Creativity as response to Western civillisation’s bludgeon

It was nice to receive some feedback from friends on my list of stories and the process of finding voice. It was also nice to be reminded of going back to the intentions of why I began cataloging some of these thoughts on writing as I come to the end of the PhD process and think about moving forward. One of the most useful comments was from a friend who reminded me that you find a writing voice by writing, whether dissatisfied with the pieces or not, and keep developing. So I am going to work my through these stories and pieces, aiming to complete one a week, and keep developing.

Something else I learnt from beginning to write these stories, many of which were inspired by my reading of Marion Milner as her words fluttered through that open-window in my story mind. At first, as with all pieces, the minute you begin on something the ideal in your mind, which is often in pictures, is then put to the test of your craft and talent to translate those story-images into something in the real world that can be shared. For some, the medium best to do this  is a film – and this is why film must be such an enticing medium to work in, because it most closely resembles the story images in the inner reality. For some it is painting, for some sculpting, etc. For me, writing. And immediately, from the very first word, from the very first opening up of this story’s voice, you have recognized and admitted the gap between the images in your inner reality and the ability to make them into something real to be shared in the outer, external reality of the world.

This is where, says Milner, many people stop. They cannot bear that gap, they cannot bear to be disillusioned of their fantasy, their inner image and idea. Her anger and frustration was turned, from the 1920s through to the end of her life in 1998, against the education system (and we see returns to this in Michael Gove’s soulless public exams) which privileges the rational mind’s methods over the creative, intuitive, inner reality. Education, Milner argued all her life, as an educational psychologist and as a rather difficult-to-place psychoanalyst, should help ensure individuals can build strong, resourceful bridges between the two realities, to live creatively. (And just as an aside towards a comment made by Eric Young, to remind us that we need a creative and soulful investment in narrative to help us remember that the idea that we live inside an economy, and our lives depend on that, is not the only story. h/t Sharon Blackie for this story). Or, as Milner said back in the 1940s, but which is relevant today:

how far does a general teaching method which gives marks for knowing and penalizes ‘not knowing’ objective facts, hinder the process of coming to know the psychic reality? How far does it help the child to realize the inner reality as process, if this realization does, in fact, require the ability to tolerate doubt and the willingness to wait in uncertainty? […] What are the results of the psychic reality knowing itself, not about itself, as something to discuss, but an act of perceiving in the living moment of ‘now’? We are only beginning to know a little, but there seems to be a continual enlarging of the horizons of experience.

I would take that further, and say the anger and frustration needs to be directed towards Western civilization (which is where Milner’s thought was leading her, and has led me) for the types of education it imposes on us as children. But not only in education.

My theory, I suppose, one I’m working towards in my PhD about the relationship between theories of mind, writing, senses of self, and creativity, is where also thinkers such as Lauren Berlant are working with their emphasis on fantasy and illusion in culture. The fantasies of ‘the good life’ that we cannot give up, even as those fantasies crumble around us and ruin our life systems, are dependent on the dominant Western civilization prioritizing rational thinking (e.g. scientific, positivist methods) over the artistic and creative (look at the cuts in funding for the Arts and Humanities). But also subtly and, in Foucault’s terms, productively (it ends up being pleasurable and productive for us to accept these social narrative constraints) Western civilization also manipulates our inner realities and our creative ability to think in illusory terms—that is, to dream to wish, to imagine—and channels all of these wonderful human abilities into practices that benefit not us, but those in power, those who own the means of production, those who have political strength, media ownership and capital wealth.

That is, our ability to wish and imagine and create illusions and fantasies in our inner realities (which could, if allowed and empowered, be used to live creatively for ourselves—to create art, to communicate compassionately, to build our own homes, to envision our gardens, to relate imaginatively) are instead channeled into ‘creating identities’ through extortionate and debilitating labour, through leisure pursuits (in the small amount of time we are given for it) and, most of all, through consumerism and its fantasies of the good life. Rather than create our own art, we purchase prints from Ikea, unaware of the resources we are using up. Rather than grow our own food, we purchase ‘Tesco’s finest’ for a £1 more than Tesco ‘basic’ potatoes, with the snazzy plastic packaging, even though they come from the same field. Rather than build a bridge from our own inner reality to the outside world, we accept what the outside world suggests is reflective of the inner reality it says we should have, fed to us by media, advertising, education, social norms. It is metallic-painted, alloyed, or plaid covered, or white-sanded, or in some other way pure, but just for us.

This is how I see Western civilization using people’s creative powers against themselves. By ONE: demeaning them as less important than rational, logical (male, white, western) thinking. And then by TWO: manipulating the weakened intuitive, creative unconscious into accepting what is given to the soul, rather than that individual creating their world through creative labour.

Which is why, then, I think (believe, yet?) that expressing and affirming one’s creative powers, when one’s creativity has a dual consciousness, as Steve Thorp says of Mary Oliver’s poetry, a consciousness that expresses connection to land and place, animals, care and compassion for the non-human, and to the creativity inherent in other humans, genuinely IS a response, and a radical, affirmative, humanly responsible reaction, to the ways in which dominant modes of Western living are deracinating the world.

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