Saturday, November 3, 2007

Original of the Species

Originality. What exactly is it? Consider Ben & Jerry, as an example. They have created several never-tasted-before flavours of ice-cream, which are all lip-smackingly yummy. But is this originality? All they have done is think of foods that had never been married with ice-cream before, and tested to see if they tasted nice. In that case originality would be formulaic, and that seems like an contradiction in itself.

When I read a review of a new movie or a television show, they are almost always described as "original" or "refreshing". What does this mean? Take House for example. Where is the originality in that? In the fact that the hero is not a nice guy? It cannot be, because we've seen that so many times before. Is it in the storylines? No, because the creators explicitly stated that they wanted to create a character like Sherlock Holmes. Is it the setting? Maybe, but that argument is still afloat only because I cannot remember another tv series about a diagnostician. But if the originality is concentrated merely on that pinpoint, it is silly because it again means there is a formula to it. There are so many new occupations/ job titles popping up these days that you could have so many "original" shows!

When the Lord of the Rings was published, it was feted for it's scale, grandeur, detail. Nothing like it had been read before. It even had new languages. Yet Tolkien himself said his intention was to create a mythology like the rest of Europe, and Scandinavia in particular had. From what I read, the languages he created had a basis - they reflected the races he created in the book. Now the readers who have reached this point of the post might argue that the beings he created - hobbits, orcs, etc, had never been heard of before. My riposte would be - how can you be so sure? Almost certainly they were sparked off from some thought or experience he had.

An idea that is born of itself. With no connection whatsoever to anything in our prior knowledge. A solution to a problem that is not merely an application of a solution to another problem in a seemingly unrelated domain. That is the version of originality that I would really respect. But is that even possible? On the other hand, how can you prove if you have had an original idea? How can you be so certain that it was not your subconscious processing some 'forgotten' information?

If you feel I am deriding B&J, House or LoTR, you are missing my point entirely. Those are three of my favourite things in life. My point is that ideas come from somewhere, and that somewhere is probably not thin air.

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