THE CREATIVE ENVIRONMENT
This post collects the 17 sections of a discussion on creativity, identity and environment which I have posted over the past 5 weeks. It is the first half of an essay on the state of creativity and environment today and towards a new paradigm. If you’ve been reading all these posts, you might like to see them in one place, although you’ve seen them all before. This arrangement will help me enormously as I move forward. If you’re new to this discussion, you might like to have a look. This is a vision of past, present and future. Each original post is presented in order of writing, with a link to the original post.
BOOK MAN WOMAN LAND GOD
A long time ago, there was an attempt to speak the language of the world. Ultimately, it came to look like this:
Gutenberg Bible of 1455
The idea was that that book had been dictated by a god of no name, because his name, not bound by words, couldn’t be contained by them.
Diagram of the Names of God in Athanasius Kircher’s Oedipus Aegyptiacus (1652–54).
What Kircher was really trying to say was this:
Eventually, by a sleight of hand, this god came to be represented as a man making man in his image which was not an image of a man. (It just looked like it to men.) As I said, a neat trick and good for getting past the censors who were trying to stamp out such sneakiness.
Michaelangelo, Sistine Chapel c1511.1512 Source
This man was born in a space called the world. He was the point at which this divine power touched the world. Eventually that notion was set aside in favour of an idea of a divine world, feminine, which didn’t need a spark of the (male) divine to set it into motion. We still call this space “Nature”.
Christian Morgenstern, Norwegian Landscape with Mountain Path and Seashore, 1829.
What was left for male power was to “develop” this nature, into this kind of thing:
Berlin City Palace, 1900
Notice how it is codified into rooms (chapters) in its body, and a domed head, with a cross (or lightning rod) reaching up to Heaven. It’s a lot like this, really:
Morgenstern’s representation of a human-god relationship as “nature” and “emotion” (i.e. human nature) was a revolutionary change — the world was within humans, not without them. Here’s the previous image of what Morgenstern’s landscape looked like. You will note that the physical narrative is subordinated to a human one, which is subordinated to a sermon. Everything here has a symbolic dimension, controlled rigorously by a pre-determined idea. It is, I repeat, the same landscape as the one above. It is also called “Nature.”
Lucas Cranach the Elder, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, c. 1530
Morgenstern’s image (here it is again for your viewing pleasure)…
… placed all the intellectual material in Cranach’s Garden of Eden (again…)
…into the emotional imagination: it was the garden; there Adam lived with his god. About that, there are a couple important points. First, that emotional response is readable within the original image. It looks like this:
There is an apple picked from a tree, and beauty, and desire, and confusion, and the humour of a stag holding up Adam’s sagging, leaf-covered penis. Perhaps he needs some help in that regard, which Eve is, really, trying to help him with. A quarter century earlier, without such humour, Cranach portrayed that tree, and that apple, like this:
Lucas Cranach the Elder: Jesus on the Cross, c. 1500 – 1503.
The blood red of the apple, Eve’s menstrual blood no doubt, has drenched the women here and the priests, but not Jesus, born this time of woman and not God’s …
…erect finger. Sound confusing and ancient? It shouldn’t be. A few billion people still live within this story — chances are, even you who are reading this. It contains the namelessness of this god, written as mathematics and represented as geometry (or the bonds holding atoms to other atoms), as here in the ceiling of the church in the Monastery of Maulbronn, one of the sites where monks invented Gothic architecture…
… and here, in the more feminine image of a window, with its roses turned to stone, rising above monkish shapes, all very gothic and again in Maulbronn…
… and finding perfection, as an idea, here in the cloister library at the monastery of Saint Galen, in Switzerland, where western handwriting was invented and the elaborate, geometrical roof was turned into a series of symbolic paintings (without losing their geometry) and all the world was transformed into book form, catalogued and categorized, with the hope that when the task was done Eden would be recreated and the perfection of God’s creation would be viewable by humans, whether they knew his name or not.
Until that point, humans would remain characters in a ruined book …
Farm Women Returning Home in an Evening Landscape, Eugen Kampf, before 1933
It was actually a revolutionary idea: instead of human identity being controlled by the will of a man trained in the tradition of God’s geometry, people could live out their own emotional lives, within that geometry, while remaining unaware of it. The geometry would not longer be portrayed mathematically, but as arrangements of colour and form on canvas, or what is called ‘art’. The faculty of reading human identity, or vision, out of such arrangements was at the same time being transferred to the feminine image of “Nature”, with results like this:
Thomas Moran, View of the Rocky Mountains
Despite its appearance as “physical” reality, it contains all the information of Cranach’s image…
…just subsumed into the emotional world (when present in humans, who hold the position of Adam/Eve/Christ/Mary in this story), or in the “natural” world, when concentrating on the garden, in which the story is told. An exemplary example of this reading of the book of the world and all of time …
… in the physical world, is Yellowstone Park, which sometimes looks like this :
Brooks Lake, Yellowstone National Park
I’m telling you this story, because I think it’s important to keep in mind that for all the modernity in modernity, and all the progress in progress, there has been no replacement of the old story. The identities given to contemporary humans remain as much symbolic constructions within a story as this…
They don’t look like this anymore….
