Everything has already been said once before. With that being said, I suppose that I can end this essay here, because – well – everything has already been said once before, as I have said before, and as someone said before me, and as someone else said before someone else. And so on. Generously, I do not want to waste words nor the reader’s time. If the reader has already heard what is contained in this essay, why write more? So I will lift my fingers from my keyboard, and thus save myself the onset of arthritis and carpal tunnel, the ignominy of poorly constructed ideas, the shame of atrocious writing, and so on and so forth. In return, I receive silence. Not a finger tap dancing on my keyboard. This must be what heaven feels like. Silence.
If only. Problem with heaven is that when it ends – and know that forever does end one day – you go through hell. My forever ended sooner than expected, so here I am going through hell. Or at least, typing through it. Hell’s nicer than what people say. It could use some redecorating though. The whole fire-brimstone getup is alright for the first few days, but seeing it over and over again is worse than hell itself. Hopefully Martha Stewart dies to spruce things up. If not, as Winston Churchill said, “when going through hell, keep going.” So I will. I will write this hellish fiend for will you, Winston. You drunken bastard you.
Now even if all has been said before, the question that remains is need I say more? Probably not. For as Newton said, or as Isaiah di Trani said before him, or as Bernard de Chartres said before them all, “we are but dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants”. So here I stand, high and mighty, a dwarf on millions of dwarfs before me. The thing is though, I’m afraid of heights. We all are. Dwarfs were never meant to stand tall.
Elevated no more than two meters in a lifetime, us dwarfs lack the ability to truly create novel things. This extends to all mediums of expression that dwarfs persist in: whether it is in the arts, literature, or music. Science is exempt from this claim for despite being an art of patience and scrutiny, it contains inventiveness inherent to its methodology. Innate within the scientific method is a cunning pursuit into the workings of the world. Without this drive to understand, science wouldn’t be the intellectual activity of understanding by means of observation, theory, and consequent experimentation. In a word, science wouldn’t be ‘progress’. But I digress. Arts are what are being discussed now. You know, the finer things in life: art, without the ‘f’ in the beginning of the word of course.
Picasso once said “good artist copy and great artist steal”. That’s actually funny because that is a stolen quote from T.S Eliot who said, “immature poets copy, mature poets steal.” I guess that makes Picasso a great artist. As noted, all artistic forms expressions are entirely lacking in originality. Now I will not contend this claim directly, however, I will extend it to include language; the artistic form of voice and what this essay is mainly concerned with. For those who say language is not an art, I dare ask them to imagine the oration gymnastics involved in every little click and clatter off one’s tongue. Muscles flex, twirl, and dance against the ceiling of the mouth and the stage of the teeth. It allows symphonies to pour out. Musical numbers cascade forth willing. Beauty can be heard; and for a second, sometimes, it feels almost as though beauty were a tangible thing. Ultimately, language is the finest form of art for the only reason one can even dictate if something is beautiful is because of language, and also one’s voice. A voice is be-you-tiful, an orchestra of organs entirely one’s own.
Regardless of the unparalleled complexity and beauty of translating thought into a voice, language too falls victim to false originality, if any at all. Whether it is in an inexpressible grumble of a Neanderthal or an aphorism penned effortlessly by an English bard, language is itself contained. Defined by the words that comprise it, it is imprisoned in the limits of its expression. Not even a morsel of language has been spared for hopefuls like me who want to say something inventive.
One would think that with a language that defines us and that draws upon thousands upon thousand of years of development such a statement would not be true. From the myriad of words, there must be a chance that something has not been said. “The cat underwent bathtub-skydiving-pinky-up training for his brooding, brazen, and brave alcoholism,” for example. But despite the nonsensical originality that this wondrous sentence seems to blossom with, one would be utterly wrong. No matter the nonsensicality, senselessness is just that: sense. And so all sense, even nonsense, has its two cents, so to speak. This follows true with cent-ences – or sentences as they are commonly known. They comprise our language. Without them, syntax would fail to take form. Despite their importance, our sentences are causalities to their own sentence of black and white symbols falling onto a page like a criminal of the early 19th century. Unfortunately, there is no way out from the prison of words. Consequently, originality in language is dead. More true however, is that originality is dead.
Let me explain, as the famous last words of marriages, cheaters, and death-row-inmates go.
