Monday, June 09, 2008

On Creativity

"……the only way to work on perfection is in the form of an objective work that is fully under your control and is perfectible in some real ways. Either you eat up yourself and others around you, trying for perfection, or you objectify that imperfection in a work, on which you then unleash your creative powers. In this sense, some kind of objective creativity is the only answer man has to the problem of life. In this way, he satisfies nature, which asks that he live and act objectively as a vital animal plunging into the world; but he also satisfies his own distinctive human nature because he plunges in on his own symbolic terms and not as a reflex of the world as given to mere physical sense experience. He takes in the world, makes a total problem out of it, and then gives a fashioned, human answer to that problem. This, as Goethe saw in Faust, is the highest that man can achieve."
{Ernest Becker, “The Denial of Death”, page 185.}

Freud also saw the value of creativity in the individual`s struggle to defend himself against being overwhelmed by his knowledge of his mortality. He believed that all of man`s defenses arise from that most primal defense, that of pure repression. Be they hysterical, intellectual, obsessive, compulsive, depressive, etc. postures, man must limit his conscious knowledge of his mortality by restricting his lived experience to a safe existence shared by the vast majority of his comman man. Yet Freud, perhaps influenced by his single-minded devotion to his life project, understood sublimation, the ability to cathect neurotic energy into creativity, as the one defensive posture that seemed to have no life-diminishing properties.

Unfortunately, I believe, that very creative process that allows man to live a less “neurotic” life comes with a terrible burden. The very striving to leave something of value behind, to outlive us, brings into clearer focus the dilemma of our mortality. As the Artist, in Rank`s sense, attempts to create, he becomes terrified at his temerity in doing what is God`s work. It is here that many artists shrink from their creative urges, and fall back on their more neurotic defenses in order to shield themselves. Some others bow to their lack of courage through psychotic breaks with reality.

I`ve always found it interesting that Freud and Jung had such terrible panic attacks when approaching Rome. Yet neither man seemed able to relate their terror to the symbology of Rome as the seat of a major religion. Because of his devotion and single-mindedness to psychoanalysis, Freud seemed unable to reach a personal resolution with nature and its Creator. Even Jung, who always relied on God, could still faint away with the burden of life.

For me, what ultimately resolves the terror inherent in sublimation for many artists is their understanding of their place in the Creator`s plan. As Becker describes the insight of Rank and Kierkegaard in regards to creativity and immortality, ……”one should not stop and circumscribe his life with beyonds that are near at hand, or a bit further out, or created by oneself. One should reach for the highest beyond of religion; man should cultivate the passivity of renunciation to the highest powers no matter how difficult it is. Anything less is less than full development, even if it seems like weakness and compromise to the best thinkers”……….{Becker, op cit, page 174.}