Heart of the Original

By Steve Aylett

Originality is hated and pretended, but the real thing is beautiful

It’s an old idea that if we got enough people spinning in their graves we could use it as a power source, whole graveyards forming a turbine array. But since the spin-action depends on a preoccupation with other people’s business and opinions, have you wondered how much energy you would produce?

Those who match nothing but themselves rarely notice the hairpin turns of external decree. They think in the rich syntax that results from living life in the wrong order. Fashion is a set of time’s petty ordinances, local laws we submit to through inherited consent. In this environment truth is as loud as a photograph of a violin and originality both feared and slandered as legend. Nothing much interesting happens amid a conformity so innate it cannot clearly perceive or discuss itself.

Before the satirist Bierce threw his phone into the volcano he talked about ‘our resolutely stalled evolution’. A great one for affable scorn, he was admired to within an inch of his life. Like Twain, he had noticed that giving the same argument while wearing different trousers gave the illusion of varied insight.

Duplication paces the perimeter of pre-formed patterns. True creativity, the creation of a thing which has not been in the world previously, is by definition originality. It increases the options, not merely the products. But while most claim to crave originality, they feel an obscure revulsion when confronted with the real thing. They have no receptor point to plug it into. Attempts to force it result in the sort of fire that burned Tesla’s wonder-lab to the ground.

Repetition of familiar forms is preferred, with the pretence that old is new. To the short of memory, everything is unprecedented. Thousands of 'what if the Nazis won WW2' stories are hailed as innovative despite the first appearing in 1937. In the mid-thirties Katharine Burdekin knew the allies would win the upcoming war but wrote a thought-experiment about the alternative, Swastika Night, published the year Ayn Rand was busy plagiarizing Zamyatin’s We. Raw thought is aided by not being stuck to the temporal floor. Randolph Bourne was one of the few journalists to suggest the First World War might not be a good idea and annoyed everyone by calling it ‘the First World War’. It was supposed to be called the Great War or the War to End All Wars. Bourne was ignored because his opinion was disengaged from the fashion and because he was disabled.

But even those bold enough to accept the obvious have a preternaturally tenacious resolve not to venture beyond it. The absence of meaningful novelty doesn’t help the boring catastrophe of modern times, congested with old deception. Let’s blow our noses. Life is a moment to respond before we are repaid into the unknown. Find the strongest gravity, fold the world’s edges into it and flip it inside-out like a dog’s strange ear. Energy is merely the intermediary of oblivion’s smithereens. Write every story as if it was your last, whether suicide note or proof of life.

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