Everything’s Been Done Before

sun
U.S. National Archives
  1. The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.” So wrote Samuel Beckett in his first novel, Murphy, written in 1938.
  2. He was referencing the statement Nihil novi sub sole; “There’s nothing new under the sun,” from the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes, written in the 3rd century B.C.
  3. From the 3rd century B.C until now.; that’s a long time to feel that nothing new is going on.
  4. In the 10th century A.D., an anonymous Anglo-Saxon poet wrote this:

    Hwær cwom mearg? Hwær cwom mago? Hwær cwom maþþumgyfa?
    Hwær cwom symbla gesetu? Hwær sindon seledreamas?
    …Hu seo þrag gewat,
    genap under nihthelm, swa heo no wære.

    Or, in English:

    Where is the horse gone? Where the rider? Where the giver of treasure?
    Where are the seats at the feast? Where are the revels in the hall?
    …How that time has passed away,
    grown dark under cover of night, as if it had never been.

  5. The first Roman poet, in 750 B.C., wrote this:  “Where are the glories of the past?”
  6. There seems to be something intrinsic in human nature: a longing for the good times of the past: an eternal yearning.
  7. Gilgamesh, the first written story that we even have, from 6,000 years before the birth of Christ, when writing itself had only just been invented, already expresses a yearning for the past.
  8. So it is intrinsic then; a part of human nature — the question of whether everything under the sun has been done before.
  9. So… has everything been done before?
  10. It’s an important question, especially for a website like this: whose M.O. is to run lists like “15 Ways To Tell If Your Boyfriend Is ADJJDAHLGDHLDSA…” etc., until such point as the website actually implodes, brought down by its own internal gravity, like a dying star. Has everything been done on Thought Catalog already? Because it seems to be recycling itself. A lot.
  11. ANY-way…
  12. Anyway, more recently than 6,000 B.C. or 750 A.D., we have this song about the whole problem–  
  13. Remodel,” she sings. “Everything’s been done. …Touch down/ Look around/ Everyone’s the same/ Worldwide, airtight/ No one’s got a face left to blame.
  14. This consistent belief, this consistent view — is consistent… throughout history.
  15. This belief that the present sucks and this yearning for a better past.
  16. We see it today in America, with the Republicans, with the conservative longing for a more All-American 1950-ish past. With nuclear families, and dads smoking pipes, and mothers baking pies that are then left to cool on the windowsill.
  17. Forgetting, of course, that the 1950s were not such a wonderful time; that they were a time of nuclear terror, and arms races; hiding under school desks; bored, unfulfilled, pill-popping housewives; alcoholic husbands; forcibly closeted homosexuality, wife-beating, institutionalized racism, sexism, paranoia, repressed love, repressed lives…
  18. To paraphrase Louis C.K., “Everything is amazing now, and everyone complains.” We have these amazing, magical devices; magical phones and iPad… things; things that can instantly download every TV show, every game, every movie; can let us talk to our friends halfway across the world; and yet, we’re still not happy.
  19. We’re like: “Fuck! A Wi-Fi dead spot? WHAT THE FUCK?!
  20. What will make us happy? Nothing, maybe.
  21. And so we prefer the idea of the past, where everything was easier.
  22. Unfortunately, this past never existed — and by the way, when you imagine the past, imagine smallpox, death at age twenty-one, a lack of dental care, sleeping in a one-room hovel with straw on the floor with your entire family huddled together in the single room: which is what middle class people did, for thousands of years; which is what you, o Thought Catalog reader, would be doing, if you weren’t so lucky to be living right here and right now.
  23. The present is like finally attaining a romance with that girl that you always wanted, and then two months later, feeling this superficial and bullshit level of disappointment. “Oh my god; she has slight wrinkle lines around her mouth when she smiles. This sucks!” …Nothing’s ever quite good enough, is it, in the present? Nothing ever quite exactly what you want it to be.
  24. But if the present vexes you, then think about this: There is no real past. The past only exists in memory; the future only exists in imagination. The present is all that we have to grab on to.
  25. And yet we keep wanting to go to there; keep wanting to go backwards in time.
  26. “Everything’s been done” is a bullshit statement. It’s weak. It’s a longing for a fake reality.
  27. Everything hasn’t been done.
  28. …Once, I read an article about the future of music. Let’s establish right now that I am literally tone-deaf, know next to nothing about music, and stupidly forgot to save the link to the article, once again.
  29. The essay talked about how musicologists became afraid that we would one day run out of songs. …There are only so many notes, after all.
  30. There are only seven different notes. And then there are only so many chords and different modulations within those notes.
  31. After thinking it over, the musicologists came up with this:  WE WILL NEVER RUN OUT OF SONGS.
  32. There are so many different variations made possible just by the combination of those very few notes that the number of songs possible is something like…
  33. Oh, let’s say: 1,283,007,195,828,142,004,515… number of songs. Or some number so close to being infinite as to equal “infinite.”
  34. Everything hasn’t been done before. Everything can’t even ever all be done.
  35. Look at words.
  36. Words, and different combinations of words.
  37. Are you going to run out of ways to combine them, of new stuff to say?
  38. You will not.
  39. These days, we have this obsession with ‘retro,’ with nostalgia — generated in part, I think, by our dumb perusal of the internet. Everything is just memes now; old movie photos with new quotes slapped on them; or photos of cats with ironic old movie quotes slapped on them. “…Remodel. Everything’s been done. La, la, la la, la, la.
  40. That’s lazy.
  41. There is so much more to be written and to be done.
  42. Of telling stories, there is no end” — so said a very famous writer, thousands of years ago.
  43. So — and I feel like I have to keep saying this: go forth, you, and do your work. Make a new story. Make it new.
  44. …This desire to believe that it’s all been done is self-coddling, is laziness.
  45. …We want to take refuge in the past; in reruns of Mad Men, in replaying Super Mario Bros. on our Wii U; because that’s self-indulgent; it’s easier. …Easier by far than doing something new.
  46. “…And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
  47. A famous writer said that, ninety years ago.
  48. But he was kidding, being ironic — he meant the exact opposite of what he was saying.
  49. We aren’t borne back into the past. We continue, we survive; we endure.
  50. And so; enough.
  51. Enough retro, enough nostalgia, enough shopping at American Apparel for that perfect cardigan that looks just like a cardigan from 1986.
  52. Go out, and do something new. Do it because it’s all around you. Because it’s just waiting to be uncovered. The newness of the world exists like a Christmas present waiting to be unwrapped. So go and do something new. And no more fucking excuses. …Go and do it right nowTC mark

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