…but in a time in which Nature has been constrained within a full book-like persona …
… instead of the purer, geometrical one, rising organically into human social life through art and artifice …
Sistine Chapel Ceiling, Michael Angelo
… so have humans adopted the romantic notion of an (emotional, “natural”) self, even though it is a supreme artifice…
… in place of a self as a body…
Lucas Cranach the Elder, again
Playing around, as usual.
… in place of who they are, which is as unknowable as the God who has no name.
Kin Beach, Okanagan Lake
Just try to name that as your self, even though it is.
Whatever else can be said, we are not our selves, and whatever ideas we have for selves come from traditions of books, of reading the world as a book and reading books as the world, all with the goal of revealing the hidden energies of the universe.
The fact that that sounds strange, and that the image of the pond above is not seen as an image of contemporary humans (because it is not an image of a self) is an indication of how much humans have been trained to think like books, using book-selves to animate bodies, just like Cranach pointed out …
… so long ago and the poets and philosophers of the Enlightenment put into place. What the world, or ourselves, look like remains a mystery because that un-knowing is built into human identity and from there into the nature of the original quest to name the god that has no name. What if it’s not a god?
That changes everything.
BEAUTY, ART AND THE SELF
Beautiful, isn’t it.
Note the patterning in this kind of thing.
Sure, it was carefully framed, but oh so many frames were possible.
They all have pattern.
They’re all beautiful.
The patterning is the gift of human observation. In order for there to be thought separate from the world, the kind of sensory connectivity shown in the images above must be separated from the world. It must have an observer and a thing observed. It’s a game, designed for certain ends. To achieve them, the actual connections between the two, that unite them into presence, must be given a name, separate from the moment of presence, or the separation cannot take place. This word is ‘beauty’. Just up from the water, for instance, separated from it by the frame of contemplation, is a rich community of water plants that have adapted to living in air …
… and just up from them, a bearberry plant that is living in the heat gathered by a boulder left by glaciers, like the ones in the pond above.
It is the same moment. It can be studied, contemplated and used to further many ends, including human security and culture. The great discovery of scientific thought, a form of book culture, is that this unity can be divided into pages, which can be studied one at a time, as if they were words, discrete and without connection to others, yet look how the carpet on the soil adapts to minute changes in circumstance and light, such as in the image below, beneath a fire pine taken down by beetles.
Those subtle changes and continuities are part of human presence. By people who have learned to inhabit a tool called the self, a kind of cognitive freeze-frame camera, they are beauty, an enjoyable aesthetic frame that pleasurably satisfies an ancestral, genetic self. Yet it is the world. Look how it changes, as recorded by the image below. Note that these are not discrete moments, as the photographs suggest. They are connected. They are a flow of energy. You know how to read them. This capacity is called beauty. It is a profound order, an inhabitation of order, a being, a being there, here:
A camera is a tool that can create the separation required to sever this human connection, so that the remaining physical or cognitive material can be used to create a secondary, virtual world more suitable for severed selves to inhabit. The camera can be used for other purposes, but it is a constant battle to do so. The machine freezes time and uses that moment of freezing to recreate ghosts of bodily presence. That’s what it’s for. Take a look at this sequence. It is three views from one kayak at one moment in September, looking to the north, to the east, and to the west, all within about a second or two.
Such descriptions of time are meaningless in the moment, but are of great use to the self that is a book. Just a moment away, the forces of energy and matter and time that those photographs render into images, look like this:
It is the same moment, but extended differently into spiritual space. This, too, up on the shore.
Presence would be better served by a term other than beauty, because that term does not differentiate between the book self and the human capacity to be present in a continuum. To the book self, the continuum is meaningless, and can only be intuited by yet more divided knowledge. To presence, the divided knowledge is a machine, a device, a tool, and not identity. The need for better differentiation is clear. The word that keeps getting in the way is “creativity.” This, for instance, is not a creative photograph:
Nor is this:
To be creative, it must serve the expansion of the virtual self and the replacement of the world of presence, and the infinitely gradated ability of the human body to read and extend that presence, through the combination of pre-existing elements. This would be creative:
Those are beautiful things. They represent the colonization of the world of the self by the world of presence, its humanization, shall we say. It is another representation of the ability of the human body to find spirit, wherever it may be found, and in whatever form its presence may take. We should be very clear about the differences and similarities between that and this eagle (below.)
The world, and other people within it, have become prey. It need not be so. Ah, here you are at last.
WHO WE ARE, WHERE WE HAVE COME FROM, WHERE WE ARE GOING
This is an image of Sybille von Cleves as a young woman in 1526, painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder.
It is not the woman who is named Sybille von Cleves. It is a painting. It is an image of the public persona (image) of the young woman named Sybille von Cleves (but not the woman). Confusing? Not really. As an aristocrat, her identity was a complex of social codes and not an individual life as would be known in Thuringia today, such as that of this model posing for a spa in Weimar.
I give the contrast to point out that that is also not an image of a young woman in Weimar. Rather, it is an image of a model posing to create a particular image of a woman in Weimar, which other women, and perhaps men, can emulate, should they so wish. Compare that to the image Cranach painted of Sybille von Clees on her wedding day in Weimar in 1530.
