“To duplicate and to be duplicitous” Review of James Tadd Adcox’s REPETITION

James Tadd Adcox. Cobalt Press, $10 paperback (65p) ISBN: 978-1941462171

            When writing my academic letters of interest, I almost always use a basic, self-made template. Within this template, there is a paragraph whose details shiftever-so slightlyto strategically recalibrate this portrait of myself as an academic. With a few performative clicks of the keys, selective liberal arts college becomes research institution, the phrase diversity becomes polyvocality, and the name of some press or some magazine shifts to some craftily emphasized other. I am the puppet master of this bullshit theater of myself: hovering, pulling, snipping strings to my own dancing simulacra!
            Such is the absurd performative tapestry of James Tadd Adcoxs Repetition, a devastatingly honest and humorous novella. Framed from the fictional but excruciatingly realistic perspective of an aspiring (untenured) Assistant Professor, Repetition follows his account of a conference dedicated to Constantin Constantius, the fictional performance of a real philosopher (aka the pseudonym of Søren Kierkegaard.) Herein, academias hierarchies, rituals, and unspoken rules of engagement are beautifully deconstructed, all within the context (as we later learn) of the narrators necessary recollection, his repetitive reconstruction of events.
            Repetitions narrator depicts his colleagues with scathingly precise, defensively derisive character analyses that reveal more about the observer than his subjects. His wifewhom he dismissively describes as a bitter adjunct”—is attractive, in a tall gangly way primarily derived from her admission that she had no idea, in particular, where to put her arms while she kissed [him]. His research assistant, Sandra (whom he suddenly realizes he is in love with,) is only lovely insomuch as her admiration for an (undeserving) other renders her so, a double of his wife who appears tall and somewhat gangly, until transformed by the frenetic, tearful, pacing power of her lovelorn energies. His arch nemesisConstantius Society leader Professor Thomas Grindingwears a baseball cap even whendressed in a suit, hoping for it to come off as a quirk or affectation, when in fact [trying] simply to hide that apart from the ponytail and some tufts of hair at his temples, he [is] almost entirely bald. His secondary nemesisthe (married) object of Sandras admirationis an insipidly casual tenured half-wit in cut-off jeans andConversestwo full sleeves of inoffensive tattoos who probably includes the name of whatever terrible band he played in on his CV.
            Worth noting, here: Adcox sneaks in some particularly sick burns related to others (imagined) CVs. He projects how the Constantius conference might appear on the CV of a posturing adjunct attendee, what a sad little line, too: Attended such-and-such conference. I wondered how many such lines his CV contained. Worth noting, here, also: my (not yet finished) review of this book is already a line on my CV. It reads, Repetition, James Tadd Adcoxbook review(magazine TBA), 2017.
            Adcox describes the hierarchical scrabblings of this Constantius conference with the kind of mad-grinning, gleeful incisiveness that can only come from one who has personally suffered through them. Repetitions self-serious narratorwho obsessively analyzes his surroundings while remaining relatively un-self-awareis the perfect vehicle for Adcoxs hilarious portraits of petty academic power dynamics. Take this restaurant scene, for example, wherein the narrator quietly duels with Professor Grinding (over the course of two pages) for the seat next to their privileged conference guest, Dr. Florantine:

Oh, what I would have given to have a spy in the room at that moment, to record the expression that must have crossed Grindings face as Professor Florentine walked past him on one side, I on the other, to take our seats at the far end of the table from him! His position so sure a minute agoeverything calculated exactlyand just as suddenly, defeat ! Crushing and total defeat! God, how his blood must have boiled! I, of course, I did not allow myself so much as a glance at his face as I walked bythis, too, part of my revenge, it was important that he understand how little his defeat meant to me, how dimly he shone in the light of my own success.

            Amidst this atmosphere of scholarly competition, posturing, and performance anxiety, Adcox slyly guides the readers attention toward the details our narrator is too conference-obsessed to notice, suggesting his energies have long been diverted toward the wrong channels.
As his wife prepares him a celebratory breakfast and expresses her wish to attend the conference, he is consumed with irritation over the fact that she is awake earlier than usual, disrupting the repetition of his daily habit patterns. When these patterns are again disrupted by his sudden love for Sandra, the narrator physically represses his confused emotions: I begin to stammer, my face turns red and I can feel it radiate heatAnd the pain from my liver spreads throughout my torso in a series of dull, languorous throbs. Within the text itself, Repetitions narrator pushes his darker, subtextual reflections into that chasm all too familiar to thought spiraling academics: the footnote. In moments of extreme narrative duress, the inferior footnote text swells, howling to be heard, consuming the page.
            As the biggest, deepest pool of the narrators misdirected efforts, the Constantius conference beautifully articulates those captive thought cycles, dually speaking in the words of the real Kierkegaard and his pseudonym Constantius, the real-fake Constantius and Adcoxs fake-real Constantius performance, the venerable keynote speaker Professor Florantine, and his recalledrecordedvoice (The file for which, fortunately, the narrator notes, is still accessible via my personal email.)

The voice of psychology says to the individual: No matter what you think your reasons may be, there exists a true, hidden reason for doing this thing, which can only be true so long as it is hidden and will be kept hidden so long as it is true. In this way psychology ultimately creates an entire other self to a person, which cannot be known, and if known, becomes untrue. Thus we find ourselves in an infinite regress: as soon as knowledge of the self comes into consciousness, it must be understood as a lie, based on some new, anterior self. To be conscious therefore is to lie, to have hidden reasons, to duplicate and to be duplicitous.

            Thus, Adcox artfully outlines the circularity of Repetitions dramatic evolution, developing our philosophical appreciation of its revelations beforeand beyondthe narrators own understanding. Without revealing the surprise events of Repetitions continuing anterior spiral, I will simply praise its remarkable ability to duplicate and to be duplicitous while creating something exciting and wholly singular in its sensation. (October 2016)

Purchase Repetition HERE.

Reviewer bio: Meghan Lamb currently lives with her husband in St. Louis. Her work can be found in DIAGRAM, The Collagist, LARB, The Rumpus, Redivider, and other places.