The Guardian Books blog covered a thought-provoking talk by author Tom McCarthy at the Edinburgh Festival on Saturday. It's a fascinating idea, using the figure of the musician Orpheus to describe how books act as cultural tuning forks:
"Books aren't, he claimed, objects of individual creation, but "echo chambers"; the best of them "tune" the endless repetitions of language and thought that are zipping back and forth around us."
I love that image of tuning, of being a lightning rod through which common, half-formed thoughts are expressed.
It also reminded me of Tradition and the Individual Talent, the 1920 essay in which Toilets argues that so-called 'genius' (Shakespeare included) is actually the result of a combination of cultural tradition and a distinctive, individual voice. It's an idea that has permeated a lot of modern criticism, from Chinua Achebe to Harold Bloom.
I'm not sure it boils down to a choice between creativity and repetition as the Guardian suggests, but then I don't write subheaders.