The mood and dress, and their symbolism, are all different than they were in Cranach’s first image, including the floral and Christian symbolism. Cranach has captured a different emotional register here, which is recognizable today as deeply modern and human, like this:
Lost Woman, Weimar
The modern, today, as you can see from the above image, is to strip the body away from artificial images and use them as pure psychological codes, kinds of behaviour modification modules, to nudge the inaccessible body into action. The idea of a body, or of an embodied spirit, which stretches back to classical Greece …
Venus de Milo c. 100 B.C.
…which stressed human over spiritual form …
Isis (Egyptian goddess) c. 600 B.C.
… is no longer present. The body and the self are, today, no longer mutually identifiable.
Women in Weimar with Bar Code, 2010
The modern is, however, five hundred years old. The other side of it is that this …
…is just not the woman known as Sybille von Cleves and, without her context in her social and political milieu, it is also not the public persona of the woman named Sybille von Cleves. Period. It is an artifice, as much as her dress is an artifice, as much as this image from behind Weimar’s Museum of Contemporary Art …
…or this Weimarer onion market woman …
… are all forms of public address, or art, or display. All contemporary Western human self identity, in fact, springing out of Renaissance interpretations of medieval or ancient identity systems, is subject to the same issues, which include concepts of dress and undress but are not expressions of “self”. That’s a romantic notion. It looks like this:
Perhaps it appears that I jest. Believe me, I don’t. I mean to point out that just as Frankenstein’s monster is cobbled together from many different bodily forms, so is the modern human image…
Shop Window Queen with Tinfoil, Weimar, June 2010
…which is, in turn, a purification of the Renaissance one…
Lucas Cranach the Elder, Judith with the Head of Holofernes, 1530
Same neck braid, same hair net.
In the above image, the skeleton gloves are a nice medieval throwback, but, then, it was the medieval period that Cranach was updating…
Lucas Cranach the Elder: Madonna Under the Fir Tree, 1510
… just as today’s women in Weimar are updating a Renaissance image (and a number of romantic ones as well.)
Gertud Arndt, Bauhaus, Weimar, 1923
Putting on the mask of Sybille von Cleves!
Cranach had a method. He started with a classical goddess…
Lucas Cranach the Elder, Venus, December 31, 1831
Perhaps you can notice that the hair net that we’ve been seeing in all those other women does not belong to them? It is Venus, rising through their bodies! Source.
…and built up from there, with layers of dress, custom and memory. Somewhere within all of that there was a woman, but you’d never be able to locate her, because she lived in the animation of all of these additions (or clothings). Let me clarify: Images of woman …
SS Camp Guards Under Arrest, Bergen Belsen, 1945
… are not women, not even those SS guards above. They are, in their essence, not SS guards. They are women, for better or worse, living within particular social constraints and animating them; they are this series of animations, stretching back through childhood and into their biological beginnings. Let me clarify: I am not saying that women are defined by the male gaze, although an understanding of the extent and force of that gaze is vital for understanding the difficult and often repressed position of women and feminine agency in history; I am pointing out that real women had to make real choices in real contexts, and that the choices in the past were no more or less free than they are today. It is the same for men. Humans make social choices and inhabit them and animate them, just as they inhabit and animate body images like this city:
Skating in Toronto
Let me show you what I mean, with a few propaganda photos from Nazi Germany, illustrating the politically dictated roles for women in the Union of German Girls (the female version of the Hitler Youth.) Notice how Sybille von Cleves’ neck braid has become a braid of wheat hanging from this image of a woman’s head, as if artificially plunked on there. Sly? You bet it is. Many artists employed by the Nazi Propaganda Ministry were resolutely set against the regime, and were lying low in what they considered relatively harmless and relatively uncompromising jobs. Not that much different than Cranach, really.
Welcome to Eve of Weimar, c. 1935. No German woman ever had hair this colour. Well, actually, no woman anywhere, ever, with the 1930s bob cut extending into patriotic braids like bars of gold or beams of the sun.
Beams of the sun? Yes.
Nazi Propaganda Postcard: “Either-Or”
Nudist camps were a vital part of North German culture in the 1920s.
Again, perhaps you think I jest. No. Here is one version of Cranach’s Adam and Eve, with the golden apples of the sun hanging from the Tree. In it, you might note that Eve’s dress, such as it is, is an extension of male (snakelike) desire, and a means of expressing a modern gaze within the bounds of a culture of symbols many thousands of years old.
