positive unoriginality

"Originality is highly personalized, often willfully quirky. 

"Innovation is more impersonal, often more technological - and it's something that other people, potentially lots of people, can adopt and buy into. And if you innovate, that's really what you want to happen - that it'll be adopted. 

"Originality is signature

"Innovation is trademark

"So from that, I realised that you can be unoriginal but innovative (in the sense of participating in an innovation, propagating it) 

"But equally you can be highly original but not actually innovative e.g. any number of cult figures with very quirk, eclectic sounds they've pieced together, often raiding the archives of history, and also maybe an unusual lyrical perspective or vocal mannerisms.

"Innovation is like when Timbaland came up with a new beat structure and all the other R&B producers copy it, and the whole sound of the radio changed. Or Joey Beltram coming up with this apocalyptic bombastic synth sound and 1000s of producers jumping on it. I can see the value in both originality and innovation, but I suppose I'm arguing here that to be sui generis is over-rated and that whatever the Latin for the opposite of that is, is better. it's a huger achievement to have propagated generic-ness - when that genericity is establishing something new.

""There was a time wasn't there, when most working bands didn't even do original material - it was all their version of what was in the Top 40 plus various 'standards' of whatever their genre was. Excellence was delivering an already-known and loved tune with gusto and precision. So that is the ultimate in "positive unoriginality" - turning the new songs into standards, standardizing an innovation until it's installed culture-wide."


  1. I'm currently reading Bram Stoker's Dracula, which is an amazing example of this. It's hard to read it without chuckling, because it feels like a long succession of cliches: the sinister aristocrat, the troubled dreams, the fearful peasants. But of course they weren't cliches when Stoker wrote them. It's not exactly original: he's drawing on a rich body of legends and earlier Gothic literature. But his ideas and affects, as well as his characters, plot devices, and settings, have been so colossally influential it is impossible to imagine 20th century culture without them.

    1. That's a fantastic example. Yes someone, somewhere, invented these archetypes that Hollywood etc have wrung the juice out.

      Mary Shelley and Frankenstein must be another one, right? Or did she have precursors...

    2. A bit more true originality in Frankenstein, perhaps. Shelley drew on a range of very disparate sources: contemporary science, Greek myth, Golem legends and Paradise Lost. And although Frankenstein was performed many times for the stage, it doesn't seem to have spawned a whole host of imitators in the 19th century.
      Probably the real innovator in your sense was James Whale with the 1931 movie. Created a look and feel for the monster that recurs everywhere from Ridley Scott's Prometheus to Carry On Screaming. Via the Rocky Horror Show, the Halloween movies and The Munsters. And the New York Dolls, of course.
      Absolutely wild to think that Shelley wrote the book when she was only 18-19. And she'd already had two children: one who had died and another who would die before Frankenstein was published


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