Even when rife with sobriety, unlike the cat’s alcoholism in the earlier example, we compose sentences that have been dictated once before. All one has to do is listen. Be silent, and listen. If one is doing this now, and one hears one’s breathing, realize that one’s breathe is threading itself into the timeline stretched in front of them. Past, present, and future all converge into this one point. Some would say that this point is only the present, but such a claim fails to realize that there is truly no difference between past and present and future. All actions, whether conscious or not, are meant to have a future ramification. One eats a cookie before dinner to satisfy a sweet tooth that aches in the “present”. And yet this action has consequences that take hold only after the cookie is eaten, and thus is meant for the future. Only after the cookie is eaten is satisfaction guaranteed. So “present” becomes future. This is similar to the past, where “present” actions are a reflection of previous actions and choices that were once future then past as they were realized. They were build upon to affect the “present”. So “present” becomes past. But “present” was also future, and so past is also future, and ultimately there is no difference between the three. Note that each time I used the word present, I used it loosely for there is no present, nor past, nor future. Instead, there is everything; anything that ever was, ever is, and ever will be.
So, as one breathes, voices of the past and future whisk by in troves. Ideas, thoughts, emotions; all tag along with the rhythmic inhalation and exhalation. Everything comes rushing either towards or away from one’s breath. In fact, the very act of breathing is composed from recycled atoms that may have fueled thoughts similar to one’s own. Even though one cannot prove that the atoms didn’t, one cannot prove that they did. With that comes the realization comes the idea that nothing is truly known, and everything is forced into wonderment. Humanity understands this well. Bedtime thoughts racing through ones head are a prime example.
And thus while listening, while breathing, while thinking, there comes the third realization that billions upon billions of human beings have heard this same breath before and wondered, “Is my breath any different from the whole lot before me?” In asking such a question, they fail to undergo the fourth realization that each human being is really the same. The genus Homo. The sum of dreams and failures. The feelings of love and hatred. The lungs. Hearts. Brains. We are all tied together biologically, chemically, and atomically. In failing to realize this, wars are born, and people divide themselves by skin colour, imaginary lines, and ideologies, and human beings hate other human beings for being born a certain way, and blood pours more readily than water, and breath, which one had just listened to, is wasted rather than cherished.
So to answer the billions upon billions of people who have heard their breath and wondered whether or not they were original, I say, “No.” Short, sweet, and almost certainly said before. If it hasn’t been said before however, I will repeat it just to make sure. “No”.
Earlier I said originality is dead. Thing is while writing this essay, I am beginning to believe that it never existed. To me, originality can’t exist because humanity lives. By this I mean, we define what originality is. Our words only have meaning because we put meaning in our words. This drivel that I type at this current moment would not be comprehensible to anyone but a lout like myself and a generous reader like yourself. Consequently, for about 2.5 to 0.8 million years nothing new has been said. That is how long humanity has been able to formulate thought into words other humans have recognized. Sure the language evolved over the centuries, but the ideas innate within them are the same. Talk to a caveman about love, and he’ll grunt and gargle on about marital problems. One wife? Heck. He wanted twelve but Mrs. Cave-woman wouldn’t have it. Tough love. Stuck in the proverbial rock and a hard place. In fact, the caveman invented the rock and the hard place, both figuratively and literally.
What’s worse is that we are still battling to grapple with what has already been said. Consider Jesus of Nazareth. Although his historical existence is a matter of contention, what has been attributed to him is the major point of discussion. Just because a person is not known to exist does not mean they do not have a legacy. Quite contrarily; the people that do not exist tend to have the most impact. Think of one’s imaginary friend for confirmation of my claim.
Perhaps though Jesus is not an imaginary friend. Whether he was or not does not matter. His actions and words do. His most famous act, besides perhaps being the Son of God and rising from the dead and all those magical moments, was the Sermon on the Mount. He, after an argument regarding the Hebrew Law and the Roman Law, had this to say, “Blessed are the poor in Spirits, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Every time I read it I laugh. Where the heck did we go so wrong? There is written gold right there, and we still stick our thumb up our butts trying to find meaning in a random Universe. Jesus Christ, indeed.
Besides that, here was a man discussing the merits of a better world here on Earth. It is plausible, manageable. And yet, here we are 2000 years later trying to figure out the best way to monopolize what’s left in the world. If only us modern day Gentiles would have learnt from Jesus, we wouldn’t have to try to resurrect ourselves from the ashes of our mistakes time and time again. Maybe we’d even be blessed.
Although there is inherent wisdom in the entire Sermon on the Mount, I’ll rephrase it tersely, “Love, lovers.” Truer words have not been spoken, besides of course, by Jesus and I. We are all lovers, so we should love. Some of us get confused with love, but it’s simple. Love is what one feels when their hair is being played curled around a finger playfully or when a fleshy chest becomes a chessboard for a finger or when arms become the strongest fortress around you.