If the Church Hadn’t Had a Sense of Humour, Cranach Could Have Been Burned for an Image Like This, But it Did
These chains of symbols, and the complicated social ways in which people escape their constricts, are complicating factors in the development, furtherance and portrayal of human identity. For instance, here’s another young woman Cranach painted in 1525:
Same braided decoration, same cathedral ceiling hair net…
Cloister Church Ceiling, Monastery of Maulbronn
…same style of dress. Or, here again, in his 1530 image of Salome:
Take all these stock artifices away? Cranach had trouble with that. Here’s his Lucretia from 1530…
Those decorative elements and their bondage are still there! Darn it! It was important in these images to portray that they were not images of women, but stock images, like the cards of a tarot deck …
… or the eternal, platonic images of Heaven, upon which medieval and Renaissance philosophy held that earthly images were based. Humans are the embodiments of such images, in the same way that the Greeks saw them as embodiments of ineffable spirit, and the Germans of 18th century Weimar saw them as embodiments of the Greek process: not humans, but projects for humans. Put it this way: this image of Sybille von Cleves, for all the humanity it displays and all the character it shows …
… is also a harness for women, and its painter, Lucas Cranach the Elder, knew that, and worked that reference into the image and all the images he made. Succinctly, the self is clothing, just as for a Renaissance or Baroque prince the land was a series of poetic interventions and poetry was the skill used for training his mind to be able to effectively administer his state, but that’s to jump ahead. Right now, I’d like to lay down only the foundation idea that all is not what it seems. This, for instance …
Girls from the Union of German Girls, at Gymnastics
… is many things, many of which are ugly, but the great Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig leaves for us the record that the freedom to have, use and express a body, as physical equals to young men, granted to young women by the Nazis, was a revolutionary and liberating improvement over the conditions in Vienna a generation before, in which young, middle class women knew nothing (0% and 0 means 0) about their bodies and often went into psychological trauma on their wedding nights, although 20% of women in Vienna worked the streets as prostitutes. That is perhaps what modernism has given to us all: bodies, not as spiritual projections but just as bodies. There are some troubling environmental consequences to this, which run deeply through the modern American (and now post-modern global) notion “creativity” and what it means in a technological society. To get at those consequences and some possible fixes is why I have initiated this discussion over the turning of the year (to be continued), because this is also not what it seems …
Yellowstone, North Entrance, September
… and words and memory are also necessary to bodies, even though they’d rather eat cake and sing dumb songs and be beautiful and famous simply for their never-simple gestures, like, you know?
An Image of Taylor Swift (or Venus) Making an Image of Eve (or Taylor Swift) Wearing Sybille von Cleves’ Hair Net!
THE SPIRITUAL AND TECHNOLOGICAL ROOTS OF INDIVIDUALISM IN THE ENVIRONMENT PART 1
Boundaries give focus. They’re also wildly frustrating.
Grey Canal Trail, Bella Vista Hills
A general human glance does not have boundaries like that. Neither, though, is a human glance — or human presence — like this:
Big Bar Ranch, 31.12.15
The same frustrating boundary appears. Human sight — and awareness — is not so clearly bounded. What about the following, then, not a photograph but a painting, a landscape?
The Avenue at Middelharnis, Meindert Hobbema 1689 Source
No. That doesn’t do it, either, but it’s clever, let’s admit that. A landscape, a landschaft, is a created environment, an artificial garden, invented in English country houses…
Estate Near Evenley, UK
The low wall is called a ha ha. From the house it is invisible, but it keeps the sheep down on the field where they can’t do their sheep thing on the shrubberies near the house but can still give a fine view of wealth. Here’s the view out from the house. See? No ha ha.
It’s not just decorative, but highly symbolic. The trees are carefully planted, in symbolic patterns, in balance with sight lines, sky and water.
Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire
On the estate of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. Note the windmills in back to pay for all this. Note as well the oaks as carefully planted as elements in a painting, symbols of nationalism leading up into the sky. Not an accident.
The idea was taken up with aplomb in Europe thereafter. After that, painters took it up: a revolutionary idea; the theft of the aristocratic right to turn the land into a poem and its dissemination to all through the gift of sight alone. Fiery politics, that.
Landscape With a Couple Alone at Sunset, Cornelis Lieste, date unknown (mid 19th century)
Staring straight into the sun? Not an accident.
Little differentiates this from the country estates shown above, except that the whole country is now the estate of the entire people. Or so it seems. Actually, the country presented is artificial and the people present are just to draw the eye, like a ha ha’s sheep. Still, we’ll get back to them. First, a closer view of figures are doing in landscape. Here’s Caspar David Friedrich’s take:
Caspar David Friedrich, The Monk at the Sea, c. 1808-1810 Source
In this romantic view, the landscape is so large and powerful that it completely dwarfs the human figure. The presence of the human figure provides a reference point for the recalculation of rather abstract image of nature. It’s as if viewers, you and I, for example, are viewing the human figure with the eyes of nature, while at the same time inhabiting the figure, because, as humans, that’s what we do. It’s part of being conscious.
Despite this trick, the image is still bounded. It still has, so to speak, its ha ha. It still has this:
The Barbed Wire Fence: Military Technology at Home on the Range
This is the new country estate: privately owned, fenced to keep cattle in and people out, and ecologically trashed.
All of these images have a root in pre-modern landscape, in which the earth was symbolic and narrative was created by the observer. In this conception of time and space, there was no time and space.
Lucas Cranach the Elder, Paradise, 1530
Note that Adam does not say “She did it.” He takes the responsibility for eating the apple from the tree of knowledge (in behind) onto himself, as bound to her, not to God’s dictates. Of course, he had to do so, and he had to take the apple from Eve, because he was made in God’s image. That kind of thing goes straight through a person. And an image? Well, the Garden was God. The revolution here was difference and separation.
