The following is a loose collection of thoughts... I doubt any of them are original. Does that make them unworthy of reading or thinking?

I recently had a discussion with a friend on the state of literature today. He took the view that it was all just rehashing the same old rubbish and that Hollywood was no better. There was such a massive, sweeping blanket of opinion in that statement that I had to take a breath and compose myself. I enjoy a sweeping opinion for the laugh as much as the next guy. (If only to see how difficult it is to defend such a point of view once somebody capable of critical thinking takes their mental dissection kit to it.) Now the underlying assumption to this view is basically all about originality. The conversation went something like this.

"Do you think nobody can produce an original thought?" I said.
"Not really. You can find a quote to prove just about everything has been thought of already. You've usually got one tucked up your sleeve."
Cue childish chuckling. "Well I think it was Lincoln who said something about how books show a man that any original thoughts he has aren't that original after all."
"Pretty much. But the books today are just showing it's all the same old crap."
"I disagree. Original interpretations are just as interesting.
"No original thoughts, just original interpretations?"
"Yes, the more perspective you get, the more you can understand something. If you only look at something from one angle, you can be deceived so much more easily."

The conversation went on from there, but it did get me thinking about just how many of my own thoughts have already been thought, discussed, written and analysed to death. There's a common idea that all writers are trying to be original. "Find a truly original idea. It is the only way I will ever distinguish myself." This is stated by John Nash in the film A Beautiful Mind. (I don't think he actually said it, so the screenwriter should probably be credited with this quote.) Though it makes me wonder whether the original idea is actually the Holy Grail for writers? What if we had an original idea? Could we even pull it off? It was suggested by Iris Murdoch that "Every book is the wreck of a perfect idea." I think you only start to appreciate the depth of that quote when you begin to write seriously. It makes me feel a little despondent, that even our best ideas could not be brought to life well enough to satisfy us. (This article is a perfect example for me.) Would it be enough to satisfy others and sacrifice your own satisfaction?

It would be easily possible to go and fill a little article like this with quotes from Iris Murdoch, so I'm going to refrain from that. Instead this took me towards another area of originality... that selection of people on this planet who insist what they know is original and not a rip-off of anything else. You don't need to look far for some ignorant fan of a boyband doing a cover of an old song, decrying the musicians who first created the song as evil thieves, ripping off their beloved boyband. (I won't mention which one or two acts spring to mind... because I don't want their fans here starting a pointless argument about this... but I'm pretty sure most people could guess.) Their ignorance comes from a poor breadth of knowledge and more importantly, a lack of experience... or memories.

An original idea. That can't be too hard. The library must be full of them.

"Only those with no memory insist on their originality." - Coco Chanel. She's another one of those people with a number of quotes to her name, but this one felt apt for the topic. The more I read and the more information I gather on the world around me, the less I feel capable of doing anything even remotely original. Instead, I've been writing the sort of thing I enjoy reading the most... hardboiled , gritty crime with a hint of that noir style that I love. At this point, you've probably got a good idea what I particularly enjoy reading. Maybe it's to your taste, maybe it isn't. (If it is, you should probably consider picking up a copy of my novel in November.) Perhaps I could argue that this particular combination of style with the modern day setting is enough to be considered an original interpretation. Though I don't want to, I'm happy enough to just think that I'm no more or less original that the majority of other writers today. That's enough to satisfy me on this topic; but this does leave me with one last big question to address my friend's fears on the current state of literature. Are we all just rehashing old ideas?

The answer is more complicated than the one I'm going to posit. (Articles are just that, short pieces to get the brain thinking... they're not a doctoral thesis designed to give a conclusive answer.) The short answer is yes, we're predominantly going over old territory, and some people will even subscribe to the draconian idea that there are only seven basic plots. Though is it such a bad thing for us to be reworking these seven plots ad infinitum? "There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance." - Socrates. The more we learn - more knowledge we gather, the more we begin to realise why people have been coming to the conclusion that there only seven plots or that genre fiction tends to frequently cover old ground. So if this knowledge is good, and knowing that we are repeating the same area is good [as opposed to ignorantly thinking we're being original when we're not, which would be classed as evil] then it suggests that being aware that you're not being original is a good thing. So why, oh why, do we still cry out for originality?

Perhaps this is just the reader who is unaware that it's all been done before? Though usually changing something minor will suit their expectations for originality.

"I've had enough of these killers who hunt women."
"Here, try this one, he kills children."
"Ooo, this is different."
Satisfied customer.  

I'm oversimplifying, but you get the idea. I'm oversimplifying because I don't actually think it's a bad thing. All the different variables in character, setting, pace, plot, and style mean that books can become radically different but essentially tell a similar story. C.S. Lewis summed this up far better than I probably could: "Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it."

By now you've probably been wondering why I've put so many quotes in this post. "A facility for quotation covers the absence of original thought." - Dorothy L. Sayers. Not quite Dorothy... I wanted to prove to myself that while I don't have an original thought (the people I quoted have already had these thoughts) I can put all of this thought process together in an original fashion. Perhaps writers are more like composers... all the notes and scales are already know... but can you use these notes to produce a piece we haven't heard before that touches our heart? I'd like to think nobody else has done this topic in this particular style before... but who knows?

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