A little more than a century ago, the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud wrote that hypnosis makes it possible for a patient to fulfil “one of the most fervent wishes of humankind”, namely, “to experience something twice”.(1) The main character in Tom McCarthy’s novel Remainder (2005) (2) fulfils precisely this wish — not through hypnosis, but through ‘re-enactments’. The novel’s protagonist is disabled after an accident but is very wealthy as he received a lot of money as compensation. He has banal scenes from his own life, and later also spectacular events that were hyped by the media, re-enacted in public spaces and in apartment blocks bought specifically for this purpose. Through these re-enactments, in which the protagonist is always the main actor, he hopes to recapture a particular, but diffuse, feeling again that he has only felt very vaguely since his accident. The re-enactments, which are staged with an absurd amount of work and an enormous number of helpers, allow the protagonist to experience the repeated situation in full consciousness (of his own role), and at the same time to observe events from the centre yet from a distance.
"Is there repetition or is there insistence.
I am inclined to believe there is no such thing as repetition.
And really how can there be." (Gertrude Stein, “Portraits and Repetition”, Lectures in America, pp. 166–169)
Historical Re-enactment as a Practice of Popular Culture
In general, a so-called re-enactment is a historically correct re-creation of socially relevant events, such as battles (for example, the Battle of Hastings or the Battle of Gettysburg). (3) It is the “best possible, detailed repetition of how an event occurred, historical or modern; where possible, it is staged at the location where the original event took place, and under the same conditions as when it occurred.” (4) Criminology, for example, uses re-enactments to reconstruct a crime. Re-enactments are often part of experimental archaeology (5) when testing working techniques of the past through experiments (for example, Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki expedition in 1947). In numerous countries, many very different re-enactment groups exist in which there are people who do it for a hobby, but also professionals who devote themselves to specific subjects, epochs, or events. For our particular enquiry here, both the parallels and the differences to similar practices are of interest. For example, re-enactments are very different to pop-cultural practices such as ‘living history’ and ‘live action role-playing’. Living history, (6) for example, does not take a concrete, historical event, but rather seeks to re-create the life style and realities of life in past epochs (for example, the late Middle Ages, the late fifteenth century, the Napoleonic Wars, or the American Civil War). And live action role-playing (7) is role-playing games in which the actors also physically play their character. In contrast to re-enactments and living history, which both refer to historical events, live action role- playing is entirely fictional.(8) What all three forms – re-enactment, living history, and live action role-playing – have in common, is that they allow access to history, or histories, through immersion, personification, and empathy in a way that history books cannot.