What got me thinking about this concept of individuality however, was something quite specific, namely the once new phenomenon, now worldwide craze, of the ‘selfie.’ I couldn’t help but notice, as I browsed online or scrolled through social media, the increasing number of attempts made by people to stand out, to be different, to create an identity that stands in contrast to the vast majority of the population. It’s a trend which has completely taken off as a result of the easiness with which we can alter and ‘improve’ our image in order to create something that we view as truly individual. The point is, as soon as we caption something with the infamous ‘#selfie’ we conform to one of the most non-individualist movements out there, yet we do it all under the pretext that our attempt to portray such an image is perfectly unique. The same applies however to most aspects of today’s culture. When we look at how art, fashion and literature have progressed, we see only imitations of original concepts, the repetition of ideas. It raises the question can anyone, or anything for that matter, be truly individual, or is everything merely a recycled product of a preconceived idea?
Let’s take the music industry for example. We only need to look at the tracks that top the charts time and time again to see that most of them seem to merely echo features of the ones that have gone before. The same idea applies to our attempt to express our individuality through the powerful medium of fashion. Once upon a time it was authentic and original to dress in a ‘hipster’ fashion or adapt a more ‘vintage’ look. We all like our ‘look’ to be somewhat expressive of our personalities and undoubtedly what we choose to wear contributes to others’ perception of our inner character. However, we can no longer say that ‘hipster’ is unique or that vintage clothing is quirky and original, because as soon as something finds itself placed under a clear definition it immediately loses any of its individuality; it becomes, like everything else, a common trend, something which is simply recycled from a previous era. The truth is, we can only be as individual as all the other individuals trying to be individual!
This idea of reworking ideas and not ever really possessing true individuality is not a new concept. We only need to examine the patterns of literature through the years to witness the evolution of plots, characters and themes in order to communicate the same ideas in what the author hopes will be their own original way. Mexican author, Carlos Fuentes, when describing what inspired him to write his famous novel ‘Aura’, said that his work was merely a representation of the work of previous authors who had gone before him. He wrote ‘…this is the great advantage of time; the so-called author ceases to be such, he becomes an invisible agent for him who signed the book, published it and collected (and goes on collecting) the royalties. But the book was written, it always was, it always is-by others.’ What Fuentes quite rightly points out is that although we may think we are expressing our individuality and introducing a new and unprecedented concept, it is in fact merely a reworking of an idea that has gone before; an idea that was once truly original. I’m not saying this is something negative. In fact, as Fuentes suggests, it may even be advantageous. It’s perfectly natural that ideas will evolve and be communicated in different ways with the passage of time.
Consequently, such a belief produces an almost domino-like effect on our ability to think and process ideas of our own. Can there ever be such a thing as independent choice? Can we ever really say that our ideas are original? Referring back to Fuentes, he once stated that ‘ ‘Originality’ is the sickness of a modernity that wishes to see itself as something new, always new, in order continually to witness its own birth. In so doing, originality is that fashionable illusion which only speaks to death.’ Yet surely such an opinion of one’s ability to be truly original is somewhat pessimistic? It seems a rather bleak, albeit inevitable, concept to think that none of us can ever really be our own, authentic personalities or express original ideas without merely echoing those of a previous someone.
As human beings, most of our behaviour is conformist and that’s natural. We are a society and cannot function unless we all conform to some kind of social norm. We constantly recycle ideas in every area of culture, yet surely the way in which we interpret those ideas and rework them to express ourselves is what gives us any sense of individuality. One author might merely be imitating the concepts initiated by one before him, yet the way in which he communicates those ideas is his own stamp of uniqueness. An artist may paint his masterpiece taking his inspiration from an already completed creation, but he will do it in his own way, making it breathe his own individuality. Carlos Fuentes’ idea of originality is clear- it doesn’t exist. I beg to differ. Surely we can, although perhaps in a very small way, use our own interpretations and personal judgements to create something original from something which is perhaps not so original. To use Fuentes’ idea of originality, we could of course question whether or not this very article is in any way original. I have expressed ideas which have, without doubt, been expressed time and time again. I have quoted directly from already published sources and I have drawn from the ideas of others which have no doubt influenced my opinion. Yet I hope that I have done so in a somewhat original way, in a way that makes my work unique from others that may be similar. So does it possess any individuality? I will leave it to you to judge in your own individual way.