Being 'new' gets old really fast

The current issue of Literary Review of Canada has a piece by über-critic Linda Hutcheon on book reviewing itself. That sounds like good prep for your summer reading. "We certainly do need some guidance," she says, "given the fact that we live in a world that offers us so many choices of goods and services that we can never know enough about -- and therefore select from -- in any intelligent manner."

I have one question: Why? I mean in the case of books; I'm not talking about selecting a car or cellphone.

Why not just reread what we already know we like? That's how the human race read and told tales for millenniums before the rise of print.

There was a time BP (Before Print) when an educated person could be expected to have read all the books there were. When print began, just 650 years ago, those ancient texts came out first: the Bible, then the rest. Why not stop then?

Well, printers had a big investment in their presses, they needed more product to pay them off, and to profit after their initial costs were covered.

This happened with radio and TV, too. First came the technologies, then programs were devised to get people to buy sets. So new print matter was required, leading to forms like the novel (i.e. "new") and journalism -- which, as its name says, required new material each day. I don't deny some good stuff came out of this crass economic motive.

But it runs against human nature, as evidenced by the universal cry of pre-literate kids about books: Again! Again! They want to go back over what they know and love, and it's how the species long reacted as well. Under that approach, new layers and meanings are always found. You delve deeper, not wider. In that old, oral tradition, it almost doesn't matter what the texts or "canon" are; what counts is the attention brought to them.

You can find the basics of human experience in almost any drivel. Teaching kids to read amounts to weaning them from that oral mindset, injecting the concept, "new," into their DNA, and doing a little consumer training, too. Some people say the "new" was always being smuggled into ancient texts under the oral tradition, but classicists can reply that it's all there to start with, so long as you turn and turn it again, as the Talmud says. The point is, new insights don't require new texts or even the word "new." It's also true that whole industries and sectors - publishers, authors, critics -- are dependent on new texts being produced all the time, and I happen to be among them ...

Which brings us to the proposal for the New Democratic Party to gain a new look by dropping the word, new, from its name. Of course, when you call something new, it tends to age, it's like asking for Old trouble. They could name it the New New Democratic Party.

But new has begun to sound musty, like someone old who won't admit it. What about Old Democratic Party? Or Old Party? John A. Macdonald won an election on that one. Their real yearning is to be the Democratic Party, because it's Barack Obama's party in the U.S. and they heard he has a big appeal. They could call themselves the New Obama Party, or just the Obama Party if New implies, as it seems to, that they're old and tired, as opposed to new and fresh. Trouble is, the Obama newness is already aging, the new part was getting elected. Most of what he's doing now is old, like reneging on health-care reform and ramping up the war in Afghanistan.

Personally, I think a good new name would be the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, which they shucked 50 years ago so they'd become a big success. It has three really interesting words, none of which is socialist or new. As an acronym, CCF, two letters are the same, so they'll be easy to remember as all the new members get old. And in 50 years, they can just switch it again, so as to sweep the country.

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