In Part 1 of this essay, I left off with the example of the Ise Grand Shrine. Another entity that is continually replaced across time is the human body. Our bones are refreshed once a decade, skin cells live about two or three weeks, sperm cells have a life span of only about three days, and the lining of our stomach is renewed every few days. Yet, we regard, for example, Arnold Schwarzenegger the bodybuilder and the former governor of California as the same person. This reasoning, according to Han, is applied not only to organisms but also works of art:
“The old dies off and is replaced by the new. Identity and renewal are not mutually exclusive. In a culture where continual reproduction represents a technique for conservation and preservation, replicas are anything but mere copies.”
There is creativity in such endeavors that the West overlooks. As the German art historian Lothar Ledderose once argued:
“Chinese artists … never lose sight of the fact that producing works in large numbers exemplifies creativity, too. They trust that, as in nature, there always will be some among the 10,000 things from which change springs.”
Unlike the West that tries to realistically depict nature, the Far East operates like nature. Nature has no author, and it might be time to rethink our relationship with authorship and creativity. The French philosopher Roland Barthes in his famous essay The Death of the Author called into question the practice of deriving meaning from the author’s views, historical context, background, and so on. This practice inherently limits the interpretation of the text, which is derived from a wide variety of ideas, cultures, languages, theologies, and philosophies. It ignores the role of the reader that breathes new life into the text through each unique interpretation. It inhibits the creativity that comes from the reader. The cult of the original is tied to the worship of the author. We praise the original work of art and congratulate the author for their creativity.
At this point, one might ask: what does this have to do with Greta Van Fleet? Or music? Clearly, the critics of Greta Van Fleet are arguing from the perspective that I have argued against so far. They praise Led Zeppelin for being the original, while Greta Van Fleet is cheapened due to its similarity to Zeppelin. The appreciation of Greta Van Fleet’s fan-base is unimportant, since there is only one author and that author is the only being that deserves praise. Music, in general, is replete with the cultism that unlisted the Ise Shrine as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hip Hop is often judged as inferior to other genres due to its heavy use of sampling. There exist countless lawsuits for copyright infringement. Yet, there was a past unencumbered by the cult of the original. We see fragments of this past from the Blues and Jazz, in which standards are played over and over again. Sometimes, they are radical re-inventions; sometimes, they capture the essence of the original. Both are praised for its unique beauty and creativity. What would happen if we switched our perspective on this issue? What if we brought about the death of the author, and operated more like nature? Would we deride Greta Van Fleet for being a copycat? Or, perhaps, one might argue that they are not copycat enough. What do you think?