Thursday, February 26, 2009


I've been thinking alot about originality - not just of the "voice" or the "style" of a writer, but of the subject matter. I'm seeing, it seems a tendency for literature to be 3rd or 4th generation. We kind of expect films to be made from books, whether good or bad, but when the books themselves aren't the original idea, but a fictionalising of something else, something that already exists, I'm wondering whether the writer has become a mere middleman (or woman) in our cultural supply chain.

What am I talking about? Well, if "Slumdog Millionaire" takes a novel as its source material, "Q&A", all well good, but "Q&A", of course, takes a TV quiz show, "Who wants to be a millionaire?" as ITS source material. Now, I guess that show is itself not a first-generation format. But its not the only one. Look at these other cultural supply chains... Charlie Brooker's "Dead Set", a recent C4 TV success had two archetypes, Big Brother and Romero's Zombie movies. "Big Brother" of course, takes its name if not its concept from "1984." Orwell's novel, a satire, I know, has, I believe the virtue of originality, one of the reasons it has remained so current, so useful. But Orwell created Room 101 (another TV show)and Big Brother, created and named them. I wonder what happens to a world where all our cultural artefacts are made up of existing ones. Its long been a problem in the art world, even when obviously ironic, like Jeff Koons "Michael Jackson and Bubbles" or Fiona Banner's "Hunt for Red October", and film takes its inspirations wherever it can find them, whether childrens toy ("Transformers") comic book ("The Dark Knight") or fairground ride ("Pirates of the Caribbean.")

Any round up of contemporary literature would find room for a few comic books, if only because in the work of Alan Moore and others, there's a startling originality, even if like all the best storytellers they nod in the direction of other works. What's more worrying is that between the fictionalisations of real life and history that still dominate the fiction lists, and easy-to-sell versions of contemporary life, literature, not pop, has begun to eat itself.