Saturday, 19 December 2009

Where do things come from?

Following on from my last post about the mind interfering with natural capacities of creation and response, this morning I wrote a nice little post which tracked the ways in which my mind had interfered with my capacity to make music throughout my life. Then I went to attach the image, and Explorer closed down my browser, eating my post for breakfast.

For a while I thought about writing it again, while the ideas were 'fresh in my memory'. But when I came to try, they seemed to have gone, leaving only a dull little pit of disappointment in the centre of my chest. Why were those ideas able to come out so smoothly, connecting to each other, feeding each other, linking together into a growing coherence only an hour ago? When now they've vanished into the mist of this cold, wintry morning.

If I'd been writing an academic paper, I would have had to try to conjure them up once again, cursing all the while about lost time and wonderful ideas that would never come again. But the beauty of this blog process is that it doesn't have to work within those sorts of constraints. I thought about Sean McNiff, and others whose books on creativity I'm reading, and how they often refer to mistakes, and responses to mistakes. In my painting at the moment, I'm explicity exploring/allowing chance effects, unexpected material realities. Sometimes I set things up deliberately to work together randomly, sometimes a 'mistake' happens, and I incorporate it into the image. So why, I thought, can I not work with the mistake of my browser malfunction. Instead of trying recapture, recreate, something which has already been made and has fallen back into the ether apparently without trace, why not use what happened as a stimulus for something else?

As well as making me think about mistakes, the other aspect of the malfunction that interested me was why I couldn't write the ideas again. I thought of Stephen Nachmanovitch's (Free Play, 1990) definition of what some people call 'intuition':

Intuition is a synaptic summation, our whole nervous system balancing and combining multivariate complexities in a single flash. It's like computation; but while computation is a lineal process, going from A to B to C, intuition computes concentrically. All the steps and variables converge on the central decision-point at once, which is the present moment.

Reasoned knowledge proceeds one step at a time, and the results of one step can, and often do, overturn the results of the previous step - hence, those moments when we think too much and can't firmly decide what to do. Reasoned knowledge proceeds from information of which we're consciously aware - only a partial sampling of our total knowledge. Intuitive knowledge, on the other hand, proceeds from everything we know and everything we are. It converges on the moment from a rich plurality of directions and sources - hence the feeling of absolute certainty that is traditionally associated with intuitive knowledge (40)

This description of intuition links in my mind to the idea of emergence, an idea which is probably going to come up in future quite a lot here in relation to thinking about creativity. When all these things are working together in the way that Nachmanovitch describes, there seems to come a point when something suddenly just pops out, whole. What pops out (an idea, a realisation, a sentence) hasn't been constructed, it hasn't been 'put together' in any systematic way. One minute there's just swirling stuff, a multi-dimensional awareness in the mind which could go in any number of directions, and then, suddenly, something crystallises out of this stuff, and becomes a form.

Things that emerge like this are always, in some sense, unique. The 'rich plurality of directions and sources' which converged at a specific moment to produce my first post will never converge in quite the same way ever again. I can try to reproduce the conditions which I perceive to be present when the first thing emerged/was created. But there were all sorts of elements in the mix which I wasn't aware of, most of which were beyond my control. On top of that, the processes involved in producing the first thing, and the ideas and expressions that popped out along the way, have now themselves become part of the new 'plurality of directions and sources' which I would be drawing on if I tried to write my post for the second time. Sometimes, of course, this could help you to make a better post. But it would always be a different one.

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