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This article is taken from PN Review 22, Volume 8 Number 2, November - December 1981.

Seventeen Hiccups on the Question of Novelty Christopher Middleton

1. Dead ends of desperate dreams-the words that blur in politicians' mouths; manifestos, mute diplomacies, or new slogans in old rhythms, fists beating on air: the brew in the pot keeps on cooking, the same old elements go into the works, the same secret recipe: human meat, with every trace of incarnation punched, drilled, whisked, strained or drained out of it.

2. Territories. What Germans call Galanteriewaren, though use has erased the erotic tint of that word, are called in English novelties, and especially in the U.S.A. notions. In a novelty shop you see what these notions are: whistles which uncoil when you blow them; sequins; masks horrific or funny; souvenirs and explosive cigars; floppy plastic spiders; wigs, lots of wigs. How did the word notion ever migrate into that territory? One might infer that a notion, some new but vague thought, is largely or initially, at least, an amusement, a gesture of the play principle. Aphrodite presides, from an immense ironic distance, over the baubles in the novelty shop. Emerson, not a bit amused, turns away, hardly interrupting his transcendental walk, racking his brains for 'a thought so alive that, like the spirit of a plant or an animal, it has an architecture of its own, adorns nature with something new.'

3. On the other side of the street: the antique shop. In the North American provinces, but not only there, antiquity and junk are bedfellows. Collectors now value at $7 an early variety ...


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