into the new, if there’s such a thing.

i was reading a book review on npr’s website the other day for a book called baba yaga laid an egg by dubravka ugresic. the wonderful cover art drew me in, but i was especially interested to learn that this book was one of several novels that are part of the canongate myths project, which enlists some of the greatest writers from around the world to reimagine and retell ancient myths in their own style.

i love the concept of this project! it’s such a wonderful way to honor literary traditions and storytelling. i’ve thinking a lot lately about the task of the writer: to tell a story that’s already been told, but to make it new. every story has already been told in one form or another, but all writers tell stories differently, with their own unique form and voice, and that’s what separates the brilliant writers from the mediocre. virginia woolf and james joyce, for example, innovated the language of prose through their creation of the stream-of-consciousness form, but they didn’t create it ex nihilo (or, “from nothing,” if you don’t speak latin (which i certainly don’t)): they had to have a starting point (the english language), but they used what they had to work with to revivify it and make it something original and fresh.

and really, this concept of newness is everywhere in my life lately: i read an article in the new york times this morning about fashion week, in which the writer asserted that the fashion industry fails in its striving toward newness, that nothing is innovative or evolutionary and that all the same people are invited to the shows, that it’s all “amusing variations on a well-rehearsed theme” (marc jacobs is also quoted in this article as saying, i suspect without a hint of irony, “there’s so much striving for newness now that newness feels less new.”). while i think there’s certainly truth in that, i wonder what part of life isn’t a variation on a theme; we all are born, live, work, grow old and die. everyone. but it’s how we choose different paths and make different decisions from the person next to us that make our lives unique and make us individuals. “newness” is relative because it’s all been done before. but with fashion, as with writing, it’s not simply regurgitation: there are nuanced alterations and changes that make it something unique, make it like a fingerprint for the artist that can be used to identify it as the creation of that person for all of time.

ah, to create. such a daunting task, but with myriad possibilities. which is maybe what makes it so daunting.


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