Neomania




Novel                                -                      New
Horizontal                         -                      Vertical
Surface                              -                      Depth
Playful                               -                      Serious





M. - If you're always looking for novelty, you're often depriving yourself of the most essential truths.

The antidote to suffering and to belief in a self consists of going to the very source of your thoughts and recognizing the ultimate nature of the mind. How could such a truth ever grow old?  

What novelty could 'outmode' a teaching that lays bare the very workings of the mind?

Very often, fascination with things that are new and different is a reflection of inner impoverishment. Unable to find happiness within ourselves, we desperately look for it outside, in objects, in experiences, in ever stranger ways of thinking and acting. In short, we get further away from happiness by looking for it where it simply isn't to be found.

It seems to me that the notion of novelty, the desire to keep on inventing things through a fear of copying the past, is an exaggeration of the importance given to the 'personality', to the individuality that's supposed to express itself in an original way at any price.

J.F. - [...] Do you think [that] Buddhism might provide a refuge for people who are fed up with the whole tyranny of novelty?

M. - [...] If you try to see where that thirst for novelty comes from, it seems to arise from neglect of the inner life.

We stop going back to the source of things, and the idea occurs to us that by trying all sorts of new things we might be able to compensate for that feeling of lacking something.

[Matthieu Ricard]
and [Jean-Francois Revel]
The Monk and the Philosopher, p.313




[...] the idea that the artist should always be trying to give free rein to his imagination is clearly foreign to traditional sacred art, which exists to provide material for meditation and reflection.

Artists put all their heart and talent into what they do, but their personality vanishes completely behind their work.  

For that reason, Tibetan painting is essentially anonymous.

Western art often tries to create an imaginary world, while sacred art helps to penetrate to the nature of reality. Ordinary art's aimed at rousing the passions, sacred art at stilling them. Sacred dance, painting, and music try to establish a link with spiritual wisdom in the world of forms and sounds. They're arts whose goal is to link us through their symbolism with spiritual knowledge and practice.

The traditional artist puts all his skill into the quality of his art, but he'll never just give his imagination free rein to invent completely new symbols or forms.

[Matthieu Ricard]
The Monk and the Philosopher, p.310




It is very easy to fall into the notion that if the new is viable, then there must have been something wrong with the old. This view, to which organisms already suffering the pathologies of over-rapid, frantic social change are inevitably prone, is, of course, mostly nonsense.

What is always important is to be sure that the new is not worse than the old.

It is still not certain that a society containing the internal combustion engine can be viable or that electronic communication devices such as television are compatible with the aggressive intraspecies competition generated by the Industrial Revolution. 

Other things being equal (which is not often the case), the old, which has been somewhat tested, is more likely to be viable than the new, which has not been tested at all.

[Gregory Bateson]
Mind and Nature, p. 194-5




The left hemisphere ‘creates’ newness by recombining in a novel fashion what is already known, not as imagination does, by allowing something that we thought we knew to be truly revealed for the first time.

It is like those children's books with pages split into three, in which you can invent a new animal by putting together the head of a camel, the body of a seal and the legs of a goat.

It produced, by the reliable contrivances of inversion or random juxtaposition, the novelty of the artificial, the bizarre, the unnatural and the obscurely menacing: Gerard de Nerval, with his green hair, taking a lobster for a walk on a string; the perverse self-indulgent world of Huysman's Ă€ Rebours (‘Against Nature’); or de LautrĂ©amont in Les Chants de Maldoror (from ‘mal d'aurore’, an ‘evil dawn’) speaking of the ‘chance encounter of a sewing-machine and an umbrella on a dissecting-table’.

Newness (seeing afresh what one thought of as familiar, as though for the first time – the patient process of Romanticism) and novelty (deliberately disturbing the representation of reality in an attempt to ‘shock’ oneself into something that feels unfamiliar) are contrary concepts.

[...] one can make something that the explicit had deadened to total inauthenticity come to life again: as ‘perceived and not as … known’.

[Iain McGilchrist]
The Master and His Emissary, p. 408, 412




[...] the reason for looking for new interpretations is always that they will be better than the readings (or some of the readings) we have produced so far, and not simply the fact that they are new.

