The Return of Creativity

This sounds bad, but I’ve only recently, I mean, in the last few hours or so, decided that creativity isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I am a self-declared “conservative” — among other self-declared things — and this is mostly because of my beef against creativity. However, this isn’t a delayed insight into the wonder of childhood innocence or anything — because there are many solid — albeit somewhat obvious — reasons for hating creativity, which we we won’t get into here (for the sake of brevity). The reason why creativity isn’t all bad actually has to do with our realization that creativity can in fact function independently of what we’ve been calling “rigor”.

This is a startling thing, it is the possibility of the the undeconstructible and has profound consequences for reading. … There is a kind of complex matrix of terms that we’ve only recently realized could function independently: creativity, honesty, and rigor. Something can be creative, rigorous, and honest — this is the normal condition. Creative, rigorous, and dishonest is nihilism. Creative, non-rigorous, and honest — that’s where we want to go, and this is the possiblity of art constructing these “infernal machines”.

The entire motivation here actually involves Bartleby, asking what Bartleby is doing. We established, in the last note, that Bartleby is not about a rigor, or a particular rigor, or, equivalently, that Bartleby and not the lawyer is a stand-in for Melville. (We contrasted Melville and Hardy, in this regard.) We realized that Bartleby comes into our world, aware of there being rigor there but perhaps — we thought — dumb to it or unable to feel it. (This is probably incorrect, in a second anaylsis.) We spoke of him as a traveler from the future — we said, “foreign yet not foreign” — we wondered just what he was doing — was he collecting data? Categorizing? Intervening in things?

The answer is in fact very simple: he is creating something (the infernal machine, I want to say, eventually). What is so striking to me is just how simple this answer is, something that had eluded us because we were so “anti-liberal” and because we were so repulsed, or bitter towards society and it’s lies, false promises, etc.. It did not occur to us that one can be bitterly creative, or that creativity could be divorced from rigor (which really is the only genuine possibility of creativity — “untimely” artists, like Bartleby — time travelers, (non)foreign, etc.)

… Incidentally, another way I had been approaching this conclusion is via my consideration of  the “dizzying freedom of rigor” — rigor, I said, in a sort of Kantian formulation — is ruleness without rule, the lamentable human condition is that that which we feel to be necessary is never grounded in necessity. This is because creativity and rigor can in fact be independent forces — but only if, paradoxically enough, one is aware of the pitfalls, of the usual link between these two terms — only via a kind of active effort. In other words, utopias can exist!

This is how we can envision Bartleby, too — as a Utopianist — as someone who, paradoxically enough, believes in the power of pure, absolute creativity — without rigor. Or rather — the link between the two is perhaps not complete independence — but rather, they cross over at a single point: either a point of intersection or a point of tangency. The odd thing here is that what we called normalcy — the alignment of rigor and creativity — is related in the very same way — this is why rigor involves a “dizzying freedom” — even normalcy touches upon rigor at just a point before heading off towards power, towards society, life,  and so on. Having touched upon rigor, the normal goes on to interweave with the powers of history — leading to events and phenomena which are mostly outside our scope, or only of secondary concern — the power dynamics of history, the gatherings and dispersals, the phase shifts, the “physics” of power in history.


TBC: The Infernal Engine, Bartleby as Utopianist


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