Is there really such a thing as true originality? In Walter J. Ong’s book Orality and Literacy, Ong brings up the idea of intertextuality and that “a text cannot be created simply out of lived experience”; rather, authors (any type of content creator, really) subconsciously draw on common themes from other works of literature while, of course, adding their own twist. According to Ong’s argument, Andy Weir’s novel The Martian must also follow a sort of trope, one that has shown up time and time again. Many would say that The Martian is the classic lone survivor story, drawing similarities to stories such as The Odyssey and Robinson Crusoe. Although it has the same fundamental elements of man stranded, encountering various problems and fighting against all odds in order to survive, Weir creates a narrative that definitely stands on its own through its creative blend of science and human ingenuity. Intertextuality just seems to prove that humans are inherently drawn to certain themes that resonate with us, and we really don’t care if it’s fundamentally the same ol’ same ol’.
Of course, in this day and age of millions of not only traditionally published texts but stories, e-books, and even fanfiction published via web, there is hardly an idea or theme that has not been touched. It does make me wonder, though– is it no longer possible to be truly original? We discussed in class that anything that we write, whether that be an essay or a blog post, is automatically copyrighted. In all of my class syllabi, there is a section about academic integrity and how professors can automatically check for plagiarism through online systems like turnitin.com. So where do we draw the line between original intent and so-called plagiarism?
Ong also discusses the notion of “secondary orality” and how various technology mediums such as television and radio have reverted back to the spoken word but in a markedly different way from the orality of pre-printing press times. Through this form of orality, Ong argues that we are more deliberate in our orality, and that it stems more from writing and printing than from primary orality in that there is still a sense of closure/separateness and artificiality. In the movie, Watney uses video recordings to recount his experiences on Mars, and he thinks that he is essentially leaving behind a will that people will find when he’s dead. Although most would classify his logs as secondary, I could also argue that since Watney doesn’t think that anyone will see it when he’s still alive, he almost talks in a stream of consciousness, and he definitely doesn’t censor himself (he mentions trying to figure out how to erase some logs at some point in the book), similar to primary.
One of the things I find the most fascinating about The Martian is not even the story itself, but how it came to be. Weir is not originally an author by career, yet he crafted a best selling novel and now major motion picture through his online posts. If it weren’t for writing, which evolved to printing, which evolved to digital writing technologies such as computers and word processors, humans wouldn’t have the luxury and convenience of storytelling today.