2014 Novelty

Novelty: A History of the New

Michael North
The University of Chicago Press
2014 Robert Motherwell Book Award Winner


In Novelty, Michael North confronts the fundamental philosophical problem of the elusive definition of newness: if everything comes from something, how can anything truly be new? North approaches novelty from the perspective of a wide range of disciplines, including science, philosophy, literature, and art. He also considers various iterations of newness such as innovation, uniqueness, and revolution, finding that the discussion of novelty has changed little since philosophers before Plato determined that novelty should be grouped into two categories: recurrence and recombination. As North grapples with this long-standing debate, he draws on an impressive range of thinkers spanning several centuries: Charles Darwin, Robert Smithson, Thomas Kuhn, Ezra Pound, Norbert Wiener, and Andy Warhol to name only a few of the more recent ones.


With impressive clarity and scope, North illustrates the complexities and nuances that inevitably arise when speaking of novelty. He demonstrates the various ways in which the concept of newness has been a pervasive issue across disciplines and throughout history, and how it continues to compel philosophical thought and spur creativity.


Michael North is Professor of English at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is also the author of several other books including Camera Works: Photography and the Twentieth-Century Word and Machine-Age Comedy.


The members of the Dedalus Foundation jury were Carol Armstrong (Yale University), James Leggio (Brooklyn Museum of Art), and Rebecca Rabinow (Metropolitan Museum of Art).