Monday 1 December 2008

What is Creativity? Part Four: Creativity as Divine Inspiration

As a writer, what is your biggest challenge? Is it finding the time to write? Is it being disciplined enough to do your daily quota of words? Do you struggle to come up with new ideas or snappy dialogue or believable characters? Are you an expert on the first three chapters but can never finish a novel?

Or are all of these simply excuses to hide a deeper resistance?

Perhaps your conscious challenges in your writing process mask a deeper resistance such as fear of failure in that you’ll never be published or the fear that, once published, you will be fated to remain an obscure and neglected author.

In the creative process there is, says Michelle James,[1] a natural resistance to the transforming force of creativity. Creativity, by its very nature, births into the world something new. Such a potential is bound to meet a deep-seated resistance to any internal personality change (for example, I will have to become more organised) and external life style change (if I am actually published, how will the status quo of my life change?) that results from the creative process.

James points out that, as the hard eggshell protects the unborn chick, this resistance is the psyche’s way of protecting what is. And, in the same way that the resistance of the eggshell to the chick is hardest in the moment before hatching, so too is the psyche’s resistance to change strongest at the moment immediately prior to the transformation of the identity through the creative process.

Every time I sit down to write, the biggest challenge I have to overcome as a writer is the fear of letting go of all intellectual control during the process of creative writing. In surrendering completely to my Muse, I allow some unknown force to work through me. In that surrender there is too great a potential that - in undertaking the creative, and therefore transforming, journey of creative writing - I will lose touch with the world of my “real” existence.

Margaret Atwood[2] in her book 'Negotiating with the Dead' describes the creative process of writing as being a compulsion to enter into a dark underworld; to seek to illuminate this darkness and to, perhaps, bring something back into the light. In the darkness, a writer has to ‘negotiate with the dead’: and the dead do not always let the writer return to the safety of the upper world. There are the suicides: Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Ingrid Jonker. The addicts : Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Ernest Hemingway. And the mental illnesses of Plath, Woolf and Hemingway, to name but a few.

But it is this very darkness, this journey into the unknown realms of the creative psyche, that lifts a writer beyond the virtue of being a skilled author and, as Plato says, makes of him “a light thing, and winged, and holy”.[3]

In Ion, Plato describes the difference between an inspired author and one whose art is a product of his technique.[4] It is when a Divine Madness grips a writer that he becomes inspired. Untouched by the madness of the Divine Muse, believing that technique alone will inspire him, the author’s creative composition does not soar into the realms of brilliance.[5]

A great author, Plato states, becomes by Divine dispensation an interpreter of the messages of the gods.[6] It is only a writer or poet capable of surrendering his reason to the Divine forces which move within him who can create work which is like a god‘s. And Plato distinguishes these works from the writer who merely creates art as a product of his mind and his technique. “It’s a much finer thing,” says Plato's Ion, “to be thought Divine.”[7]

Thus, the author gripped by Divine Madness finds – as John Keats did – that the journey into the psychological or spiritual terra incognita of his creative intuition is not so much a loss of his primitive, or lower, state of awareness, easily disturbed and thus distressing, as it is a journey into an intuitive awareness of some higher knowledge which is beyond the horizon of his consciousness.[8]

My initial image of a creative genius has come full circle. I have found that true creativity requires an artist to learn the techniques of his craft, connect with his creative intuition, and practice until he is prepared. And then, as a final sacrifice to his Muse, he[9] must surrender all rational thought and leap into the abyss of ‘creative madness’ to write and write and write until he can write no more.

[1] Article Source :
[2] Atwood, Margaret. 2003. Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing. Virago Press. United Kingdom. Chap 6 and Pp. xxii.
[3] Saunders, Trevor J. (Editor). Plato: Early Socratic Dialogues. Penguin Classics. London, United Kingdom. “Ion”, Pp. 55.
[4] Goldberg, M.A. 1969. The Poetics of Romanticism: towards a reading of John Keats. The Antioch Press Ltd. Ohio, United States of America. Pp. 28-38.
[5] Radice, Betty. (Editor). 1973. Plato: Phaedrus & Letters VII and VIII. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth, United Kingdom. 1981 Reprint. Pp. 48.
[6] Op cit., Saunders. “Ion”. Pp. 55-56.
[7] Op cit., Saunders. “Ion”. Pp. 65.
[8] Gradman, Barry. 1980. Metamorphosis in Keats. The Harvester Press. Brighton, United Kingdom. Pp. xiii to xviii and Pp. 135.
[9] For ease of reading, the artist is referred to in the male gender. This reference does, of course, mean either the male or female gender.


Judith Mercado said...

What a fabulous post! I will read it again and again to find the layers of wisdom imbedded in it.

Ann Victor said...

JUDITH: Glad you enjoyed the post!