This is Not a New Idea

by Vala Schriefer

I struggle between the obsession of wanting to know everything and wishing I knew nothing. When I can drop myself inside an idea, walk around, understand the space, I feel empowered. These ideas I am traversing, the planes of thought I examine and reexamine are, however, not my own. Even in the folds of my subconscious there lie the remains of my past, the debris of time’s continuous record. I falsely regard this residue as a by-product of my deep conscious explorations. I am naively coming to the same, comfortable, seemingly epiphanic conclusion many before me have come to. I have not stumbled upon some great new truth, but rather tripped over the same semi-invisible step which catches the foot of any amateur thinker. We only know what has been done in the past. The ideas we feel we have developed are a function of the life-long unveiling of the ideology and philosophy deeply rooted in our historical subconscious. This generation’s great predicament is rooted in our concern with being unoriginal, of repeating history. We trap ourselves in the fear that there is nothing more to be
created, all that there is to discover was found yesterday.

For a long time, I felt I could trust my dreams. In the landscape of a dream, in a
territory frothing with the bizarre tenants of the subconscious, the storyline seems so
disconnected from my experience, a distorted reflection of what my mind recognizes as the world. When I write stories based on my dreams I feel I have created something truly original. There is, however, the caustic memory of one of the earliest dreams I can recall, and one I mistakenly cherished as my own. I dreamt there was a dinner party. The details are all so clear; a blue haze enveloped the party guests, the long oak table had been dressed in a tacky maroon tablecloth, there were dozens of alcoholic beverages adorning the table, and about ten guests sat around conversing convivially. I was both a spectator and participant in this jovial scene. The guests, however, became antsy and soon panicky when they realized they could not leave. I must have been four or five when I had this dream and I adored the madness of it. Ten years later I remembered it suddenly and recounted the dream to my father. “That’s The Exterminating Angle by Bruñuel.” In what space could my mind stretch out and practice its function free from stimuli?

An artists’ work is driven by the capacity of their mind, by complex thoughts, by the
synthesis of their philosophy, by the creation of something out of nothing. This takes a lot of power, artists are indeed playing God. And through the process of production and the
mounting pressure on the brain, as philosophy begins to shape and ideas grow shadows, there is that unfortunate reminder that atrophies my conscious; none of this is original. Inspiration, truly new and clear ideas, seem a luxury of another time period, the quality Beethoven and Kahlo and Einstein and Dickenson all undoubtedly possessed that has gone extinct. There seems to be a letter missing in this generation’s genome. Maybe all potential genius and creativity are dampened by our generation’s overexposure to media. Maybe the roots of our struggle lie in our knowing too much. It feels impossible to govern a properly original movement of ideology. Even on the smallest level, every idea seems branded with a copy write symbol and a list of names (longer even than the breath of the thought) of the original founders who did it better and faster than you eight-hundred years ago. But we also forget that those historic architects of ideology did not pull their ideas out of thin air, they too followed the trail markers on their conceptual path. This generation is so used to being shielded, to using GPS, that our anxiety keeps us from taking the step all the great thinkers eventually took; off the path.

The irony of it all is that this fear stops us in our tracks. What’s the point of thinking
when everything has already been thought? We get caught up in ourselves, become stagnant, because we wholeheartedly believe it was easy back then; we ingrain in us the image of a freer, more cultivated past. We suffer from a severe, collective nostalgia and simultaneously shield ourselves with the state of our technological present in order to avoid the uncertainty of true, unfiltered exploration we praise in history. This generation is chained to the current state of existence, and we rely on the historical psyche instead of developing our own, contemporary one. We focus so deliberately on the product and not the process. This generation is programed to dread failure and risk and unpredictability and is therefore stripped of the space to practice creative flexibility. That is not to say that new ideas no longer exists, but rather that focus has been shifted on the importance of the future, of the perfection of the final product, that the process
becomes empty. We fear the muddiness of creation.

I struggle between the anxiety of never creating a perfectly original, raw idea, and the knowledge that no idea is untouched by the influence of prior ideology. I once joked with a friend about starting a movement, some radical revolution that we could lead. We would write a manifesto, have a symbol, maybe even a “uniform.” We discussed what past revolutionary groups would be the inspiration, the bones for our own provocative cultural crusade. We did not know what our movement would be about, and the idea reclined comfortably in the hypothetical. And indeed, there is nothing original about revolution or cultural movements, but in the moment, even though the idea was so undoubtedly plagiarized and lasting only the life of one conversation, the mere suggestion of starting something was thrilling. We had felt the same fire that blazed within the many revolutionaries before us. In that moment, although merely a joke, we carried the history of the new, the continuous breath of creation, we stole the ancient light that ignites the body of an idea. My mind and my dreams are unprotected from the influence of history, yet, while a clear lookalike to the story, my dinner party dream was not a Xerox of Bruñuel’s vision. I had reimagined the story. We reimagined a revolution. In order to pull this generation out of philosophical stagnation and overcome our fears of unoriginality, we must remember the thrill of creation, muddiness and all, uninfluenced by the degree of its relative novelty. The theory was founded yesterday, but today we rethought it and now it’s new.