Welcome to Emerging Futures -- Vol 109! Creativity, Negativity, and Near Total Disclosure...
Good morning practices,
We hope that everyone is well.
This week, we are sitting down on the job…
… and we are continuing our exploration of the negative in creative practices. We are exploring the style – the comportment of creative practices and how they might follow and co-emerge with a “negative path”.
The forms of the negative that interest us are threefold: the negative…
If you are coming to this separate from last week’s newsletter, this exploration is going to feel incomplete. We would encourage you to go back and read Volume 108: Creativity/Negativity first.
With this in mind, let's start in the middle of last week's newsletter: We introduced an experiment that involved blocking the use of chairs:
We asked you to entertain the stance where you could say, while facing a chair: “I don’t know what this is.”
Obviously, you do know what a chair is. So why do this?
It is part of a deliberate process of actively “blocking” the known with the goal of experimentally co-emerging novel exaptive potentialities.
Thus, if you block the logic of a chair (i.e., refuse to engage with the identity, meanings, and purposes) – it can open up for you a space where one could explore, via a set of iterative engaged experiments, “what else can it do?” – “What else can it afford me in some novel experimental context?”
In this, you are actively deterritorializing the chair – pulling it out, bit by experimental bit, from an assemblage of other objects, systems, practices, customs, and environments. You are separating it from an assemblage – a territory in which mutually supporting practices, skilled bodies, and other tools and specific environments open up the way for this “thing” to be a “chair.”
It is in this manner that 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…
But, the problem with this example – is that it starts in the middle – you don’t just decide one day upon awakening to see what else a chair might become…
It is more likely that something about chairs (and the larger territory of a style of sitting that they actively participate in) comes into one's awareness as “not right,” or “interesting,”...or vaguely perplexing
We are sitting in a chair – and it strikes us:
“Why are we raised up?”
What was once invisible and taken for granted becomes visible and questionable… It is obtrusive.
“Why do we hold our bodies in this way?”
“Why when I sit, I do not move?”
And in the sudden obtrusiveness of my collaboration and comportment with this chair – a gap opens up:
“What else is possible?” – Things could be different…
Now, importantly we do not need to wait for this moment to happen spontaneously – in our lived experience of seamlessly sitting in ever handy chairs, we could wait a long time…
For the sake of developing an experimental practice focused on engaging with creative processes, we can deliberately create the conditions to force the issue. We can deliberately, for the sake of experimenting, “de-naturalize” the chair – we can deliberately make our seamless implicit dispositions and comportments obtrusive.
In refusing/blocking the processes of simply taking the chair, and its particular logic of sitting as a given, we quickly come to the same question:
“Why do we hold our bodies in this manner?”
And now a speculative inquiry opens up as a possibility – not for the sake of knowledge or a generic curiosity – but for the sake of blocking and pushing us into the open:
How does this chair participate in how we enact a way of being alive? What else is possible beyond such a way?
But, this speculative openness can only emerge if we are willing to recognize that this is a valid question. And for many – it is not. Why would we bother asking about chairs and why do we have them? For many tools are just there because of an obvious necessity:
“Of course, we have chairs – because we need some way to sit.”
This comportment makes a radical qualitative creative practice impossible.
Chairs are not “natural,” “functional,” or “necessary” – and this is another negative – another refusal: For the sake of trust in that the radical possibilities of qualitatively new and other ways of being alive emerging – we must refuse the arguments for the Natural, the Functional and the Necessary.
In our culture, we are familiar with these anti-speculative answers:
“This is necessary…”
“This is hardwired into us…”
“This is the best and most efficient way…”
It is these universal gestures and such a universalizing utilitarian style that must be critiqued/blocked for the sake of keeping open the possibility of other ways and worlds. As Deleuze puts it:
But how does one do this when facing a chair?
We have always been drawn to the work of Michel Foucault, who positions his critical mode of philosophy explicitly in service of an open but unknown potentiality – creativity:
It is important to read this in its intended enactive sense. “Thinking” for Foucault is not something disembodied, disembedded, and done from a generic universal stance – there is no “armchair” thinking – thinking is emerging from the middle of a historically situated embodied and enactive doing. Thinking emerges in relation to what he calls a “dispositive” – a specific historic “apparatus” of tools, techniques, practices, skilled bodies, environments, etc., that collectively construct the seeable, the sayable, the knowable, and the doable. From this perspective then, is this question posed by Michel Foucault, not the very definition of a creative practice?
“…The object was to learn to what extent the effort to think one’s own history can free thought from what it silently thinks, and so enable it to think differently.”
What does it mean to free creativity/thought “from what it silently thinks”?
This question gets us to the crux of the logic of blocking. Blocking involves a holistic experimental practice of disclosure: We have to “know” to refuse the known. But what is it that we need to know to block to move us toward doing-thinking differently?
Is it enough to know and block the explicit features, primary use, and form of a chair?
No. That won’t get us far.
