Thursday, January 27, 2011

Under the Sun

They say there's nothing new under the sun. Whoever they are, it makes you wonder whether or not they're right.

A lot of what we (as a society) produce seems to be based on, inspired by or downright copies of, things that came before. I'm not just talking about things (for the sake of this discussion, I'm going to stick to artistic endeavours) that were created with the intention of retelling a familiar story, like Westside Story or She's the Man* - I'm talking about everything.

I would say the vast majority fiction, if we were to take away the stylistic aspects and change the characters' names to Protagonist, Antagonist, etc., would tell very similar stories. Which isn't to say those stories aren't compelling, but it calls the idea of originality into question.

Somewhere in this article, I've probably alluded to Shakespeare (and the Bible and maybe a hundred other things), without even knowing. Some things are so prolific that they become part of us, as if by osmosis, and can't possibly be avoided. We write them or say them out loud without any intention to do so. So is it even possible to be original?

I'm wondering if the similarities in the stories we tell exist because they follow a set format that limits us, like that Docx guy suggested, or if it's because we're unconsciously copying each other.

Or, do they exist because of common interest, because we like reading about badass men and damsels in distress, because we like the idea that enemies can become friends and lovers and that the underdog can win, because blood is literally our life force and therefore extremely important to us - do they exist because we're human?

Personally, I think there is plenty new under the sun. I'm a firm believer of originality in art and as far as I can see, it's still going strong.

*I couldn't think of another example off the top of my head, but this kind of leads me to believe that Shakespeare should be left alone... although, 10 Things I Hate About You was really good.


E said...

This kind of has to do with Jung's archetypes, doens't it? Or, to jack an idea from Terry Pratchett, stories wind themselves around the world adn shape it into their image. The weak die off, and the strong survive, and grow fat on the retelling...

In other words, stories are alive and independent from humanity. And they're feeding on us.

And now that that magnificently creepy image is in your head, allow me to bow out and the real discussion to begin.

Rhiannon said...

Hee hee...I think Pratchett's idea is the best one, especially because it is also a good example of true originaity. The basic fact about stories - that they're always there because blood and death and sex always sell - has been put in a way that makes us think of it in a different light.

And that's really what we can hope for, as writers. We can't change the blood/sex/death appetites of our readers, since they're ingrained in us as deeply as anything can be, but we can put those themes in such a way that people go "ohhhhhhh....I get it!" and alter their perceptions. Pratchett's a master at this, and - even better - is so good at it as to show us the humour inherent in the world, which makes reading his books that much more enjoyable. >:D