Thursday, 27 December 2012


This post, on Piccolo, struck a chord with me. I'm not sure if it did because thinking about its implications flatters me into feeling less glum about my many failures as a working novelist. But that is probably (probably! say rather, surely ...) missing the point.
Proust's point is that genuine novelty in the arts is always experienced as contrived, artificial, wilfully difficult, unnatural - i.e., not yet naturalised, customary. (By implication, if something is immediately and painlessly recognised as 'new and revolutionary', the very fact of recognition suggests it isn't). His other point is that the new is not and cannot be recognised. The categories, explicit or implicit, available to the reader, viewer or critic are those appropriate to the old, and unable to even register the new, which is experienced only as a kind of absence. How many new works (from Beethoven to Joyce) have been described - or dismissed- as chaotic, unharmonious, confused, sprawling, cacophonous. All the critic or auditor can hear or see is the absence of what they are used to. They lack the language to name the new. The new is an invitation, precisely, to invent such a language.

The new typically appears as a monster, a distortion or mutation of the old, the collapse of the familiar, of taste, of decorum, form, structure.

In another sense, all artistic products have elements of novelty, however minor, just as they all have elements of the familiar. A particular arrangement of words in a novel hasn't seen the light of say, even if the words themselves are trite and uninspired. Even an exact repetition is new as a repetition, and in terms of its context, effects, its baptism of the 'original' as an original (i.e. it becomes an original only when copied). The key thing is deciding whether the new elements are significant and in some way inaugural.


Susan Gray said...

That's an interesting link - I'm not by any means an expert on Proust, but the idea that "the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes" always strikes a chord with me. As humans (or what the hell, as animals), we categorise things automatically -it's in our best interests to - and of course in this lies the difficulty in defining new if cognition of the fact devalues it. It's more of the renewal or the arrangement of this internal categorisation that can disorient us as some kind of hope towards creating something new, I guess.

Adam Roberts Project said...

Interesting stuff, Susan. I was certainly trained up in the way of 80s deconstruction profoundly to distrust 'categorisation' ...