There is, of course, an observer. If there weren’t, the image would look a little like this:
Mind you, that’s just a trick, because without an observer there would be nothing, and we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. We wouldn’t even be a we. Splitting hairs? No, not really. Take another look at the painting …
See that? Christ, the third part of the Trinity, is missing. He is about to be created, though, by God, through the banishment of Adam and Eve to the world. In that narrative, Adam (or, if we’re following temporal narratives, one of his descendants) will eventually end up here, raised up mockingly into the sky above a hill of skulls.
Lucas Cranach the Elder, Crucifixion, 1532
In other words, in a world read as time and space, timelessness (Adam in Paradise) dies. That was Adam’s choice, too: to live not for himself, but through his descendants. Adam did not blame the expulsion from Paradise on Eve. This sense of honour negates his death, because it embodies the image of God.
Don’t take it from me, though. Let’s go to the source:
Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. John 1: 4.
As I said, Adam had no choice. Eve it was. And that living for one’s descendants? Ah, that was also God.
The Creation of Adam, MIchael Angelo, c. 1511
Still, the crucifixion, eh. Like Michael Angelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling centred around God and Adam…
…for an action that takes place on the earth, Cranach’s crucifixion …
…is remarkably empty of earth and spectacularly crowded with (very symbolic) people, including Mary Magdalene kneeling at the foot of the cross, and reappearing as St. Katherine in her martyrdom, kneeling again and at peace now:
Watch that feminine gaze, from Mary Magdalene looking up to Jesus on the Cross, to St. Katherine looking out of this image, to Mary looking down to God and God looking up to her, Eve gets gets a similar (but more loving) role to Adam’s, in that her heart, that love that is God, materializes within her live in the world, giving her forgiveness and grace instead of separation, and a chance not to kneel but to take God’s place on earth and look down at her new Adam (Christ)…
Lucas Cranach the Elder, Virgin and Child, 1516
Folds within folds within folds. Modern popular imagination holds that these ancient icons no longer have force in the identity of individuals, and no longer provide identity narratives for viewers. The imagination of the slovakian marxist cultural critic an philosopher Slavoj Žižek, however, …
… who argues in this book …
Mary and Son Again! Note how he turns away from the breast to be seen.
…that the separation between humans and world within Christian faith is the single most important point in history, because it creates poles which can be reunited with activity, holds that this form of directionality is very much a part of contemporary human consciousness, and look…
the boundaries are there, built right into the art of photography, and the way in which it denies context, which must only be constructed by an exterior, viewing and contemplating intelligence, which is separate from the act of viewing and heavily influenced by the structural forms of the technology. There is no difference between what this camera sees and this…
… or this …
or this …
Protest however we like, the story hasn’t changed, and if it hasn’t changed, then definitions of the self in modern psychology, such as the humanist psychology of Abraham Maslow …
… who defined creativity like this …
It looks as if there were a single ultimate goal for mankind, a far goal toward which all persons strive. This is called variously by different authors self-actualization, self-realization, integration, psychological health, individuation, autonomy, creativity, productivity, but they all agree that this amounts to realizing the potentialities of the person, that is to say, becoming fully human, everything that person can be. Source
Like Cranach’s crucifixion, there is no earth in that picture, only the self, only the boundary around this image and the choices inherent in making it:
It is ultimately not five aspen stalks in a copse, one dead, but a choice. All of this activity has profound consequences for the physical world, because, somewhere, outside of all this artistry and technology there are five aspens stalks in a copse, one dead, and that, too, is part of the self, although represented only peripherally in this entire tradition. The consequences for landscape and creativity are profound, because both Maslow’s and Žižek’s conceptions of creativity are focussed on their actualization within the mechanisms of human consciousness. These are profound legacies of a long spiritual tradition. They inhabit contemporary science, psychology, and art, and they got there through the window of the development of science in the 18th century. If we’re going to save this planet, we have to deal with this tradition, so, let’s talk about that tomorrow, ok? Till then, a few more stalks of that aspen copse, but this time in summer …
THE SPIRITUAL AND TECHNOLOGICAL ROOTS OF INDIVIDUALISM IN THE ENVIRONMENT PART 2
The American psychologist Abraham Maslow had some thoughts about creativity:
It looks as if there were a single ultimate goal for mankind, a far goal toward which all persons strive. This is called variously by different authors self-actualization, self-realization, integration, psychological health, individuation, autonomy, creativity, productivity, but they all agree that this amounts to realizing the potentialities of the person, that is to say, becoming fully human, everything that person can be. Source
A single, ultimate goal! Oh my.
Eduard Munch, The Scream, 1893
Look at the cleverness of Maslow’s statement, step by step:
Step 1: It looks as if there were a single ultimate goal for mankind…
Mankind: all humans on earth. Got that.
Step 2: …a far goal toward which all persons strive.
So, all persons are striving for the goal of mankind? Hardly. Human selves don’t tend to get themselves as organized as all that. Some turn their bodies into books. It looks painful.
