Welcome to Emerging Futures -- Vol 108! Creativity and Negativity – Developing a Creative Comportment...
Good morning creative becomings,
We hope you are looking forward to an adventurous weekend.
On our end adventures are calling: Jason is in Paris and Iain will be out in Queens to see “The World’s UnFair” and Brooklyn to hopefully catch up with an old friend/colleague Mary Magic who is doing a workshop “Worlding the Molecular.”
This week is an important one in North America. September 30th was the Canadian Day of National Truth and Reconciliation, and Looking ahead to this week we are coming up to October 9th which is Indigenous Peoples Day in the US, and then on October 12th is Dia de la Raza in Mexico – also a holiday to recognize the Indigeneity of the region.
Our strongly held sense is that for those of us interested in meaningful change making, especially in North America – it is an important couple of weeks. It is a period to reflect on and understand the full truth of the history of ongoing Colonialism, and actively engage with the full truth of the possibilities of Indigenous futures as North American futures. We encourage you, if you are not already doing so, to join the events of this period – and the ongoing profoundly creative practices of making other worlds possible with indigenous communities. Here in Northern New Jersey – the unceded territories of the Ramapough Munsee, a good place to start or continue these engagements is via the web site of the Ramapo Munsee Lunaape and the Three Sisters Farm.
Last week we we left you with a question at the end of the newsletter:
“It is not uncertainty and not-knowing that we need to come to terms with, but the condition of being of a radically creative universe – and our condition of being permanently active entangled relational creative creatures in this open dynamic universe – that is the ground of a positive not-knowing and uncertainty – and that is what we need to ethically and aesthetically honor/dwell within and of.
What are all the styles and modes of comportment that can be invented to emerge enactively with this?”
This week we are beginning a new series of newsletter exploring the space of “styles of comportment for an enactive creativity within an ongoingly creative reality”. Now that might be quite a mouthful – even if it says it well. To keep things short we are interested in exploring “styles of creativity for a creative reality.”
What are such styles?
Right off the bat, we want to say that these are negative styles.
This might sound at the very least odd or perplexing.
Creativity is inherently positive – it is something new and different – what can it have to do with the negative?
But bear with us…
Such styles that profoundly engage the astonishing spontaneously creative nature of reality are going to be counter intuitive.
Which is to say that they will move strongly in different directions than most of our historical practices associated with being creative.
Such new styles are inherently non-individualistic, non-brain focused, non-idea centric, non-human, etc. etc.
They are also not the opposite of these – they sit outside – refuse – both sides of these historical western binaries. Afterall binaries come as a pair: mind-body, inner-outer, self-other, individual-collective, simple-complex – and in these binaries the one makes the other.
For us, when we say these negations – non-individualistic, non-idea centric, non-brain focused – one should hear – a bigger refusal and a call to experiment outside of both sides of the binary.
What else is possible as we move out of individual vs collective, mind vs body, simple vs complex?
What are other styles of creative practices?
What are other forms of creative comportment?
Comportment comes from the latin – to bear, to carry. Literally it means “to be with carrying”. It suggests: an embodied stance and the behaviors that are part of an embodied practice: how one carries oneself. And it suggests how we actively bear or carry qualities of a world. Comportment is active, relational, and embodied. And this is what we are curious about – how can we come up with new styles of comportment for creative practices in a creative universe?
After outlining what such styles are not – not individual, or brain centered or ideationally focused, etc. – we could, at this point, move quickly to defining a set of positive attributes: that such styles will be inherently relationally determinate, give agency to assemblages, work in and of distributed multiplicities, understand novelty as an emergent outcome of feedforward cycles etc.
But habits, practices and assemblages are not that easy to shake.
And moving on to these positive attributes misses a fundamental quality that is necessary to all of these attributes when they are brought to bear on creative practices – and that is the negative.
Ferran Adria, one of the founders of the groundbreaking highly innovative restaurant El Bulli and a key participant in the revolutionary molecular gastronomy approach to cooking, had a wonderful simple definition of creativity: “No copying.”
