Death and Originality

by rsbakker

Definition of the Day – Literature: the genre that dare not speak its name.

Sometimes I crack me up.

Sometimes I feel so damn provincial, sitting here in a snow-buried London junior, taking the hypothetical piss out of these London senior literary types. I mean, just who do I think I am. I don’t even have ‘author photos’ for Christ’s sake.

I almost always feel hypocritical. I should, I think. As should anyone pompous enough to think their interpretative cartoons have captured some real socio-cultural dynamic. Lord knows mine are certainly flattering enough. 

But then I think I have the virtue of running a real risk.

It was the second year of my philosophy PhD., I think, when I finally realized that despite all the rhetoric, most everyone was really only interested in dead originalities. If you came up with a new spin, well then your grade point average did just fine. But if you brought a new top to the table, well then, you were in a heap-load of trouble.

The problem, aside from our myopic psychology, is that the world is filled with cranks and crackpots, with people who want to say something new without having gone through the trouble of understanding the old. The problem, in other words, is that originality is just too fucking easy. What we want is a special kind of originality, the kind that we can hail as visionary, transformative – in hindsight, of course.

Quite literally, what we want is dead originality.

Originality is literally the name we give to a very special kind of popularity contest. So much of what we value is a function of social proof bias. Steal a chapter from DeLillo and pitch it as your own, and I guarantee you the rejection letters will come flooding in. Thus the paradox. Thus the risk. You will only be acknowledged as original in this special sense, when you are acknowledged as original. Everyone literally sits around waiting to see what everyone else will do. Is this cool? Is this… could it be… original?

And we all know, at some level, that this is what makes those in the know so jealous of what they know, so intent on repeating dead originalities, and claiming the triumphs of dead risk-takers as their own. The well of rednecks has no bottom, so it’s easy to pretend that you are messing with someone, somewhere – confronting hypothetical audiences with something ‘new.’ So you pitch the same ‘ol same ‘ol to the same, closed-circuit culture, you rig your ideology to make the confusion of art with fashion and commodity as seamless as possible, and everyone comes away feeling as though they earned their authorial scarves.

So, I may be a hypocrite, but at least you can’t call me a coward. No crackpot is.

Coming up: Ten Question to Fuck up your English Professor.