Vemödalen: The Fear That Everything Has Already Been Done

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Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

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Shared November 9, 2014

vemödalen - n. the frustration of photographing something amazing when thousands of identical photos already exist—the same sunset, the same waterfall, the same curve of a hip, the same closeup of an eye—which can turn a unique subject into something hollow and pulpy and cheap, like a mass-produced piece of furniture you happen to have assembled yourself. | Photo credits:

THE DICTIONARY OF OBSCURE SORROWS http://www.dictionaryofobscuresorrows...
The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows is a compendium of invented words written by John Koenig. Each original definition aims to fill a hole in the language—to give a name to emotions we all might experience but don’t yet have a word for. Follow the project, give feedback, suggest an emotion you need a word for, or just tell me about your day.

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Twitter @ObscureSorrows

ETYMOLOGY: From Swedish vemod, "tender sadness, pensive melancholy" + Vemdalen, the name of a Swedish town. Swedish place names are the source of IKEA's product names—the original metaphor for this idea was that these clichéd photos are a kind of prefabricated furniture that you happen to have built yourself. As a side note, the umlaut isn't proper Swedish, but I liked the idea of a little astonished face (ö) sitting in the middle of the word.



You are unique. And there are seven billion others, just as unique as you. Each of us is different, with some new angle on the world. But what does it mean if the lives we’re busy shaping by hand, all end up looking the same—easily replaced by a thousand identical others?

So we all spread out, looking for scraps of frontier, trying to capture something special, something personal. As if we’re afraid of being captured ourselves—so quickly pegged for exactly what we are—so easily mistaken for someone ordinary, just like everyone else.

It should be a comfort that we’re not so different, that our perspectives so neatly align, that these same images keep showing up, again and again. It’s alright if we tell the same jokes we’ve all heard before, it’s alright if we keep remaking the same movies. it’s alright if we keep saying the same phrases to each other, as if they had never been said before.

‘The powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.’ You and I and seven billion others will leave our mark on this world we’ve inherited. But if, in the end, we find ourselves with nothing left to say, nothing new to add, idly tracing outlines left by others long ago, it will be as if we weren’t here at all.

This too has been said many times before. ‘The powerful play goes on.’ But when you get your cue, you say your line.