Hey Irony

I just read a great essay in The New York Observer (via West Virginia’s own Ann Magnuson).  If someone asked you for a quick answer to this question, what would you say:  

“What’s so great about being original?” 

The essay’s author Lee Siegel stumbled a moment and then started thinking: 

Ann and Bowie

We are now in the middle of a crisis of originality, and partly this is due to the raging dogs of information that Google has unleashed. (EDG note to self: raging dogs of information.  That is some good stuff.  I need to use that in my next blog post.  Wait, I just did…….or does that count?)  We are so inundated by what has been written and said, and by what was written and said just seconds ago, that it is becoming impossible to sort out who said what first. Not only that, but as the idea of intellectual property—of copyright—has been thrown out the window, the notion that thoughts are duplicable commodities has become more widespread.  (EDG note to self:  I really, really want to use that picture of Ann making out with David Bowie from The Hunger.  That’s not copyrighted, right?  I mean, I couldn’t just get it if it were, right?) 

I want to tell you that Lee’s analysis of the homogeneity of literary product as it becomes increasingly electronic versus unique in your hand as an actual book is brilliant.  Except he just said that…..I mean, you can read it in the link if you click it.  Let’s see……I also really liked his examination of how referring to all forms of knowledge now as generic “information” is corrupting and degrading our appreciation of original thought.  But he did mention that, too.  And you probably just read that. 

I was going to post today about the word “unique,” and how if one more person uses a modifier with it I may go bona fide crazy.  There should be a special reform school (prison may be too harsh) for those who say, “most unique,” “more unique,” etc.  But Lee knocked me off my game with his ideas.   

Where was I? 

Oh yes.  I think what I really want to tell you is that I completely adore his concluding thought: 

But no one is quite like anyone else, and so long as you are honest about your experience, no two people will ever make intellectual or artistic sense of the world in the same way. 

I was going to say something like that.  I swear.

11 thoughts on “Hey Irony

  1. Heh. Re: unique. The students and I argue about what can and cannot be qualified every year when we get to adjectives. The English text claims that “dead” also cannot be qualified. But my students, and fans of “The Princess Bride” disagree.

  2. Pingback: What’s Mine Is (not) Yours | Esse Diem

  3. “What’s so great about being original?” My intellectual-visceral response is that originality affords a new contribution to the world. As Mr. Keating in Dead Poet’s Society says, “The powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” Well, if there were an end to originality, then the legacy of life would become redundant.

    I think the phrase “bona fide crazy” is pretty unique. Well done.

    • Caitlin, thanks for the smile your comment brought! I don’t know if you had a chance to read the article that is at the heart of that post, but your Mr. Keating reference is perfect. Lee Siegel was talking to a younger generation who just didn’t understand the beautiful thought you just expressed. It’s worth being challenged with the question I think……I love your answer. And I didn’t think it was bona fide crazy. 🙂

  4. Allow me to be vaguely alarming. You might find that wordpress and facebook are the ones who have the right to re-use your original art work posted on their sites. (I too visited your site because I liked your husband’s copyright chalk board thing).

    I’m posting this under irony so that it needs copying across to the other response page about copyright. Reading which made me feel a bit queasy. It reminded me of my first strong impressions of copyright law…..there follows an anecdote during which I will libel the church involved, if anyone could be bothered to trace enough information about me to find out the church in question, whose name I can’t remember myself now after 20 years. I use this story in the hope that I will be able to connect to you American readers via the fact that the house church movement in the UK was heavily influenced by American preachers. Tho who knows if they were representative of their home culture……perhaps just stray rejects of said culture who found a new place to function in a new storyline.

    The American influence was almost certainly what drove the unholy tale of copyright I now relate, cos I’m not sure copyright was a widely debated issue in the UK in the early 1980’s. For the uninitiated reader I have to explain that the house churches encouraged their members to be filled with the holy spirit, receive the gifts of the spirit and exercise those gifts for the benefit of the church and the wider community. There would be gifts of speaking in tongues, gifts of preaching (in comprehensible tongues), gifts of giving, gifts of prophecy, gifts of music, like King David who wrote psalms…. And all churches ended up with a group of musicians, who also had to be able to assemble a microphone and instruments to make sure everyone could hear them performing their gift of music.

    And writers of songs. You can see where this is going. There emerged song books circulating what were very much house church songs – cos certainly no-body else would sing them. They did evolve to become mildly sophisticated.

    Visiting a church well known (in house church circles only) for its music group, we visitors were confronted with a photocopied song book, as normal, in which their chief musician (whose name and songs I can’t remember) had added the copyright symbol to his songs. And we were treated to a little lecture in the church on how all the network of churches using his songs should really be crediting him in this way and forwarding money to him because that was his full time job, now.

    Hang on. What happened to your gift of music being inspired by the holy spîrit and offered up by all of us together as praise to God. Is God infringing your copyright when he listens? And hey, let’s be honest, your songs are not that great. If they were, you would be writing commercially and not relying on a trapped audience in a church. Weren’t we just being nice when we encouraged you to exercise your talent in the safety of a closed non-competitive environment? Talk about biting the hand that feeds you!

    Context: I am an artist, and a gallerist, a photographer, a blogger and a translator, sometimes of religious texts. There would be no world religions if copyright had existed.

    • WOW…..excellent point re: FB, etc. We do well to be more aware of that dynamic. And your concluding point about copyright and religion is right on the mark. Thank you for sharing that example.

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