“Joy in repetition…”

Prince and Adam Gearey

An unlikely comparison: Prince and Professor Adam Gearey

When Prince released his song “Joy in Repetition” in 1990 (as the eighth track on his twelfth album Graffiti Bridge) he could have scarcely imagined that some 25 years later it would come to directly influence the CLRI (Common Law Reasoning and Institutions) presentations by our very own Professor Adam Gearey. It is a song about a song; and deals with his experience of walking into (one presumes an imaginary but does it matter) uber-trendy night club on New York’s 36th to experience a band performing a song called “Soul Psychodelicide”. The song is a “year long and had been playing for months” and is no more lyrically complicated than two words, and there she was up on the mike:

... this woman he had never noticed before he lost himself in the
Articulated manner in which she said them.
These two words; a little bit behind the beat

So over and over, she said the words til he could take no more, (no more)

It’s alluringly simple three chord structure draws you into the song’s perfect logic and before you know where you are you are equally mesmerised; sharing the same quasi-hypnotic state that one presumes our wandering Purple Prince intended you to feel.

How on earth does that relate to our venerable studies of the Common Law and its even more venerable Institutions and how possibly am I/can one connect that with one of Professor Gearey’s presentations? But there it is Chapter 5 at exactly 4 minutes and 11 seconds; and I quote:

“practice; that’s the secret…doing it over and over and over again”

Now in this case he is referring to the interpretation of statutory language and has returned, once again to a leitmotif that runs through his presentations: “knowing stuff & doing things” but the connection (though perhaps “implied”) is clear. To get good at things we need to repeat them but perhaps in that process of repetition we can in fact find a secret, embedded joy; but if we are to believe an article in this week’s Guardian there may be (rather surprisingly revealed through mathematical studies) other and further sources of daily joy.

The piece suggests that regardless (though not entirely) of our background level of expectation, one of the greatest sources of happiness is what we might think of as the “pleasant surprise”. Just think about it, the unexpected gift, a gesture of kindness, the unscheduled visit from a long lost (or so we thought) friend. It seems that these experiences are inherently more “joyful” than other perhaps (and I have always thought this a rather Anglo-Saxon concept) more “worked for” achievements or accolades and both mathematics and neuroscience seems to accord; they light up the corpus striatum (where we register and to a degree experience happiness)  in a very distinctive even unique way. It is not an entirely new concept; Freud wrote quite extensively on humour (considering this as one aspect of joy) and how even why it works. Consider the following cartoon:


It makes us laugh; because it surprise us. It leads us in one direction only to take a sudden U-turn and we are taken somewhere else and we experience this as somehow funny perhaps even exciting; and ultimately it brings us what we might think of as joy or happiness. So how the heck I hear you asking (as we are already three or four paragraphs deep) help a poor labouring LLB student. Am I going to suggest you labour less and laugh more? Well in fact I am. One of the problems we all share as International Programme law students is attempting to process and ultimately recall what seems a never ending vista of cases; but therein may lie the rub; “seems” and “never ending”. What I think we may all be somewhat guilty of (and I certainly hold my hand up to this) is in our overwhelming ambition to do well, to perform, to capture that ever elusive First Class degree, we push forward in our studies without taking time out to smell the proverbial legal roses. And I’m going to suggest that one very easy quick-fix for this dilemma is to inject a bit of spontaneity and joyfulness into your studies; let me illustrate by choosing three cases that during this week’s labours put a smile on my face.


The Moorcock

The first was the case of the Moorcock ((1889) 14 PD 64; it is an important case in contract law to do with “implied terms” and Bowen LJ’s notion of “business efficacy” as an important driving force of contractual imperative. Not much to smile about so far I hear you say; well until you read the case and basically it is the sheer unreasonableness of the wharfingers (or wharf owners) that tickled me. Basically, the riverbed abutting their jetty was simply not deep enough to accommodate the Moorcock and how could they possibly not have “foreseen” the possibility of damage to the ship when there was a dirty great rocky ridge presumably just a few metres under the surface of a part of the river they must have negotiated a thousand times. It was the sheer preposterousness of their denial that left its mark on me and is one reason why this case will be that much easier for me (and I hope after reading this for you) to recall.

The second case was Vitol SA v. Norelf Ltd (The Santa Clara) [1996] A.C. 800; a case that concerns whether or not silence (or in this case a combination of non-communication and inaction) can serve to accept a contracting partner’s repudiatory breach of contract. The answer is yes if you were wondering; but once again I am sure you are struggling to see why the case put a smile on my face. Pretty dry so far; until you read the Facts according to Wikipedia:

The propane market had been very volatile!!!

There you go; that 5% more embedded in your psyche and that 10% more easy to recall.

The third case (or indeed pair of cases) appealed to the rather darker side of my humour; presented as the penultimate slide of Chapter 2, it concerns Dickinson v Dodds [1876] and to a lesser extent Bradbury v Morgan [1862]. It had been a long night of study and I was just about to fall into a coma when I heard Professor Catharine MacMillan’s lovely voice reminding me that:

“the death of either party terminates the offer because at that point there can be no agreement between the parties”

I hope my point is made. Am sure you can imagine, as a boy I spent a good deal of time standing shamefacedly outside one or the other classroom after some perceived (or i considered misperceived) misdemeanour because I was and always have been able to see the lighter side of life; but alongside that in fact I also always did very well in my academic studies. As I grow older and I hope that little bit wiser; I become less and less convinced that in fact the two aren’t somehow, not entirely unrelated.

And on that note happy studies!!!

Mark is studying the Bachelor of Laws (LLB) by distance learning in Shanghai, China.

3 Responses to “Joy in repetition…”

  1. Sean Tan says:

    Hi Mark,
    I just enrolled in the LLB programme and really enjoyed your post. I am also based in Shanghai. Would love to hook up if you have the time.

  2. markpummell says:

    sure thing Sean; would be an absolute pleasure… I am in the UK until September 22nd. but after that just feel free to invite yourself over to my studio for a coffee!!!

  3. Sean Tan says:

    Thanks Mark for the invite. However, I am not sure where you’re located. If it is more convenient, please give me a call at 18101819011.

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