Knowing humans as I do, I’d say it’s more like all persons are striving separately or together or both, and that the sum total of this separate or united striving is a portrait of the struggle. The logic of all of this separate striving would seem to be that it’s the sum of these random activities that lead to a spontaneous pattern, which can be called the goal of all mankind. To the populist institutions of American political consciousness, however, these activities are termed random; their sum leads to a spontaneous-generated (self-actualized) pattern, which can be called the goal of all mankind if we just replace Maslow’s “the goal of all mankind” with “the goal of the American public,” which is not really the same thing.
U.S. Marines in Afghanistan
That’s not what Maslow, for all his Americanness, is saying, however. He’s saying that the goal is set, and that humans strive towards it. What this goal is could be many things —world peace, clean streets, love, God, healthy oceans, and so on — but that’s all illusory, because it is a “goal for mankind,” not a goal “of” mankind. In other words, it is not the sum of the actions of humans that is the goal to Maslow. It’s more like fate, which is actually a little odd at first glance, because it means that:
a. There is a goal set for mankind.
By someone or something. Perhaps by that process, if processes can set goals.
b. All persons strive to meet this goal.
And that means, even the lot below, not all together but each one, singly, one at a time, and according to a script shared by their enemies:
It can’t be through individual initiative, though, because, look at them, that bunch have, at best, used their individual initiative to give up their individual initiative, and, besides, all in all persons are really lousy at doing what they’re told. It takes some force.
Is that what Maslow means? Persons are forced to meet this goal? No. They strive towards it, he says. He can only mean one of two things:
a. genetically, humans are compelled to strive to one goal.
b. spiritually, humans are compelled to strive to one goal.
He can’t seriously mean spiritually, though, because a lot of them are compelled to destroy all spiritual striving, and the goals humans have for religion vary widely. It must be genetics, which Maslow means, then: biological imperatives. In other words, this is a biological imperative:
Protest in Iran
It’s a stretch. Fortunately Maslow goes on…
This is called variously by different authors self-actualization, self-realization, integration, psychological health, individuation, autonomy, creativity, productivity, but they all agree that this amounts to realizing the potentialities of the person, that is to say, becoming fully human, everything that person can be.
Becoming fully human! Oh my.
Eduard Munch, The Scream, 1895
Note that the eyes are gone.
So, Maslow is saying that some biological imperative compels all persons to “self-actualize”; only then do they become fully human. Before that, they were persons but not humans. Here, have a look at the bastard.
My guess is that this is what he considered a “fully human” person to look like.
To be fair to Maslow, this is not a new idea. The poet Wolfgang Goethe used it to suppress the writings of his sister Cornelia two-and-a-half centuries ago, because in his society it was a role of bourgeoise women to look after courtly households, and her education and artistic intelligence, far better and greater than his (which were better than that of princes or kings), made her unfit for that and, thus, only half human.
Cornelia (Goethe) Schlosser c. 1777
In Goethe’s society, or at least in his conception of it, children were born as animals and achieved human-ness through training. When they fit into and extended the mores of society, they achieved human status. If they were led astray along the way, or over-educated for their station, they were half-shapen creatures of little interest — at least to Goethe. To be fair to Goethe, this was an older idea yet. It got its start here:
Lucas Cranach the Elder, Paradise, 1530
Of course, even then the humans were a little unruly.
Part of the humanization of persons in Goethe’s time included spiritual enlightenment, which included the lengthy process of confirming a teen-aged person into the church. This process led to the internalization of Christ, that god-man who was nailed at the intersection of Heaven and Earth and then, well, died…
… but then didn’t, actually, because he was alive in each of his believers singly, and in all of them together (and in himself). In other words, in this tradition the achievement of a self came through the choice to sublimate it into non-self — to a goal beyond the self — and into obedience. It is this same obedience which Maslow is talking about when he mentions…
self-actualization, self-realization, integration, psychological health, individuation, autonomy, creativity, productivity
It’s just that he expresses it within the ideological, biologically-driven individuality of American political and social philosophy, which is based on Enlightenment ideas of Liberty, Freedom and Individual rights…
Patrick Henry Getting Things into Swing
… which are based on a principle linking freedom to private property that this man …
John Locke, 1667
…invented before the first American colonists hit the beaches. Simply, he argued that since there were no common principles as to how humans related to their land, there was no God-given right to aristocratic land ownership and government; the only principle that was possibly universal became the labour a man could do with his own hands: if a man laboured on a patch of earth, he could not be separated from that patch and it became his, a private plot, because to separate a man from his labour was to make him a slave. Given that men like this …
… have successfully demonstrated that there is such commonality, in the biological origins of humans and their early, pre-verbal relationships with their mothers and fathers, the entire premise of Locke’s argument has recently become very shaky indeed, because these relationships are not compelled but cognitively worked out with all the physical and intellectual means that infants can bring to them, and are infinitely variable, depending on family, environment and circumstances. What’s more, a child raised in this industrial environment near the mouth of the Fraser River…
Surrey, British Columbia
… is going to cognitively develop in reaction to that environment, while one raised in this environment, far far up the watershed of the Fraser River …
Big Bar Lake
… will develop in quite different ways. Sure, they will have oodles of commonality, but one of the points of that commonality is that their different environments will lead to difference, as well as to attachment to the place that formed them. This is one reason there are French people, Lithuanian people, and this group of guys …
Indian Teachers Bargaining for a Better Employment Contract
And so, there we have it: within a particular social environment (The USA), constructed out of a particular spiritual tradition (a form of protestantism based on obedience to authority), on the set of a certain set of ideas of human identity and liberty forged in political struggles in England and Europe, based on certain misunderstandings of human identity (John Locke and friends), Maslow has described a form of human identity, which he differentiates from personhood and which only comes from willing obedience to a set of biological imperatives, which all just happen to match American ideology. Such convenient matchings are always trouble. At no point, for instance, does he talk about environment, although this is all a story of environment, all a story of people embedded in society and place. So, here’s mine, just to come clean:
My Grandparents and “Pootzie” above the Lower Similkameen Valley, c. 1962-3 photo Hugo Redivo
What a mess.
