History may not repeat itself, but historical errors do repeat themselves. The motor of history is cyclical and the aim of revolution is to break the cycle. The reason why the cycle continues to form itself is because the reasons for its formation escape us. Revolution, therefore, has to be created out of an investigation into this question – what is it that has been escaping us? What have we been missing? What have we failed to understand? What have we been unable to master? What have we failed to assimilate?

Of course, as psychology tells us, in the very act of a repetition that searches to relive a previous enjoyment, there is an implicit failure. The act, in the repetition, has lost something – it can never be exactly the same, even if it is perfectly duplicated the very fact that it is a repetition diminishes the first-time experience, for the first-time experience can only be a first-time experience once. The more we hanker for it and try to re-live it the less satisfying it is. A loss of satisfaction which the searcher tries to compensate for by intensifying the degree of the experience. Thus, a drug addict will need to increase his/her dosage each time if the drug is to have the desired effect – which is to feel as good as it did the first time one tried it. Likewise the serial killer’s crimes will become more audacious and violent the longer he or she goes on.

As Lacan put it:

“Losing whatever you wish, losing speed – there is something that is a loss.”[1]

All systems must suffer entropy and will break down into disorder eventually. For this reason Revolution must be seen always as a positive force, revitalising, through transformation, that which would be doomed to collapse anyway.

Here we should differentiate between how we see repetition  and return. The return is a purposeful regression, not to repeat the initial experience but understand it better. The return is often more enriching than the first time. In fact, when experiences are unsatisfying or even disagreeable, the return may be the best recommendation. For example, one may stumble on an impossible book like Kant, Lacan or Joyce – or perhaps this text you are reading now. The writing is obscure and disagreeable, you get the impression that you haven’t understood a word of it – nevertheless, after you abandon it, perhaps without even finishing the first chapter, it leaves you with a certain emptiness and a worry that there was actually something deep underneath the incomprehensibility – after all, you picked the book up because you did want to understand it. So, you go back, but again it leaves you cold. Nevertheless, after the third or fourth return you start to see the genius in what has been created, and every time you return to the book it seems like a completely different book to what was originally contemplated. You are starting to understand it, and, not only understanding it, you are starting to form a complicity with it: for as we ourselves evolve, so do the things we return to.    

[1] Lacan: Seminar XVII



  1. Was just reading something about chaos and your post inspired the thought that revolution takes place at the edge of chaos, it can turn into something positive as in 1776 or, in this example, it could have collapsed back into dysfunctional colonialism.

  2. Yes, we could approach this question of why historical errors repeat themselves from the chaos theory point of view. From my limited knowledge of Chaos I think it’s right to say it is controlled by an inner order, a mathematical figure, that pulls disorder into repetitious patterns again once the larger order seems to break down. The question for a real revolution then is firstly, what is that pivotting force that limits any real leap forward for humanity as a whole, and secondly, can we revolutionise that central column without provoking a complete breakdown and the opposite to what was intended. The most interesting work I’ve found on this question is Deleuze and Guattari’s “Anti-Oedipus”, which purports, if I’ve understood that difficult work correctly, that the pivotting factor is the patriarchal family.

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