 217). She goes on to argue that habit is, in part, ‘a temporality that is open-ended, in which the future is not contained within the present, but where the present established certain regularities to anticipate what the future may involve’ (2013: 221). In this way, crossing the road is a routine and habitual activity that involves difference, novelty and change, and ‘certain regularities’ that anticipate the future.

 

In the previous post on pedestrian crossings, I suggested that the temporal experiences of waiting and rushing are encounters with futurity in that they are affective anticipatory states. In this post, by focusing on sound recordings of repeated crossings, I have indicated my first thoughts on a further way in which pedestrian crossings may be understood in terms of anticipatory encounters with and experiences of the future, this time through the difference that is involved in repetition.

 

References

Deleuze, Gilles (2001) Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton, London and New York: Continuum.

Grosz, Elizabeth (2013) ‘Habit Today: Ravaisson, Bergson, Deleuze and Us’, Body & Society, 19:2–3, pp. 217–39.