Eduard Munch, The Scream, 1895
He did a lot of these things. The caption reads “I felt the greatest scream throughout nature”. The verb (pierce? echo? reverberate? spread?) is left blank. Munch has no words for it. To him, nature is an echo of himself, but those parts of himself out in it are unknown to him.
The root of this mess is actually simple. It is the Enlightenment use of the “I” — a kind of shorthand fill-in for the self in all its unbounded mystery — as a measuring stick for the foundation of a system of knowledge. Johann Gottlieb Fichte set the ball rolling in 1793, when he started lecturing at the University of Jena. He published his observations in 1794. Since then, all of us in the West and all of us in scientific culture have been living, more or less, within Fichte’s system. It’s a very large system now, and very powerful. Maslow is deep within it. So are his ideas of self-actualization and creativity. Let me show you three views of this system. When you look at them, remember: they are all the same.
1: the directional view
Some weeds beside the trail made into a portrait of a human identity. The goal of creating an I-self for persons was to enable them to shift their humanism from an inhabitation of sacred space to observation of disconnected processes within that space, which could be linked together later by will. This is called the creation of knowledge, and is what is known in English as “science”.
2: the technological view
B Reactor at Hanford, Washington
The world’s first plutonium producing engine, and the scourge of Nagasaki. This is one of the manifestations of this knowledge, and one of the most poisonous and most complex artificial humans built out of the I-self.
3: the self-actualization view
The University of British Columbia Okanagan Virtual Tour
The I in the lower right talks. Loads of identity fun! Institutions like this are in the business of training persons to actualize and develop their Fichte selves in an image of, yes, the institution.
In other words, any complete discussion of human identity is going to have to discuss relationships to environment, Christianity, technology, and the I. That’s where we’ll go next, deeper into Fichte’s work at the University of Jena and from there into notions of creativity and environment operative in the world of actualized I-selves today. Until then, here’s an image of a bed of volcanic ash above the Bonaparte River to contemplate. To Fichte, this was the world. Everything beyond the bounds of this gaze was the self.
The reverse is also true, and that’s what I’m walking towards. There’s a nice deer trail there. Let’s follow that! Off we go!
TECHNOLOGIES OF THE SELF
This is an experiment. I’ve taken an old post from deep in the archives of Okanagan Okanogan …
… and will attempt to polish it up to support some observations on identity and creativity.
and will now try to do what even the Goethe Museum in Weimar fails at splendidly, despite putting on a big show and charging something like 10 Euros to see it, which is like a zillion Canadian dollars. I will try to explain what Goethe meant about light in his “Lecture on Colour”, which he wrote to dispel Newtonian science once and for all, but didn’t. Just to whet your appetite for a visit to Weimar, try this on for size:
Great minds have been broken by this for 200 years. Three German states have been built on this principle, which might have been a mistake. One in between was built to torture it until its spiritual death. A nasty business, that. Definitely a mistake.
One point of Goethe’s unconventional imagery was founded in his observation that a science built on splitting light with prisms, or with mathematical calculations, as were Newton’s, would observe only the worlds which resulted from those interventions. If you wanted to observe the world in its entirety you had use a subtler tool, the human eye.
Rare Glimpse of Okanagan Okanogan Manifesting in Human Form
As this eye is guided by the human mind, that mind had to be trained. Machinery just wouldn’t do the trick.
To train the mind, tricky pictures were required, which almost no human trained by Newton’s science can make hide nor hair of.
The goal was not to explore the dissection of light into a spectrum …
… but to train an eye to perceive white light in its place, enriched by nuance. In Newton’s science, the white light that streams from the sun is actually an amalgam of seven colours, which are released from solution, so to speak, when they pass through a prism. It’s excellent science. Here’s Goethe’s science:
Notice the complicated interweaving of darkness and light. NO prisms. NO rainbow. In its place are moods of colour, representing moods of observation. In Goethe’s conception, they are all white light.
Confused by the ‘mood’ thing? Don’t worry! We’re used to reading words like that in regards to those particular explorers of light, artists, but not in terms of those others, their twins, scientists.
