Recently, I read a book where it claimed Shakespeare thought reality was false, so decided to create art because he thought he could create a better lie. Personally I find this is a rather peculiar (and very 21st century) conclusion to draw from “All the world’s a stage”. Shakespeare was holding a mirror up to the world, not calling it artifice and smashing up the whole damn universe to be more in his image. But nonsensical interpretation aside, it got me thinking about the value of truth in literature.
You see, this is not the first time I’ve seen writers portrayed as liars in art. It seems that rather than cleaving to the author’s AUTHORity, the modern writer wants to stand out as ANTI-AUTHORity. All for a desire to be original that’s truthfully becoming a bit passé.
From unexplored texts to creative claims that actually do ring true, there is certainly scope for original thinking in literature. AND YET, I would also suggest that there is a power in knowing you cannot come up with anything especially unique. It is a humbling experience to know that great thinkers have gone before us; it is freeing to worry less about being the GOAT! 😉 And, as fun as it is to view ourselves through the lens of the “Death of the Author”, we need to be wary of viewing ourselves with too much importance and making spurious claims. It does not improve our scholarship or artistic endeavours. In my experience, it transparently shows we’re more interested in our own self-aggrandisement. Much like reading between the lines or just plain making things up, these claims may gain notoriety, but they are fundamentally flawed. And, as with so many fictional writers being liars, in a “unique” subversion on authorship, uniqueness may actually be more common than we realise. There is, after all, nothing new under the sun- it is only how we shine a light on things from a different angle that gives it a fresh perspective. That is why, rather than trying to be original, we should be trying to be truthful.
And yes, our society values achievement in a very Roman sense. We want to see our names up in *BIG SPARKLY LIGHTS*- because that’s what we’ve been taught is meaningful. That’s why we fight so hard to be original. The problem is, we don’t realise the way to that goal is not as straightforward as it seems. In typical quest fashion, we must really go east in order to go west. We must take a round-about route to our goals. And it’s not just fools who fail to recognise the true path- (sorry to get all fantasy nerd on you) it’s also villains! Villains are the ones who take shortcuts. But there are no real shortcuts in life or art. And a hero must be prepared to forfeit their dreams, because, somewhat paradoxically, that’s how you win. Likewise, the path to true wisdom is not by wildly believing in yourself, but by letting go and believing in the people that came before.
Originality is often accidental consequence of good craftsmanship. While I believe everyone has the potential to craft some aspects of their art with originality, that is not what makes a piece powerful: success comes from how much a piece rings out with truth and beauty. Perhaps it is naïve, yet I think if you focus on those aspects, you may well come up with something honestly original. If you focus on originality, the result is frequently nonsensical and meaningless. Grinding misplaced innovation into a work won’t do any good. One must have a command of the tools that already exist.
Just something I’ve been mulling over. But what do you think? Should there be a line between truth and fiction? How important is it to be original? Let me know what you think about this topic in the comments!