Thursday, 21 April 2011

Next year's words


     For last year's words belong to last year's language
     And next year's words await another voice. 



Thanks to Cygnus at Servitor Ludi I spent a bit of time today reading one very engaging blog in particular.

The blog is Secret Sun and the first of its many gems I'd like to commend to the readers of the Expanse is the series of posts in The Star Wars Symbol Cycle.

Most reading this will know - or see - George Lucas borrowed or absorbed a few ideas, but not everyone will know all of the speculated sources. I didn't, and probably still don't. But the sources named open up gateways to whole other worlds of speculation. Click around the blog and check some out. How inspiring, and limiting, is that?

My question to all you bright people is this. Can one of us wake up tomorrow and create a truly new work - whether game, story or image - one which draws on no existing works, and is based on, say, first principles?

A bonus question. How might that work be unfamiliar?

Maybe a third. Would it be a good thing?

My answers. Yes, I'd say there's reason to believe it's possible. We know from what many of us do at our blogs there's a lot of building on the past, linearity; think what we could do if we put our imaginations to work at zero. Of course, it would be extremely difficult and need a kind of isolation. Also, whatever we made would likely still be a recognisable thing simply because of what we are essentially, but it seems to me it would be very positive if it could teach us new things about ourselves and our world.

For a prod, a past discussion of new ideas in miniatures design.

All thoughts very welcome.
_

11 comments:

DocStout said...

I'm not sure it is even possible. Creativity draws from whatever experiences the creator has made a part of him/herself. Other creative works, and the impact they have had on the lives of content creators are an essential part of telling a genuine and personal story.

Porky said...

There's the difficulty. To do it would mean trying to shed all of those experiences and build back up from the base. It would need to be a fluid base too of course if it was to take into account change over time, and that only complicates things, because the knowledge and tools used to create the new thing are products of the present state of affairs themselves, and even that basic wish to do it. And as you suggest, the real trouble could be in the lack of having lived with the concepts built up.

Von said...

If you truly wanted to build from first concepts, you'd have to start with the language. The words we use to frame and explain our thoughts are an inheritance, one made of symbolic associations, cultural values and reinforced patterns and processes.

Total revolution begins with rejecting the language of the status quo, which of course makes communication nigh-impossible (since using any inherited tropes or systems of language, borrowing anything from anywhere that might be understood, is arguably 'not original').

Porky said...

I agree, and that would be one of the most difficult aspects of building back up from the base, along with understanding the early conditions. Without getting too far ahead in the process, it would seem that whatever languages are created in forming the alternative world, they are likely to be at a given stage of their development similar to one or more past or existing human languages, in that both worlds are bounded by the same fundamental laws, and our starting nature. And as with those languages, so long as the source language could be translated into the target language, in this case a modern language, say a current English, the work could still be written, with the challenge of conveying the original nature falling on the 'translator', i.e. the writer. In that sense, I'd say the thing is possible.

Jennie said...

I agree that it would all have to start with language and, inextricably intertwined, with our sense of how the world is constructed. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God." "Word" in the original is logos, which means a lot more than the English "word", but the sense of it is correct for our purposes here.

Language orders our thoughts - there are some things that can be said or thought simply and clearly in one language that are not really possible to communicate in another. It influences how we see the world and what relationships we can perceive. Even our idea of what things constitute "things", where the boundaries are, is fashioned first by our language. So if we aim for "true originality", not basing our work on anything that has gone before, then we must start fresh with an original language.

The problem with this, of course, is that in order to communicate, others have to be able to understand us, and that is impossible without a shared frame of reference, some form of common language. How can we ask another to learn our new language if there are no linguistic equivalencies to grasp onto? And if there are equivalents in existing language, then we have failed in our quest for ultimate originality. The problem repeats across every domain of a work: if the audience cannot make sense of the work, we have failed to communicate. If we get too original, in language, themes, or any other aspect of the work, we risk becoming unintelligible, and the unintelligible fails the test of being art, fails the test of engaging the audience.

