Monday, 29 November 2010

Quote | Mini Essay | Novelty, by Sarah Fraser

It is not only old and early impressions that deceive us; the charms of novelty have the same power
Balise Pascal (1632-1662)

Novelty is an old-fashioned and worthless concept used by tricksters and charlatans to defraud the public. No thing is new and nothing surprises the all knowing unconscious.
The feeling of novelty, of freshness and difference, comes because we are reminded of what we have forgotten. Our experiential filters grow tighter with age, at once deepening our understanding yet also limiting the breadth of our senses. The baby is born with the equipment and ability to speak all languages. Nothing is novel to the baby. Within minutes we begin the lifelong process of adapting to our predominant culture. When the adult English speaker tries to learn Xhosa they are convinced this African tribe has a tongue and palate designed to form the distinctive clicks and tones. The English baby has been forced to unlearn what is possible and be constrained to a societal norm.

We need to know what is normal, yet we desire novelty, that which is different, perhaps outside the norm, something abnormal. The paradox is we want the comfort of what we think we know, yet also the experience of what we think is new. 

To be sold a novelty is to be tricked into the purchase or belief in something worthless or trivial. The holiday novelty, the snowdust globe of the Eiffel Tower on the windowsill in the office, serves as a reminder of a sensual event. We’ve been tricked into allowing the memory of touch and smell, and taste and sound, to be replaced by a toy.

The novelist is also a conscious manipulator of a submissive reader. The seduction and promise of the imagination, where any combination of character and plot can be twisted and presented as new, leads readers to believe in what is not real.

The designer, the author and the painter, in their quest to produce something novel, elevate themselves onto a moral pedestal. The pursuit of novelty is the pursuit of power. The politician knows how to place a constraint, a rule, an edict of legislation on the population, and then, in a generous gesture, remove this so the unwitting receivers perceive something new, different and perhaps better.

Novelty without conscience is immoral. To be novel is to scam. Every hoax preys on what has been forgotten.  Novelty, true novelty, is the sleight of hand of the trickster.

By Sarah Fraser

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