Best Imitation Of Myself

Monday, May 17, 2010

Picture: Paula Bird Parent on Flickr*

I went looking for the source of the idea that everything that can be done / thought of / invented, already has been. For something so frequently referred to, it has proven astonishingly hard to find, variously being attributed as a truism or (gah!) "someone once said"**.

This was as close as I got:
"Utter originality is, of course, out of the question." (Ezra Pound)

This was where it might have got started:
"Originality is nothing but judicious imitation. The most original writers borrowed from one another. The instruction we find in books is like fire. We fetch it from our neighbours, kindle it at home, communicate it to others, and it becomes the property of all." (Voltaire)

And these variously distracted me along the way by putting it especially well:
"Originality is the fine art of remembering what you hear but forgetting where you heard it." (Dr. Laurence J. Peter)
"Originality is merely an illusion." (M.C. Escher)***
"All cases are unique and very similar to others." (T. S. Eliot)****

After much galumphing in circles, this was the conclusion of the hunt:
"Originality does not consist in saying what no one has ever said before, but in saying exactly what you think yourself." (James Stephens)

I didn't find what I went looking for, but I found a whole bucket of peanuts full of Other Things. Ah, pootling. Still, the point that I'd been trying, fruitlessly but interestingly, to find some substantiation for, was to lead to the idea that, even if you don't have something original, or even creatively perfect, you can spend endless amounts of time and enjoyment mucking about with things that other people have already gone and done. The 'take an idea and make it silly' principle was probably what finally prompted me to put thought to keyboard and venture out there. Out here, I mean. I guess what I'm trying to do is find a place to put down all the quiet little thoughts that sneak across your mind when you're already thinking about something else, which promptly disappear as soon as you give them proper attention (a bit like floaters in your eyes, or remembering dreams).

Picture: Allan K Crain on Flickr

* Because every penguin deserves their 15 minutes of fame, even if Warhol never extended his thinking quite that far. I am also intrigued as to the name of the photographer... is it her actual name, or does she have a lot of birds? (Ah, nominative determinism)
** the only place for which is in high school speeches, and probably not even there.
*** Well, he would say that really - Escher probably thought even his breakfast was an illusion...
**** Love a paradox. Nothing like a paradox. Especially on a wintry evening.

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