In a sense, I contained all the prophetic wisdom of Jesus in fewer words. Thomas Jefferson would be proud for he said, “Why say something in two syllables, when you can say it in one?” Interestingly then, I preformed a miracle of sorts. A language miracle. I guess that makes me the Son of God. Maybe. Although I can’t turn water into wine, I certainly can turn wine into water. Give me a few glasses of Chardonnay and watch the diuretic click in!
Joking aside, I have rephrased the Sermon in such a way to illustrate that all has been said before. My rephrasing is something which probably has been said millions upon millions of times. Whether it has or not, I have no proof. I can say though that Jesus’s teachings, although great for their proliferation, are nothing novel. Take the golden rule, “Do unto others as you want to be done unto you.” Crushing stuff, it really is. But here’s some others, some before Jesus, some after:
“Just as pain is not agreeable to you, it is so with others.” – Jainism
“One should never do wrong in return, nor mistreat any man, no matter how one has been mistreated by him.” – Socrates
“Ascribe not to any soul that which thou wouldst not have ascribed to thee, and say not that which thou doest not.” – Bahai faith
“Do not do to others what would anger you if done to you by others.” – Isocrates
“Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.” – Confucius
“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your kinsfolk. Love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” – Leviticus
“One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one’s own self.” – Hinduism
Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful. – Buddhism
Reciprocity, it seems, isn’t that original. Sorry Jesus. There are many other similar rephrasings of the Golden Rule not listed. I outlined only a few to demonstrate how originality does not exist, even if one is the Son of God (not to mention the other humans who claimed to be the Son of God before him).
To resort back to Newton and the likes of men before him, “We stand on the shoulders of giants.” So we work to keep building the past to affect the future, which are really the same. Essentially, we are building on what was already built before. We fine tune it, making it into something not entirely different, but entirely ourselves. For example: I wish I could mimic the literary styling of Kurt Vonnegut. Some may scoff and say, “but in dreaming so you are vulnerable to just copying him.” This is a concern maybe. But I reply, “who isn’t copying him” and “I wish I was copying him”. The responses are contradictory of themselves. This is because in attempting to become like Kurt Vonnegut, I am becoming Kacper Niburski.
How can this be true? It’s simple. There are few things more satisfying than not worrying about being original, but being one’s self. Way back in the 19th century, when cars were beginning to pollute the air, and dreams were still the only thing to fly in the clouds, there was a very, very funny man named Mark Twain. He was a literary genius, easily one of the greatest writers of his century, and an unparalleled humourist. He had the ability to pull a gag on a sixpence. He could turn a story about a boy into a masterpiece.
A much younger man, Kurt Vonnegut, wanted to be very much like Mark Twain as he grew up in the 1920s and ‘30s. In some ways he was but in many ways he wasn’t. As his writing progressed, so did Kurt’s love and adulation for Mark. He emulated Mark Twain, but due to his own quirks and mannerisms, he missed the mark of becoming Mark – if one allows me to be so glib – in a thousand different ways.
And yet, in his failure to become his hero, he became the greatest humourist of his generation. Vonnegutisms were born. “So it goes” became a statement of bitter hope and forced resignation. Dark humour had a new poster boy. And so on, as Kurt would say. In short, by failing to become Mark Twain, he became Kurt Vonnegut.
In this way, it is our failure to become our greatest dreams that ultimately defines us. More importantly, our failures make us unique. While this is not easy to grasp at first, if one accepts the idea that they cannot do anything new, one’s failure will become a catalysis to reinvention. With that reinvention, although originality fails to exist in language, maybe humanity can find something else; something which has not been thought of before. For example, a Kacper Niburski. That’d be something.
This is why, although this whole essay is an entire quote of others before me, and has referenced many other quotes which are certainly worthy to be lived up to, I wish to end of with this, “You realize, of course, that everything I say is horseshit.” Kurt Vonnegut said it first. I’m saying it second. Or third. Or fourth. Or whatever. To find originality, we must start by digging through the horseshit of what has been said before for the hope of finding gold. This is our quest for originality: horseshit to gold. It is a wild dream, a necessary step, and an ideal which people will fail to accomplish, emulate, and continue to attempt. But in their failure, they will become entirely themselves. Simply said, we are all horseshitters. When we come out of the womb, we sound like a long, arduous poop. Horseshit, if you will. Then with our first breathe, we become golden. Life rolls itself our way and the golden ages become every age we live. It takes a while to realize, but maybe if we do, there is hope that originality can find itself in between the two life stages: horseshit and gold.