Monday, November 15, 2004

Nothing new under the sun

Since just about everyone I know reads Arts & Letters Daily, you will probably have read this review of "The Seven Basic Plots of Literature" by Christopher Booker. Basically, he claims, all storylines can be reduced to seven plots (or combinations of plots): rags-to-riches, the quest, voyage and return, overcoming the monster, rebirth, comedy and tragedy. I find this view delightfully reductionist, but couldn't help thinking of it from the perspective of copyright (I'm trying to read up on copyright right now, so my mind's full of it) - suppose there were such a thing as unlimited copyright, then the copyright holders of a book like (say) the Bible (which pretty certainly has all the plotlines given above) should be able to sue every writer of every fictional story/novel/whatever. Or, come to think of it, if you view your lifestory as some intricate plot unfolding in real time, then everyone should be sued for living - unless you have the dullest possible life just going to the office every day and going straight back home again. Then again, I guess that might qualify as "tragedy".

Anyway, something else I realised when reading "Lord of the Rings" - there really isn't anything new under the sun, is there? I mean, think about something like a (non-human) speech recognition system. That seems pretty modern, doesn't it? After all, it still isn't something we can do at all well. But the idea was there before - think of Ali Baba and the 40 thieves and how to get into the cave you had to say "Open Sesame". Well, how did the cave know to open the door? Automatic speech recognition! [LOTR equivalent: say "friend" to enter at the gates of Moria.] And what about video-conferencing? Well what about things like the Palantíri, the seeing-stones that could be used, among other things, to communicate between distant places. I guess true genius lies not in coming up with new things, but in making what was once rare, commonplace and what was once magic, mundane.

And in other news: I guess some Republicans weren't too pleased about this site, that publishes apologies from Americans to the rest of the world for having re-elected Bush and created their own rival sites, one of which was titled I think they could have come up with a better URL, don't you? My automatic parse of the URL was "were not sorry", which automatically conjures up the continuation "but will be soon!". Just the message they wanted to send, I don't think!

Well that's all for today. My mood today is best characterised by the Singlish (well, originally Hokkien) phrase boh liao which explains the rambling.


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