Basically: understand what has been done – and don’t repeat it – don’t repeat it at any level.
It is a negative definition – it says nothing about what to do or what is possible – only what not to do. It recognizes that if something is radically new one cannot know anything about it in advance – so how could one say anything positive about it? Or claim to know exactly what to do?
It is a definition that uses knowing to refuse what is known. This negativity – this path of the negative for a radically new future – is powerfully generous and demanding rigorous. It asks of us to comport ourselves in such a way that will allow for the genuinely new to come into being. We are asked to style our lives and practices in a manner that makes the new as the new and non-pre-existent a potential. In this the via negativa of creativity is more than just a “belief” that the new is possible.
We face, in this deliberate experimental stance for the sake of newness, a nothingness – what we might mistakenly conceive of as the “void”. But this is not the void of pure emptiness – in the binary sense of “the opposite of fullness”. Rather the act of actively and knowingly refusing or “blocking” the known – opens our practices up to the fullness of a creative universe beyond and within the given. A radical generative otherness that has always been there.
This negativity – this “nothingness” is perhaps closer to the Japanese term “ma” – which can be translated as nothingness – but a more careful translation would render it as a generative emptiness or gap or pause. And it is this “ma” – this “nothingness” of the generative pause that Ferran, or John Cage and his conceptualization silence as anything but silent, and our practice of experimental blocking engage. The comportment to radically pause – to leave space “empty” is to allow it – and not us, to be generative of something new– an “emptyfullness” becoming…
It is also the crows using an intersection, traffic lights and cars as a nut cracking system. It is the radical potentiality of the given when we pause, refuse, and pivot from what something “is” and ask via engaged experimental practices “what else can it do?” –” in what context could this afford something entirely different?”
Here “not knowing” is a very demanding and highly engaged stance – or comportment – that has many important aesthetic, and ethical dimensions (while, it is beyond the scope of this newsletter, these practices of a via negativa – a way of the negative are far closer in resonance to Buddhist traditions than Christian traditions).
The act of “not-knowing” – of blocking the known is not a singular act – it is a whole style of enactive emergent engagement that is fundamentally enabling – generative.
Not knowing is an experimental practice that is taken for the sake of engaging with creative processes towards the co-emergence of something novel.
It does not mean that one does not literally “know” what something is or what will happen next. Of course, we can effectively ascertain the identity, meaning and purpose of most things in our everyday context. And of course, depending on the conditions, we can know with reasonable statistical certainty what will happen next. We navigate our open complex dynamic world with facility as inherently skilled enactive sense-makers. This does not mean this is easy (ask a young mother…) or not without great uncertainty (ask a cyclist in NYC)...
In everyday experience we do know and understand what is happening and will happen – we are not in a state of perpetual existential non-knowing or debilitating uncertainty. Rather the non-knowing of creativity is a practice we deliberately engage with for the sake of participating in the emergence of novelty.
Our everyday stable systems are dynamic systems that move between differing knowable stable states and can tip into chaotic states or novel emergent stable states. These states can be more robust or quite sensitive to ecosystemic changes. These states are not ontogenetically different – but part of one set of dynamic processes.
These creative processes are everywhere and ongoing – oscillating between changes in degree and changes in kind across multiple scales in ways that are co-constructing new conditions and emergent fields of potential. It is a reality in which we see “islands” and “archipelagos” of stability emerge in a vast ocean of difference differing. This is the logic of a fundamentally open universe – it is creative and determined by creative processes.
In relation to this spontaneously creative dynamic context, not knowing can be part of an experimental process. To say “i don’t know what will happen next” or “i don’t know what this is” – is part of a deliberate process of actively “blocking” the known with the goal of experimentally co-emerging novel exaptive potentialities. For example: If you block (i.e. refuse to engage with the identity, meanings, and purposes) the logic of a coffee cup you can via a set of iterative engaged experiments ask “if this is not a cup – & i block all the forms of “cupness,” – & i don’t assume to know what it is – then what else can it do?” – “what else can it afford me in some novel experimental context?”
