June 26, 2012 § 1 Comment
I’ve been wanting to write about creativity on this blog for a long time. Each time I’ve tried, I’ve gotten all tangled up, stumbling over my words and feelings. It seems I can write about the interpersonal dynamics of my sex life and changing core values with less inhibition than I can even about the topic of creativity. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
It seems that one primary thing our culture covertly wants to kill is creativity. We have this idea that as adults if we dare to make something, be it a pot or a drawing or a story (anything but a child or an income really) we are claiming a superior status to others. We are looked at with a hostile, piercing, critical lens. And most of us have internalized that lens well enough to be “humble” and keep our creative foolishness to ourselves and never let it see the light of day and bring shame into our adult lives, and we block the joy and hope it could bring, as well.
A professor I had in college once told a story just as an aside in a course on religion that stuck with me. He told us when he was traveling in Spain, he kept seeing guitars sitting in the corners of restaurants. He said after a while, he saw that random people would just walk up and play a song or two then sit back down. He could not believe they had the nerve to play publically, but they were well received. And he remarked how in America, anyone who picks up an instrument had better prove something or else, and said he felt that in Spain music was understood as being more something that belonged to many people and was something that they’d want to share and other people would want to receive. There wasn’t such absurd status or exclusive ownership attached to it, or consumer value either, which I also think was not a coincidence.
I finished writing a novel recently, and I’ve started the long process of submitting to literary agents. I am already getting the stone wall, “Have you been published?” and then instantly discredited response when it comes up with people outside my close circle of friends. I don’t bring it up myself with people who aren’t invested in me as an individual, not because I’m not proud or excited about it or because it’s not a major part of my life lately, but because it is not a safe thing to say. I’m more likely to come out as queer in a group I know is homophobic than to talk about being an artist with people who don’t already know and like me. And even then, I’m cautious.
I think we all have an internalized sense of a vicious, critical observer in our minds, something generously bequeathed to us in this culture to keep us in check. It seems to me like a mechanism of control, perhaps one of the primary ones, and it has me wondering why. Who benefits from this? How do we fight it? What would the result of breaking through be?
I have a feeling that consumerism itself is the opposite of creativity. That autonomy and creativity, like autonomy and sexuality, are intrinsically linked if they’re separate at all, and that controlling them is key to any system of dominance.
August 10, 2011 § 1 Comment
I’ve been reading up on the riots in England. Despite all the coverage, I had to dig around for a while to find any assessment of what is happening on a human level. I only found a few small assessments, including one reference to the riots as the “consumer society riots.” I did some of my own thinking about it and thought I would post it here.
What upsets me most in the representation of the rioters as countercultural. Descriptions seem to cast them as outliers, completely random and terrifying to the status quo – the idea that someone would do violence without empathy and do so specifically to get at consumer goods as unprecedented and shocking. Yet corporations, advertisers, and a large majority of everyday people do exactly that within a carefully structured ideology. Through a careful balance of compartmentalization, they show every sign of these allegedly shocking, psychotic tendencies as they lack empathy for the suffering caused by their lifestyles and actions for the sake of monetary gain, that is, to get at “stuff.”
Wendell Berry has pointed out that there is no true distinction now between peacetime and wartime, as the ecological catastrophes and suffering that mark times of war are now everyday norms. In that same vein, there is no true distinction between good citizens and looters. They’re not opposites – the blatant and disorderly violence and robbery taking place should mark flashpoint of increased consciousness for how thinly our coat of morality paints modern society. I see the major thing that distinguishes the rioters from other people is that being held off from an unethical society’s rewards has built up enough rage in them to push past the overarching mentality of fear that is the thread holding the fabric of our supposedly moral societies together.
I don’t think it’s really genuine to condemn, or to honor, the rioters as countercultural. They aren’t breaking down the system by emulating its mentality in a less controlled way. A lot people with the will to do violence, the willingness to kill will never change the way things are. What we need is a lot of people with the will not to do violence and to die, the rebirth of a narrative of cultural critique entwined with a vision of an authentically alternative society forged by a love ethic and for this to be spoken by people all over the place. I think the riots should come as no surprise, and urge us onwards towards self-awareness, to look at the value systems underlying our everyday actions and whether they are authentic and satisfying to us, and to teach ourselves and one another to have the creativity to imagine new ways of being and the boldness to make them manifested in the world.