Epizeuxis, epizeuxis, epizeuxis! in Thoreau’s Walden

Writing is repetition. Listen to the keyboard. Each key produces its own, unique sound, repeating, the sounds given emphasis by the relative strength and position of the fingers, but we recognize the collective effort as someone typing. Suddenly, the sounds grow faint, decrescendo. Perhaps the typist has reached the required length. Then, suddenly, suddenly, like a cat in flight, the ideas spring like birds from the grass, then scatter, some alighting on wires, others landing on roofs, others lost within thick trees, trees, trees.

Typing sounds. But that’s not writing you say, but typewriting, echoing Capote’s criticism of Kerouac’s On the Road, the first draft produced on a single roll of paper fed through his typewriter: no yoke.

And repetition is instruction, to repeat, to teach or learn, often with little relief, as we are made to recite or duplicate. But in the distance we hear the stammerer, needlessly repeating, though stammer he must, to get it out, battology, swinging away in the batting cage, practice, repetition, swing, swing, swing. If the ball is claim, the bat grounds, flight is assumption. Going, going, gone! And a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose, said Gertrude Stein, and we can imagine her writing teacher’s penciled comment on little Gert’s paper: “wordiness.” Yes, but, well, isn’t that what she’s getting paid for?

“Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!” rants Thoreau in the “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For” chapter of Walden (86), an example of epizeuxis, (ep i zeux’ is), a figure of repetition, a word repeated in succession for emphasis. Yet two sentences down, Thoreau seems to realize a mistake, or maybe he’s just tired himself out, and he says, “Simplify, simplify,” twice only, without the exclamation. But he’s followed his own advice, having simplified his epizeuxis, for now, diminishing the repetition by one. But, at the same time, a contradiction appears, for he’s up to five.

Thoreau repeats the word simplicity ten times throughout Walden, the word simple, twenty-five times, but the imperative, simplify, the argument of proposal, he repeats only twice, but in the figure of repetition, epizeuxis, which is to say, he says it simply once.


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