Why? Let’s come back to the chair directly:
The specific physical chair you are sitting in can be thought of as a “solution” to a “question”. What is the question? On the face of it we could say the question is something like:
“How do we support an individual human body in such a way as to keep it still and utilizing very little in the way of musculature to do the supporting?”
One answer is the chair you are sitting in. And all the other chairs out there are further answers to this question:
But this question does not just lead to chairs as the only possible answer. Leaning up against a wall would also lead to a similar outcome – as would any number of practices and tools. That this question gives rise to the chair in all of its forms (as opposed to their objects/practices – must involve far more than what can initially be explicitly stated.
It is like the famous joke at the end of the movie “The Great Train Robbery” – the judge is sentencing Sean Connery’s character for the robbery and asks him what is a seemingly clear question: “Why did you design, plan and execute this dastardly robbery?” Connery answers, “...I wanted the money…” – a reasonable and true answer from his perspective, and it meets the question as it is stated – but it is not an answer to the judge’s question.
But, how would one know? It is an answer.
Every explicit question relies on a vast set of unspoken, tacit assumptions – a dispositive. There are no questions, no practices that can be understood and fully explicated conceptually.
The 20th-century Austrian gardener-philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein made a similar point in his posthumous work Philosophical Investigations, arguing how even in the carrying out of most rule-based calculations – one cannot act in a mechanical manner. Imagine he says that a teacher asks a student to continue the series: 2,4,6,8, 10, etc… and the student does this up until 100, and then she continues 104, 108, 112. There is no way to say that she was wrong – rather, she might have considered a differing implicit order.
Wittgenstein is making the point that even following the most explicit of rules is more like following a custom than doing something robotic. To know is to be of a world. And to be of a world is to be embodied in a certain manner, to be enactive in a way that remains at the level of implicit lived doing.
So, to return to the question of “how might it be to think differently”? We need to go beyond what can be explicitly stated or known to enactively disclose and block a way of being alive. In short, disclosure needs to uncover the implicit and the tacit.
And thus, coming back to our chair, we need to go beyond disclosing and blocking the obvious and what can be put into clear concepts in regard to this chair. We need to first recognize that chairs are deeply woven into the production of how we sense our individuality, develop a sense of the mind as more critical than the body, develop a specific concept of separation for the ground – the clean and the unclean, etc.
Here we can follow the ontological turn in anthropology: what we are disclosing and potentially blocking is a “world” for the sake of exploring the potentiality that “other worlds are possible”.
And that these concepts of “individuality” and “mind vs body” are not pure abstract ideas and they are not ideas that pre-existed these objects, environments, embodiments, and practices that they seem to give rise to (such as the chair). Rather, they are concepts that co-emerged and are co-created alongside the practices of sitting a certain way with certain tools such as chairs.
We need to focus our disclosure equally on tools, practices, concepts, and environments. We need to start with understanding “how the chair makes us,” – and this will be something that cannot be put fully into words – what we disclose and block will be things, environments, practices, and concepts.
Only then can blocking really begin to answer Foucault's call to develop a “problematizing” creative methodology:
“…Why this problematization? But, after all, this was the proper task of a history of thought…: to define the conditions in which human beings “problematize” what they are, what they do, and the world in which they live.”
It is only with an expansive approach to disclosure and blocking that we can begin to map a larger and more nuanced terrain that we are refusing.
With an expansive logic of blocking developed, when we ask the question: “How else can a body be “supported” in repose?” We are positioning our iterative experimentations to lead us towards a new horizon – and not simply an alternative bean-bag chair with sexier colors.
Now the following of the unintended – the “what else can it do” of the exaptive is supported by a full enactive logic of blocking that “walls” it away from a “known” mode of being towards a horizon of qualitatively different potentials. With a robust enactive disclosure, blocking becomes an active tool to turn habits, practices, tools, and environments away from their systemic inclinations to fall back into known patterns. And because of this, the exaptive is not a mere expeditious way of finding what works in so-called “complex” contexts – those quick workarounds of repurposing suggested by some complexity management consultants as innovation… but are just a way of doing the same thing via alternative means.
Foucault was often criticized for offering deep critical histories of how we came to be who we are – without offering any alternative – without ever suggesting what we should be or aspire to be. But this limit – this refusal to say anything positive – is precisely what is most important for a style of creative practice that actually wishes to embrace that the qualitatively new is possible. We cannot know a truly novel and alternative future until we make it. A futurist claims to know in advance what we will become, what we can become, or what we should become – might be interesting – but they are ways of reducing the future to what we already can know and imagine. Foucault – and a radical comportment towards creativity, is asking us to trust the non-knowable – to trust that other worlds are possible. And to believe that we can co-shape new worlds via a creative collective emergent processes that will go beyond the known if we are willing to disclose and block what is disclosed. Then, we can actively co-create new ways of being alive beyond knowing.
We need to go backwards to go sideways, and if we don’t, all of our leaps will be back into the frying pan…
That's it for this week – we'll be hanging back with the problematizers – being curious, speculative and experimental – disclosing, blocking, probing, and attuning to the dispositions of the non-knowable new – we hope you can join us.
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