Nobody’s Idea: A Writer’s Dilemma

Too often we need food for thought. In search of this food one can explore the cyber world, read newspapers/magazines/books, or even watch television. For a writer, this food for thought is absolutely essential. If there is nothing to think about, there would be nothing to write about either. For in thinking is the genesis of writing. And writing perpetuates thinking.The reason why I am writing this, if you have not already guessed, is because of the dilemma that faces me every time I sit down to write. ‘A work which says nothing new is not worth the paper on which it is written’, says the physicist Alexander Kitaigorodsky in his book, “I Am a Physicist.” And if I am not wrong in paraphrasing what he writes in the book the crux of the statement is the novelty of thought expected of any new work. He was, of course, talking about scientific works and papers. The idea, however, is quite general and eminently applicable to any field of creative endeavour, writing being one. The dilemma, therefore, is: Is what I am going to write, original? Is it new? It is insofar as it hasn’t been copied, “lifted”, or plagiarized from anywhere. And it isn’t insofar as my suspicion that somebody might have thought about it already is true.

Originality is a difficult word. A certain Mr. Benjamin Franklin reportedly opines, “Originality is the art of concealing your sources.” If that be true, there’s nothing original in this world. For a work (scientific, literary or otherwise) usually cites the ‘references’ or bibliography that went into its composition; granted, it might be original in that it says something more than the ‘references’ have said but it is not original in that it doesn’t conceal the sources. And a work which doesn’t duly acknowledge the references or the ‘source(s) of inspiration’ that went into its composition is considered an exercise in plagiarism. Instead, a better working definition of originality in my opinion is the inability to cite any sources despite making an honest effort. If you and everyone who reviews your work feel that inability, you’re original.

Nothing can be so amusingly arrogant as a young man who has just discovered an old idea and thinks it is his own.

Sidney J. Harris

I do not know if I am amusing enough, though. The idea is to explore the idea behind the idea of originality. Is there something called an original idea? If a young man discovers an old idea, is he not justified in calling it his idea? That he was born in another time is not his mistake, is it? The operative word here is, ‘discover’. If ideas are discovered, they are, by definition, “there”. Nobody invented them. They have been there. Civilization just discovered them. An idea, then, is nobody’s idea. None can lay claim to it except insofar as the claim acknowledges that the idea was, strictly speaking, discovered for the first time in recorded history by some particular individual. Anyone who discovers the same idea independently in another later time can lay an equal claim to the idea. The key question, however, is: Are ideas discovered or invented? If a man independently discovers an idea that has been discovered earlier by someone else in another era in a different part of the world, it makes sense to believe that the idea is a “thing” that is “there” and not a mere invention of the mind. Both people discovered the same “thing”. How otherwise is it possible for two different minds to reach the same conclusion (idea)? Different minds discovering the same idea independently seems to suggest that the idea ought to be objective, independent of the two minds. It is, so to speak, the objective Truth that transcends space and time. You don’t invent it. You just discover it. And it’s always “there”.

If I am only writing about what is happening in the world that is there I am not doing justice to the quintessentially human endowment of being able to invent ideas. Of course, these inventions of the mind might not correspond to any Truth that is “there”. In fact, that is why they are original. They are NOT “there”. I invent them. In writing fiction, I invent an idea. In composing music, I invent an idea. In painting, I invent an idea. In doing the undone, I invent an idea. It is a truth that I create. It is a fulfillment of my creativity. In what I have written and I am writing, the attempt has been to explore in an in-depth fashion the nature of human thought and its correlation to the Truth that is there. And such an attempt requires a conscious investment of one’s mental faculties. This conscious investment of thought, however, comes more naturally to this writer than an investment in reporting about the world “out there”. And this is one reason why I find it a little difficult to write on contemporary topics and issues. For even though I am in some way affected by them and they do not really appear to me to merit much study and consideration in that I can’t say anything new or genuine about them. This viewpoint is, of course, debatable. For what use would the world have for one who would not consider it worth consideration? But let me emphasize that it isn’t that the world is not worth consideration. It is just that if I choose to, say, write about the global economic meltdown (I am yet to figure out what that really means) it would only be a second rate version of what the truth might be – and that you can find anywhere on the web or otherwise. Instead the more conscientious choice as a writer seems to me to write what I really think about than about that which I only read or hear about. Current affairs, economics and politics do not, therefore, offer me food for thought. They are like junk food I occasionally intake. The real nutritive value comes from the effort I invest in, say, composing an article of this kind. For it is a realization of my potential creativity. Or if it isn’t, it is then a reflection of the Truth that is there.

The idea, as I wrote, has been to explore the nature of human thought and its correlation to the Truth that is there. Creativity, it seems, is a Truth that is “there”. And the tentative conclusion is that if there is “something” called Creativity, human thought is then quite independent of the Truth that is “there”. Creativity allows you to veer from the way things are and have them as you would want them to be. I do not know if I have, in this write-up, discovered the truth that is “there” or if I have invented a new idea. Either way I would be happy.

Ravi Kunjwal

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