These are the words of Thomas Blachman, the guy who has divided more water in Denmark than anyone since Moses (not that Moses was active in Denmark, but you know what I mean), the judge in Danish X Factor who according to some is a sadist who takes delight in sending aspiring stars home to their teenage rooms crying, according to others — yours truly included — a voice who actually has managed to say something important about culture in these Modern Times. In this case, it is from his book, The Colossal Human (p. 15).
“Say Only That Which You Have Figured Out Yourself”.
Is he a utopian, is he just out there to provoke, or is he plain stupid? What kind of an ideal is that, in these Modern Times when everything has already been figured out a long time ago, and when it takes at least a degreen in quantum mechanics and a super-advanced wheelchair to even start trying to understand even the questions that need to be asked to figure out that which still remains, let alone figure them out? And when there’s no need to figure out anything oneself, because wikipedia is always two clicks away? Is he calling for complete silence from the rest of us?
On the contrary, and I think he’s right.
But I think he’s right not only for the reasons he gives:
Because if everything I say has already been said before, who is then speaking? My parents? Their parents?
Seen in this light, his statement is a protest against the postmodern state, the quotation society, where even the attempts at true originality is abandoned because everything has already been said; where the closest we can ever get is to piece together the quotations in new and — hopefully — interesting ways.
Seen in this light, it is a call to arms against the fear of originality: if you don’t even try, there is no way to tell if what you had meant to say really was original, the spark of genius which, against all odds, had let you figure out something new. Be brave — fight the odds.
This is a valid and necessary opposition. But the statement could be taken in another direction too:
OK, there is a fair chance that everything I have to say has already been said before, in one way or another. There is such an immense wealth of information out there, texts, opinions, blogs, databases, journals, etc., that if I were to check if anyone has said what I wanted to say, I would never get around to even saying it. I have some times suggested a five-year ban on writing and publishing, to give us a chance to catch up, but even if we extended that to ten or twenty years, it would still just be a piss in the Pacific (as my teacher used to say; wonder who said it before him?). The last man who knew everything died a long time ago, whether we think it was Athanasius Kircher (1601/2–1680) or Thomas Young (1773–1829).
But if that is my predicament, it is also yours, the reader’s: the chances that whoever reads what I write knows exactly that particular article which I happen to have copied (without knowing it because I haven’t read it), are so slim that it might as well be disregarded. In a certain sense, everything is new to discover again, so let’s get started.
What distinguishes this from the post-modern “rearranging the quotations” model is that the quotations — which they most probably are — are not treated as quotations but as new, because to the individual reader, it most likely is new: not necessarily new knowledge, objectively speaking, but at least new statements, nevermind if they have been made before.
In other words: consider what is being said not primarily as information, but as action — communication as an act of human interaction, not as a transferral of knowledge. Or, to use a different image (which I hereby use for the first time, to my knowledge and presumably to yours): as sex, not in the sense of transferring information like a sperm to an egg, but in the sense of cuddling, enjoying someone’s company, body, and mind.
Even an expert in the same field as mine would have a different background, different reasons to say what he says, different ways of saying it. Hearing our different versions of the same information would still be to meet two different persons, witness two different realizations of being human, expressions of humanity. They are revealing, not so much in what they say as in how and why: here’s another person who is saying something — why is he doing that? why does he keep using “red” as an example? Which records did he listen to when he was sixteen?
Then there’s always the thin line which separates bold greatness from trivial platitudes. Perhaps we don’t need hoards of people who have figured out for themselves that the world is round and are dying to tell the world about it. Or perhaps we do? Rather than hoards of people who don’t? Discovering that the world is round is a wonderful thing to do, even though Columbus has done it already. Too wonderful to be done once (and) for all.