James S said...

I'm having a lot of trouble posting on Blogger lately, so let's hope this (my second try) works!

I don't think it's possible to create a truly novel work. All symbols and words are heavily dependent on context to be intelligible, and I can't see how we could separate context from intelligibility. How could there be a symbol that is able to be understood, yet connotes nothing?

Perhaps it would be possible to create a sort of naive original work, if we happened to be an artist in a culture where the ability to create from first principles was deemed possible. I'm thinking of Europe from the late 19th to mid 20th century, where the most celebrated artists and writers were considered to be inspired, almost supernatural creatures, possessors of "genius" like Picasso or James Joyce. These artists created works that they believed were truly novel, and all the people in their culture believed were novel. That's not the same thing as them actually being novel though. We can look back and see where these works came from, deconstruct them. Discover which cultural symbols and assumptions they rely upon.

As it stands, in the modern western world, I don't think anything completely new can be made. The idea that all narrative, indeed all communication, is dependent on shared pre-existing assumptions precludes it. Deconstruction/critical theory precludes it, and I think rightly so.

If a truly novel work could be created, I think it would have to be in the fine arts or poetic worlds. Popular art and narrative relies far too much on resonance with the familiar. That's why I think much fine art and poetry seems unintelligible to the average person: they are looking for familiar connotations that have been deliberately stripped.

Jennie said...

H.G. Wells talks about the necessity of a shared perspective better than I ever could.

Porky said...

One approach to the challenge - that's how I'm choosing to think of it, in that it's only impossible until it's done..! - could be to explore other languages, even those closely related to our own, and look at the points of difference and perceived refractions of meaning. These differences would give a sense of where there might be scope for development and surprise, and a bold author could work out from there. The idea is less to create something impossible to experience at present, than something not yet experienced.

Translation would remain key and there would be real demands made on the reader of course, but perhaps comparable to the demands of conceptual art. It would be more of a raw experiment than material for a commute, or even bedtime reading.

Similarly, in a return to the essences of what we are, there might be a divergence possible which follows paths back up among symbols known, not through them. That they could be recognised and deconstructed later is no trouble, as they would at least be new now.

I haven't read the Wells story yet, but I'll take a good look.

This is all very worthy of a deep thought Friday by the way! I really should aim to get one up every week.

James S said...

"The idea is less to create something impossible to experience at present, than something not yet experienced." In that case, I think it is definitely possible! I'd say that all art is an attempt to express something that hasn't been precisely expressed before, using recognizable symbols. Popular art simply uses the symbols in more familiar ways, so that there are more spoonfuls of comfort in the . . . art . . . cake?

"Similarly, in a return to the essences of what we are, there might be a divergence possible which follows paths back up among symbols known, not through them. That they could be recognised and deconstructed later is no trouble, as they would at least be new now." Interesting. I have an image of something moving in the dark spaces between points of light (symbols). Although, if such a project were successful, wouldn't it just expand the light into previous dark areas, creating new symbols closely related to the existing ones? Or would it be a sort of zen non-communication, where we lay down familiar symbols in a context that makes it clear they don't mean what they normally mean?

The second one is a pretty good description of much contemporary fine art actually.

Porky said...

"Although, if such a project were successful, wouldn't it just expand the light into previous dark areas, creating new symbols closely related to the existing ones?"

There's the question. I'd concede this seems reasonable, but do want to believe whole new symbols could exist, though there's little on which to base an opting for one or the other. The issue is of course how much human life has so far explored its potential, entered all the possible spaces. It may be that there are areas unexplored throughout history by all but small groups.

"Or would it be a sort of zen non-communication, where we lay down familiar symbols in a context that makes it clear they don't mean what they normally mean?"

This seems a good expression of how a translation would need to look.

Porky said...

There are now some related thoughts in the comments at this post.