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(p.215) 13 Pleasure
Music in the Present Tense
Emanuele Senici
University of Chicago Press

Pleasure and memory are the themes of this chapter, which links pleasure with conventionality and repetition and discusses the multiple ways in which repetition lies at the core of modernity. The focus then shifts to the concept of post-traumatic repetition first articulated by Freud and recently taken up by historians in connection with twentieth-century historical traumas. The Napoleonic invasions can be considered an historical trauma for many early nineteenth-century Italians, which in turn suggests that the repetition characteristic of Rossini’s operas as well as their repeated performance can be understood in such broadly psychoanalytic terms. The argument then focuses on one specific instance of repetition that seems to call for an explanation of this sort: the obsessive return of one basic situation consisting in a prolonged moment of utter confusion and disorientation on the part of the characters following a traumatic event. Precisely at these moments Rossini reached for the whole battery of repetitive musical patterns previously discussed. His operas, then, staged over and over again the Napoleonic trauma and the compulsion to repeat in which Italians found themselves trapped, constituting a form of literal “acting out” and therefore a symptom of what Freud would have termed “melancholia.”

Keywords:   pleasure, trauma, Sigmund Freud, repetition compulsion, acting out, melancholia

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