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Al Davison’s The Spiral Cage

December 6, 2011 1 comment
In his genre-breaking 2003 autobiographical graphic memoir The Spiral Cage, Al Davison narrates sharp and poignant episodes from his life with spina bifida. In a one-page scene titled “Sunday Afternoon Yawn,” young Al stares into space, hand supporting his chin, with the “tick tock” of a clock overhead; the child is the epitome of boredom. Davison repeats this small image in five five-panel rows on this single page, with two exceptions. In the middle panel, the boy hiccups, followed by a panel depicting a man commanding silence, finger to lips.


By repeating a dozen times the same image with barely any variation, Davison establishes a visual pattern that imitates the boredom of the child and imitates the rhythm of the clock’s ticking. Readers narratively experience the child’s boredom. By disrupting this repetition with the hiccup panel and by placing this panel in the precise center of the page, Davison draws stark attention to the child’s violation of this imposed silence. The comics artist uses visual anadiplosis to establish a monotonous pattern, which serves to amplify the subsequent variation: the two panels depicting the hiccup and the adult’s immediate correction. Davison then returns to the pattern, and the remaining eleven panels depict the boy, chin in hand, clock ticking. By surrounding the hiccup/correction event with so many replicated panels depicting monotony—by skillfully employing visual anadiplosis—Davison recreates for readers both the claustrophobic boredom of the child and the shock of the disruptive hiccup. Any reader who has hiccupped during church, during study hall, during a test, in a quiet theater, or in some other public venue will immediately recognize and the gravity of the boy’s digestive offense and identify with his embarrassment.
Visual anadiplosis in Al Davison's The Spiral Cage
Visual anadiplosis in Al Davison’s The Spiral Cage

Davison, Al. “Sunday Afternoon Yawn.” The Spiral Cage. Los Angeles: Active Images, 2003. 44. Print.

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The White Stripes: “The Hardest Button to Button”

December 6, 2011 Leave a comment

Michel Gondry’s 2003 video for The White Stripes’ spare, gritty, bluesy “The Hardest Button to Button” relies heavily on visual anadiplosis. At every sharp beat, an instrument or an amplifier is duplicated. From one bass drum to two, to three, to more, strung along at each beat, with drummer Meg White sitting at each new kit. When singer/guitarist Jack White begins to play, he walks from one Fender amp to a new amp, to amp number three, to more. Sometimes the instruments trace a path through the park, along the sidewalk, down the stairs, in and out of subway cars at a station. Sometimes the instruments are arranged in clusters—dozens of drum kits in a grassy field arranged in a Busby-Berkeley-style fireworks pattern choreographed to rotate with the beat, stacks of Fender amps arranged in rows that appear and disappear with the beat. Visual anadiplosis provides the defining aesthetic and logic for this stunning video.

The musicians are never duplicated; we never see more than one of Jack or Meg. With just one musician visually assigned to the accumulations of equipment, the video emphatically claims the crucial importance of the beat: the beat, beat, beat—it’s all about the beat. Quantity of instruments suggests volume and depth of sound. This band’s reputation for its spare-ness—it’s just the two members—is further amplified, perhaps ironically, by the equipment/musician ratio. By my count, at least thirty-two identical Fender amps and drum kits must have been used in production of this video. At times, the accumulating stacks and rows of amplifiers visually suggest the sound-bar indicators on a music mixer’s graphic equalizers—a perfectly suitable metaphorical construction. When the setting of the video is under an urban overpass or in a tunnel, the anadiplosis creates a visual echo that imitates the aural echo that would be produced if the song had been recorded in that particular location. Visual anadiplosis in this music video thus serves in a variety of ways to complement and amplify the tonal quality and the driving beat of the song. Additionally, as with frame-by-frame stop-motion animation, viewers are left to marvel at the meticulous planning and beat-by-beat behind-the-scenes additions and removals of equipment.

Gondry, Michel, dir. “The Hardest Button to Button.” Perf. The White Stripes. 2003. The Work of Director Michel Gondry. NY: Palm Pictures, 2003. Also available: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sudk3ZdMsVA.

Anadiplosis: Overview

December 6, 2011 1 comment

According to Lanham, anadiplosis refers to “repetition of the last word of one line or clause to begin the next” (10). Lanham’s illustration of the concept is from As You Like It, when Rosalind characterizes Oliver and Celia’s swift courtship as inevitable:

For your brother and my sister no sooner met but they looked; no sooner looked but they loved; no sooner loved but they sighed; no sooner sighed but they asked one another the reason; no sooner knew the reason but they sought the remedy; and in these degrees have they made a pair of stairs to marriage. (5.2.31-38)

Rosalind’s repetition of the phrase “no sooner X but they Y” serves both to articulate the sequential steps toward marriage and to condense these steps into a seemingly singular moment. Repetition thus both analyzes and recreates the immediacy of Oliver and Celia’s love at first sight. In this case, because the XY verbs successively serve as steps toward marriage (met, looked, loved, sighed, asked), anadiplosis builds toward the effect of climax and inevitability. But other instances of anadiplosis can achieve other effects, such as humor, irony, figuration, and amplification.

Anadiplosis applies not only to prose, poetry, and drama. It might additionally involve repetition of images in media of sequential narrative—film or video, comics-format texts. Visual anadiplosis involves not merely the recurrence of an image, such as the re-appearance of an object later in a film. Rather, visual anadiplosis requires repeated, duplicated, accumulated images. One iconic example is The Marilyn Diptych, Andy Warhol’s 1962 silkscreen painting of dozens of replicated images of Marilyn Monroe, produced just after the actress’s death. By brightly coloring some images and rendering some in monochrome and by degrading the images to varying degree, the artist provokes commentary about such issues as celebrity, fame, beauty, consumerism, and death. As with the text-only device, visual anadiplosis can achieve a wide variety of narrative and stylistic effects.

Lanham, Richard A. A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms. 2nd ed. Berkeley: U of California Press, 1991. Print.

Shakespeare, William. As You Like It. Ed. Alan Brissenden. Oxford: Oxford U Press, 1994. Print. The World’s Classics.

Categories: anadiplosis, overview