[Alexander Nehamas]
Nietzsche: Life as Literature, p. 63




Gradually we become tired of the old, of what we safely possess, and we stretch out our hands again. Even the most beautiful scenery is no longer assured of our love after we have lived in it for three months, and some more distant coast attracts our avarice: possessions are generally diminished by possession.

Our pleasure in ourselves tries to maintain itself by again and again changing something new into ourselves; that is what possession means. 

To become tired of some possession means tiring of ourselves. (One can also suffer of an excess—the lust to throw away or to distribute can also assume the honorary name of "love.") 

[Friedrich Nietzsche]
The Gay Science, 14




Humanity has not got the good out of its inventions; and by making more and more inventions, it is only leaving its own power of happiness further and further behind. 

[G. K. Chesterton]
The Outline of Sanity, p. 131




To see anticapitalist propaganda in a series like Dallas, however, requires a suspension not merely of critical judgement but of ordinary faculties of observation. Images of luxury, romance, and excitement dominate such programs, as they dominate the advertisements that surround and engulf them.

Dallas is itself an advertisement of the good life, like almost everything that comes over the media - for the good life, that is, conceived as endless novelty, change, and excitement, as the titillation of the senses by every available stimulant, as unlimited possibility.

“Make it new" is the message not just of modern art (the "adversary culture" deplored by neoconservatives) but of modern consumerism. The modern capitalist economy rests on the techniques of mass production pioneered by Henry Ford but also, no less solidly, on the principle of planned obsolescence introduced by Alfred Sloane when he instituted the annual model change. Relentless “improvement" of the product and upgrading of consumer tastes are the heart of mass merchandising, and these imperatives are built into the mass media at every level.

Even the reporting of news has to be understood not as propaganda for any particular ideology, liberal or conservative, but as propaganda for commodities—for the replacement of things by commodities, use values by exchange values, and events by images.

The very concept of news celebrates newness. The value of news, like that of any other commodity, consists primarily of its novelty, only secondarily of its informational value. As Waldo Frank pointed out many years ago, the news appeals to the same jaded appetite that makes a spoiled child tire of a toy as soon as it becomes familiar and demand a new one in its place.

As Frank also pointed out (in The Rediscovery of America, 1930), the social expectations that stimulate a child's appetite for new toys appeal to the desire for appropriation: the appeal of toys comes to lie not in their use but in their status as possessions. “A fresh plaything renews the child's opportunity to say: this is mine." A child who seldom gets a new toy, Frank noted, "prizes it as part of himself.” But if "toys become more frequent, value is gradually transferred from the toy to the toy's novelty. ... The arrival of the toy, not the toy itself, becomes the event." The news, accordingly, has to be seen as the "plaything of a child whose hunger for toys has been stimulated shrewdly."

We can carry this analysis one step further by pointing out that the model of possession, in a society organized around mass consumption, is addiction. The need for novelty and fresh stimulation becomes more and more intense, intervening interludes of boredom increasingly intolerable.

Neoconservatives sense a link between drugs and television, but they do not grasp the nature of this connection any more than they grasp the important fact about news that it represents another form of advertising, not liberal propaganda. Propaganda in the usual sense of the word plays a less and less important part in a consumer society, where people greet all official pronouncements with suspicion.

Mass media themselves contribute to the prevailing skepticism; one of their main effects is to undermine heroism and charismatic leadership, to reduce everything to the same dimensions. The effect of the media is not to elicit belief but to maintain the apparatus of addiction. Drugs are merely the most obvious form of addiction. It is true that drug addiction is one of the things that undermine "traditional values," but the need for drugs - that is, for commodities that alleviate boredom and satisfy the socially stimulated desire for novelty and excitement - grows out of the very nature of a consumerist economy.

It is only in their capacity as quintessential consumers that young professionals dominate the airwaves and set the tone of American life. Their distinctive manner of living embodies the restless ambition, the nagging dissatisfaction with things as they are, that are fostered by a consumer economy.

Their careers require them to spend much of their time on the road and to accept transfers as the price of advancement. Though they complain about having to move so often, their willingness to travel long distances even in pursuit of pleasure suggests that they would find a more settled life unendurable.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.520-1



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