There Is Nothing New Under the Sun: My Confused Response to the Liu’s “Invention and Inventiveness”

To tell the truth, I know nothing about postmodern and deconstructivism. As a result, I can understand the argument Liu made in the first 4 pages and then I totally lost trace of the following discussion.

At the beginning of his article, Liu defines the “standard” understanding of invention in the perspective of modernist mode of thinking. The classical understanding on this concept is “creation” and “discovery”. And “creation” refers to invent something that never exists before whereas “discovery” means finding something which is always “being there”. The differences of both notions seem to be a common sense, but in rhetoric area, I don’t think the bound of the two words clear:

Take my experience as example, I have read an interesting fiction about strange event and I feel that the imagination of this author was fabulous, however, my admiration vanished when I found that this story had been told by an novelist in Song Dynasty of ancient China. (About 950 A.D.)  The human has been evolved more than 2000 years. Maybe each novel idea has been discussed before and we just don’t know it. As the Bible says “There is nothing new under the sun”, maybe the storyline and the idea of a writing is not new, and how can we define the scope of creation and discovery? Is it about content, structure or the choice of the words? Maybe from the postmodern perspective, we can find the answer: I like Liu’s postmodern redaction on the new and the old: “what is ‘new’ is always already saturated with ‘traces’ of the old, what is ‘unique’saturated with trace of the common, what is ‘different’saturated with traces of the same.”(P60)

When the postmodernists step on the stage of the world, the concept of invention was deconstructed with a bunch of other “classical” concepts. (Note: this part is based on my feelings on this article, because of lacking of knowledge of postmodern, my understanding may be radical and with bias.) From what I have read in this article, Derrida deconstructed the differences of the two concept and insists “invention is irreducible to either ‘discovery’ as the ‘unveiling of truth’, or ‘creation’ as the ‘[fictional or fabulous] imagination of a thing.’”(P58) By the postmodern interpretation of invention, inventiveness is promoted. “Creation and discovery may be seen as two analytical aspects of invention.”(P60)

My question is: no matter we distinguish the creation and discovery, or combine them into inventiveness; As far as I read, I only find some changes in the names and categories. Is there any “solid” impact in the practice of composition pedagogy or the process of writing?

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2 thoughts on “There Is Nothing New Under the Sun: My Confused Response to the Liu’s “Invention and Inventiveness”

  1. Hi, Meng, I totally agree with you on the Biblical reference that “there is nothing new under the sun”. In fact, I got this feeling when I read all those philosophy and literature theories. Then in Dr. Harker’s composition theory course, I found myself clinging to the same idea again. Now I am thinking that maybe it is all because of the nature of matter and the world. Human beings never cease to seek for truths or the Truth. Maybe language as a vehicle has its own magic that when we play with it, we learn old knowledge and generate new knowledge in the very action of theorizing human behaviors and natural phenomena. As I said in my post today, contemporary is the postmodern stage, and everything is postmodern. We will run into another circle of theory and have new terminologies, but can we live long enough to witness that new trend, I don’t know. let us discuss this tomorrow before going to class.

  2. Your response asks some important questions, Meng–ones that don’t readily have easy answers. Your response reveals to me that you did understand some of the core concepts of Liu’s piece, even though it seems to have left you with some discomfort about the originality of things; I think this is a postmodern phenomenon: our unease with the instability of everything (in this case, that perhaps there is nothing new under the sun). I think the quote you pulled from Liu is particularly apt: “what is ‘new’ is always already saturated with ‘traces’ of the old, what is ‘unique’saturated with trace of the common, what is ‘different’saturated with traces of the same.”(P60) I think Liu’s point further down on that page is also important: “to be inventive is to strive for the new without attempting a clean severance with the old and to search for the unique through an identification with the common” (60). I think Liu is trying to move us away from problematic/inaccurate terms like “creativity” and “discovery,” in order to define invention in terms of inventiveness–something that has characteristics of both words. Thanks for your thoughtful response and meaningful questions!

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