In his “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” Walter Benjamin famously reads the Paul Klee painting Angelus Novus, not as a “New Angel” in keeping with the original title of this watercolor, but as an “Angel of History.” Benjamin describes the angel as flying backwards (and thus looking at the past) toward the future, blown by a huge storm. This storm, Benjamin says, is what we call progress.
Benjamin’s critique, via the Klee piece, of a progressionist view of time is one of many famous examples that set up duality or dialectic of “history” and “newness.” Not so long ago, critical inquiries into the question of (post)modernity had to grapple with this history-newness tension. More recently, as globalization studies have gained currency, the rhetoric of newness has once again come into play, this time as a figure of globalization now taken as the unprecedented version of modernity. Today, it seems that reflection on any aspect of globalization has to align itself with the thesis of newness: a new mode of capitalism, new international relations, new technologies, new realities, and so on. On the other hand, postcolonial and diasporic writers seem to have been weaned on the impossibility of a clean break from the past.
In a more textualizing trajectory, Paul de Man employs the concept of newness in the context of what he calls our “literary modernity.” Reading against Nietzsche’s conception of newness or “life” as the ability to forget what precedes the present, de Man reformulates this rejection of the past as an act of self-critique and calls for a conception of literary history that can apply to history in general as a mode of self-interrogation.
Newness, as a matter of fact, is nothing new at all. Every historical age is in one way or another driven by an impulse to distinguish itself from the past—hence the commonplaceness of newness as a figure of self-configuration. Yet, if the impetus of newness is always already age-old, what is new about newness at present is perhaps the way in which current discourses on globalization tap into newness intensively and extensively.
What then is at stake in this conceiving of the current historical conjuncture in the light of the idiom of newness? How is newness at play in discursive practices which have sought to name and rename our time and often in terms of a “post”—the postmodern, the postcolonial, the post-national, the transnational, the post-ideological, the posthuman, and the post-9/11? And what exactly is so new about the putatively new technology, new media, new affective relationships, new geopolitical dynamics, and/or new forms of resistance today?
If we are indeed faced with the radically new, what are some of the approaches we have developed in response to it? Does the impetus of the truly new mean that the compulsion to repeat is no longer with us? How may the notion of newness generate new lineaments of selfhood, new subjectivities, or new identities?
Or, in any particular disciplinary field, how has the idiom of newness been factored into this field’s self-conception? What new theoretical paradigms have emerged that are claiming a marked departure from what has come before?
In a more general way, how has the rhetoric of newness come to register the cultural imaginary, political agendas, faith, or everyday life in a given historical and cultural context? How has “newness” helped establish, elucidate, or critique the “historical view” of a given period?
_Concentric: Literary and Cultural Studies_ is a peer-reviewed English-language journal devoted to offering innovative perspectives on literary and cultural issues. A premier journal in its field in Taiwan, Concentric boasts a strong editorial and advisory team that consists of scholars from across the world.
The journal has collaborated with distinguished scholars as guest editors, including Joyce Chi-Hui Liu, Charles Shepherdson, Chaoyang Liao, Scott Slovic, Shirley Geok-lin Lim, María Herrera-Sobek, Ying-hsiung Chou, Wlad Godzich, Ban Wang, and Hanping Chiu.
_Concentric_ invites submissions related to the special issue topic, and also welcomes papers on general topics. The focus can be on any historical period and any region. Any critical approach may be employed so long as the paper demonstrates a distinctive contribution to scholarship in the given field.
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