July 15, 2015KR BlogBlogCurrent EventsReadingRemembrancesWriting

Old News: The Consequences of our Cultural Obsession with Newness

 

There’s nothing new about our love of newness. “Men love that song which is newest on their ears”—that’s Homer, writing as early as Europe’s second epic poem.

The problem with the new is that it’s already old news. The adulterer’s bored with his mistress. New car smell never does last, and the new car smell air freshener hybridizes uneasily with stale antiquity’s pepperoni and Adidas.

Odysseus is supposed to have set out on a last voyage in old age, the famous sailor trekking inland until he met people “who can’t tell an oar from a winnowing-fan,” whatever a winnowing-fan is, or was. By other accounts, he sets out on a last voyage into the setting sun. In Dante, his ship goes down, and he drowns. Should have stayed put in Ithaca. Maybe he grew bored with Penelope. Maybe Penelope grew bored with him?

Our obsession with the new is undercut by the fact that “there is nothing new under the sun.” Notice that I’ve already quoted musty old Homer and the even mustier, even older Old Testament. (Though the New Testament is plenty old at this point, too.) Strange how the new hyped thing gets old so quickly, but the musty and old strikes each new generation as new. “About suffering they were never wrong, the Old Masters,” said Auden, now an Old Master himself. He was referring to dead white men, and has been one himself now for some time. Hell, I’m new here—Brueghel and leavened bread are news to me.

Old quotations, old books—all that is old hat. An old hat, though, fit so much better than a new one. Likewise an old shoe. If the shoe fits…. An “old saw” sounds like a verb in the past tense, adjectivally placed in the past: Twice the age. Similarly, the adulterer is twice his mistress’s age, and he’s still bored with her. And she is just as bored with him, ready to move on to a new suitor, who will be younger than the old new suitor, singing the song that is newest on her ears. Love and loss are old news: That is why old books last, and why each new generation sets out on its own voyage, circling back, like the hands on a clock, home to the same old, same old Ithaca.