In this one is actively deterritorializing the cup – pulling it out, bit by experimental bit, from an assemblage of other objects, systems, practices, customs and environments.
In this manner one can work with known things in open ways by taking a deliberate highly engaged and highly experimental practice of not knowing. In short we block to enable the emergence of the new and novel. It is a practice – a mode of deliberate comportment that connects both the ethical and the experimental nature of living within and of an open creative universe that can at all and any point exceeds, refuse, overturn or exapt the known.
And in our active blocking – deterritorializing – we are actively holding open a gap – a pause for a novel reterritorialization to take hold…
Developing the practices – comportment of these creative styles involves the recognition that:
In this we are is actively and experimentally attentive to feedback:
The styles of creative comportment that creatively embrace the negative do so to move away from both passive and reactive stances towards a creative universe – which are endemic in the 20th century western approach to creativity.
What could this be in practice?
To move beyond a reactive stance to a non-reactionary perspective/curiosity is to move away from strong forms of identity and representation – the "is" & "is not" (representation/identity). To say “this “is” a chair” in a definitive sense is to deny that it affords any number of possibilities that are only limited by possible relational engagements – and to close off one's engaged curiosity into the reality of “what else can this be? What else is this becoming?”
This non-reactive negative approach requires experimental action that begins in blocking/refusing the “is” and “is not” – a stance that embraces the creative character of radical non-knowing that is inherent in the given.
This is both an aesthetic and an ethical style to creative practice that is open to creatively embracing that:
Block is never the point in and of itself. It is not about getting rid of something we don’t like or breaking an unwanted habit.
Blocking is not deciding to not do certain things like, for example: looking at social media because it consumes too much time in one's day. Obviously stopping such a habit might be helpful and profoundly relevant to one – we have nothing negative to say about such practices. But that action is qualitatively different from the creative comportment of towards creativity that follows a via negativa of active and generative blocking.
One blocks so as to allow the new to come in the gap and begin to generativity pull one out of one territory and allow one to co-emerge with a novel qualitatively new different and non-knowable in advance territory via a feed-forward process.
Here is a simple example: One could become curious about how our style of furniture participates in the production of certain ways of being. Perhaps we sense as a problem how our style of furniture participates in how we come to sense and engage with the world as more individual, more disembodied, more separate etc.
And so as an experiment with others, we collectively block furniture. Now the goal of this is not to “be closer to the ground” or more this or that... That would be to do it for a known outcome.
There is no “goal” but a set of practices and habits associated with our furniture that you are curious about working your way away from – while deliberately opening yourselves up to novel propensities. These novel propensities will not look like or feel like achievements (e.g. “now I have more time” or “I feel so much better”). These will be weak, or disruptive (or both) – perhaps absurd and highly discomforting sensations or shifts in practice.
Again these will not be the end in themselves – they are generative portals on a path that is made in the practicing of it. And as one goes collectively in differing experimental directions – headings will emerge. Propensities will pull one and new conceptual tools will be generated.
The discomfort, disruption, absurdity are also sensations of how we practice in our everyday lives pulling difference back towards existing norms – our normative comportment. Our reactions – our reactivity is something to be sensitive towards.
Here in this style of creative experimentation – negative sensations are potential cues to explore. Blocking is a negative act that is experienced negatively. And this negativity – perplexity, horror, wonder, disgust, frustration, stupidity, boredom – are critical aspects of sense-making in this process that need to be actively and experimentally explored in ways that are enabling and generative of qualitative differences.
Let's pause at this point and…
Let's come back to the question that began this week's newsletter:
“What are all the styles and modes of comportment that can be invented to emerge enactively with a spontaneously creative reality?”
We hope that one can begin to get a sense of one key aspect of such styles – and this is their profound generative and positive negativity.
And this specific negativity – or negativities, we would argue, are a necessary aspect of creative practices that wish to develop a comportment that can enactively engage with a spontaneously creative reality.
Next week we will go further into the practices of negativity and generative blocking.
Till then, be ready to be critically naive and generativity negative when creatively engaged experiments with changemaking call upon these skills!
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