Recently while I was sitting in one of my classes I over heard a student talking about how he did not want to share his idea with the class because he was afraid that someone else would steal his idea and use it. However, it would seem rather obvious to me that this young man was a freshman because if he were to read everything that I have read, here in my numerous years as an English major at Montana State University, he would realize that he has stolen his idea from someone else and that his “original” idea is not original at all. Originality died a long time ago, and the more we read the more we realize that there is no such thing as an original piece of work.
Writing is not the only place that originality is gone, earlier in the semester we were required to have a bad day. The thing is there are several different factors that can lead to a bad day. However, there really is not even a unique bad day, even when talking about the death of a pet or a loved one. We can simply see we are not all so different. What are the odds? one in three. I am starting to see that Professor Sexson is correct, and as we get older the odds increase, right now I could comfortably say when someone asks me: what are the odds? One in eight will be my answer. I seem to be getting off course a bit though, not Tristram Shandy off course but none the less, off course. The work of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy is a unique book but again not entirely original. Some would argue that meta-fiction is a somewhat recent phenomenon of the contemporary literature movement or post modern movement. It has always been there, a story within a story, or a story about writing about a story. Origin stories are some of the best examples of this, I realize that origin stories are from the oral tradition but that is where many stories come from. The story of how the loon got its red eyes is mainly a moral story told by Native Americans about not being lazy, but within the story there is another story about how the loon got its red eyes. So we see that meta-fiction has always been around.
Many would believe that William Shakespeare was considered one of the most original and creative authors to ever live. Well I used to believe much of that to be true as well, until now, after reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses I have realized that many of Shakespeare’s works were stolen straight out of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The story of Romeo and Juliet was straight up swiped from the story of Pyramis and Thisbe: two young people fall in love, their love is forbidden by there parents, one believes the other to be dead and in turn takes their own life, the other person who was believed to be dead is not really dead but the other person has already committed suicide so they kill themselves as well so as to be with the other in death. It is kind of jumbled and mixed up but we all know the story. However, this brings another thought to mind when talking about Shakespeare: Professor Sexson told our class this year that when tragedy is taken too far or is taken over the top it becomes comedy. At first I did not know what he meant until I thought back on Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, combined with bad acting, tragedy becomes so overwhelming that it becomes hysterical. A bit of a digression, but still noteworthy is the idea of getting hit in the face, which is not all that funny in real life, but in slapstick comedy it is hilarious. Just watch Chevy Chase in any of the Vacation movie series’ and you will find that this is true. At the same time this movie holds the Old Comedy tradition as well, proving once again that: “all that is past posses our present.” As we have read Lysistrata we are quite aware of what crude sexual humor is, just have a look at Clark W. Griswold, after picking out a Christmas Tree far to big for the house, or as Rusty says: “That thing wouldn’t fit in our yard” Clark’s neighbor asks him: “Hey Griswold, where do you think you’re gonna put a tree that big” to which Clark responds, “bend over and I’ll show ya.” It has all been done before, it’s not original but it’s still hilarious.
Speaking of Lysistrata the idea of women withholding from sex to get their way has been done over and over again. Not just in fictional books or movies, but in real life. Look no further than the popular television series Sex in the City, now I must confess that I did not watch this show willfully but was “in a round about way” forced to watch the show, which pretty much reinforces my point. In the bookFantomina by Eliza Haywood, Fantomina is a fictional character that uses sex, and the strange ability to disguise herself better than anyone ever, to get what she wants. What she wants is a young man named Beauplaisir, so she dresses up like a prostitute to get his attention, but then she has gained to much of his attention and she is somewhat raped, but then falls madly in love with her attacker Beauplaisir. This story had also been done long before Eliza Haywood’s time, and continues to be done to this very day.
At first my plan was to blow this idea of “originality” out of the water by showing how Shakespeare not only copied Ovid’s work in A Midsummer Night’s Dream but in Romeo and Juliet as well, but I have found a new outlet and that outlet is The Golden Ass. The Golden Ass is chalk full of things and ideas that have been copied and are still being copied today. Beauty and the Beast is certainly one piece of work that can easily be linked to The Golden Ass but there are so many other pieces of work that share the thread. Pinocchio may have been over looked by some but not by me, you may recall the seen where the boys are playing pool, smoking cigars, and drinking into the late hours of the night and so they are changed into the thing they are mimicking: an ass. The sicked wisters: Cinderella. Psyche who can only be woken by true loves kiss: Snow White, Shrek, and that list goes on and on. The point I made earlier about meta-fiction pops up in The Golden Ass so many times it is ridiculous, a story within a story, The Golden Ass becomes a little Russian wooden doll with progressively smaller dolls within dolls.
Professor Sexson offered an out for those who wish to not have to post their papers on-line for fear the paper could be stolen or plagiarized, well it already has been, so I expect to see everyone’s papers on-line because of this groundbreaking and original piece I have just written. When a man was first sent into outer space and orbited around the moon there was a chimpanzee somewhere who thought, “so what, I’ve already done that.” Does literature ever change, is it slowly evolving, or is it simply like fashion which slowly moves in a circle? Do we start at the end, and finish at the beginning? The last question proposed to us was: What have we learned from this class? We have learned nothing; we have only been reminded of the things we have forgotten.