Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A True Original

In the words of John Stuart Mill: "All good things which exist are the fruits of originality."

To rely solely on the words and works of others is to wallow in mediocrity. It’s always better to strike out on your own and fail than to safely cling to the tried and true and thereby gain only a pale imitation of success.

One could do worse than, as Shakespeare wrote, "If you will lead these graces to the grave. And leave the world no copy."

For a life lived by its own rules will always shine brighter than the life lived in harness to those around it.

Even if your job is to translate the works of others, break the mould and rise above the mundane. Then you can at least aspire to achieve the praise of one like Jorge Luis Borges who once said of a translator’s work: "The original is unfaithful to the translation."

Aspire to be like England’s great bard who Ralph Waldo Emerson referenced thus: "When Shakespeare is charged with debts to his authors, Landor replies, ‘Yet he was more original than his originals.’" Remember, as did Oliver Wendell Holmes, that "A thought is often original, though you have uttered it a hundred times."

One might take the view that "Original thought is like original sin: both happened before you were born to people you could not have possibly met." (Fran Lebowitz) Or as Goethe mused: "The most original authors of today are original not because they create something new but because they are capable of saying such things as if they had never been said before."

I find such a stance to be somewhat cynical and defeatist. And to be a cynic is, in Oscar Wilde’s estimation, to be "A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing."

And remember, as Richard Nixon so eloquently put it: "Defeat doesn’t finish a man - quit does. A man is not finished when he is defeated. He’s finished when he quits."

Gaston Bachelard wrote: "There is no original truth, only original error." But I prefer the words of Brenda Ueland who said: "Everybody is talented, original and has something important to say."

Even me.

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