Nothing New?

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In the critic’s vocabulary, the word ‘precursor’ is indispensable, but it should be cleansed of all connotations of polemic or rivalry. The fact is that every writer creates his own precursors. His work modifies our conception of the past, as it will modify the future.

-Jorge Luis Borges, from “Kafka and His Precursors”

 

Most recently, it was author Christopher Booker who espoused the belief that there are seven basic plots, and every story is a retelling of one of these plots. So, is there nothing new under the sun?

 

Borges, in the above quotation, is telling us yes, and no.

 

What has not changed is human nature, which is why the Ten Commandments are just as relevant now as they were thousands of years ago. What changes, on the other hand, is our personal experience with the seven plots. We are, Borges is saying, unique and at the same time an amalgamation of all that came before.

Stepping back from art a bit, I think we can extrapolate this into the wider sphere of society, into the older and younger generations, into the political right and left, into religion and gender and race. We all had precursors and we will be precursors. So, maybe rather than righting off the past and throwing the baby out with the bathwater, we can try to see history as one long chain of influence and growth, of pitfalls and tragedy, and hopefully we can learn to find peace in wholeness rather than exclusion.

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