Unfortunately, the romantics got ahold of the technology and messed with it big time. The result is teenagers. I’m not kidding, by the way. Photo: Anassa Rhenisch
Goethe also wanted us to consider that darkness is a component of seeing, too, for humans, and that colour, as perceived by humans, occurs at the intersection of darkness and light. Fundamentally, he was saying that a science can be built out of human presence and its interaction with the world, in and of itself, because that presence is the world. Here are a couple images of Goethean presence to get you started on this journey …
… and …
Oh, what’s that?
Reader: Mood, mood, mood, you’re mad. What’s this mood? That’s a butterfly on mustard up the hill and a clematis on your backyard fence, you nut.
Harold: Only if you use the romantic version of your operating system. (I wasn’t kidding. The romantics really did start playing around with this individual consciousness thing. It was awfully fun for them. We are their heirs.)
Reader: My operating what? !!!$%%%**&(&*!!!$^%^!@@$***!##!!!!!
Ah, yes. Well. Ahem. Hmmm. The measurement device Goethe had in mind is twofold. First, it is spiritual. It is the presence of God in the world, without reservation, which brought Christ to Mary’s womb, Christ to the Cross, and ultimate resurrection and faith. Goethe had that faith, but even without it the observation remains as potent as it was to Goethe: Christ (or the manifestation of eternity and infinity within the bounds and bonds of the world and, especially, in the human form) could be reborn in every civilized, or trained, individual, through their training (the artistry they made of their identities), so that when men and women acted in grace with it, they saw not white light but the infinite beauty of creation (and the world.)
John Day River Valley, Oregon
Secondly, Goethe lived at the end of the aristocratic age and the beginning of the democratic one. In the aristocratic age, a prince or king or duke or queen embodied the union of state, land and Christ. To effect this, a lot of training in poetry was required. Goethe’s plan was to adapt this conception, politically on its way out, with new concepts of individual freedom, and place a different image of Christ within each democratic individual. His models were complex, but the final one was the individual consciousness, which was created by his friend, the philosopher Gottlieb Fichte in 1793, as a reference point on which a science could be built. Without a reference point, all things would be relative to all things and nothing could be measured, at least in Newtonian terms. Goethe wanted to use this measurement device, individual consciousness, to measure unity instead— exactly that thing which Newtonian scientists wanted a reference point (individual consciousness) to dispel! You can probably tell that Goethe hated Newton. The details of their spat are unimportant. The important issue is that Newtonian scientists wanted to use this Fichtian consciousness to create devices that could break apart unity, then to measure the effects of that breakage, and then to assemble them again into a logical system, all from a distance. That is what we call science today.
The wide eyes are, no doubt, symbolic.
To be absolutely clear: this little Christ in every man (and woman — let’s be more generous than Goethe) was not a metaphor, but the actual presence of Christ. The form it took was irrelevant to the power of the manifestation (one can’t, after all, direct or limit the llimitless), but essential to the results that would come out of the human mind so trained and so inhabited by its training. Every human so conceived was a lens, focussing the world (or God). This was Goethe’s conception. It mattered little if a person so trained was a Christian or believed in God or not. He (or she) had been made into a poem and would then filter the world in the same way a trained reader would filter a poem (or a poem would filter the reader — kind of a two way street). This training of little Christs to live in and focus eternity (and the mind of God, or the universe) is what is today called schooling and education.
Goethe’s Bust and his Death Mask
Fichte’s conception was not so poetic. He argued that in order to say that one had a self, one had simultaneously to say that there was a non-self (and vice versa.) Consequently, he argued (brilliantly), the self and the not-self are one, but can be considered separately. Wherever one trained the perception or mind of the self, accordingly, would reveal the not self. To put that into plain language, if a human, such as Fichte, looked at a hawthorn tree …
… the observed tree was the not-self; everything else could be considered the self. This was a mighty handy and extremely portable observational tool. Just walk around, look at stuff, and you would perceive the objective world, clear of your own subjectivity, which would probably be all tangled up with notions of Christ, God, eternity and what not.
Harold: Hey, yourself.
Goethe found nothing in Fichte’s system incompatible with his attempts to train the self as a spiritual artwork (or technology), because to him the true self was not Fichte’s too, or the artwork, but the energy it channeled. To him, if there was to be a logical system that could support independent, democratic men and women it must operate from within the unified world, which means it must perceive white light, must perceive it with rigour, and must build logic up without first breaking the unity of the world. Otherwise, it would be outside that world and have no access to it, and that was exactly what the individual liberty of the time was attempting to do away with.
Vive La France!
That state of being outside of the world, however, is exactly where human beings are today after 223 years of Fichtian human technology applied to Newtonian science. In this respect, the important thing is Goethe’s observation that the system one chooses determines the world we get.
Vernon, Okanagan Illahie
Camas Prairie (now reduced to wheatfields), Nimíipuu Illahie
Puddinhead Screes, Smlqmx Illahie
By choosing Newtonian science without any exploration of the Goethian system, the Western World has lost touch with white light and unity, in all its moods …
Harold Above Kalamalka Lake
… and pursues (as Goethe warns) a fragmented world observable through technical measurement, that does not come together again, because unity was never the design of the Fichtean self. It was designed, from the start, to create and measure difference, not unity.
Jacques Derrida, Contemporary Philosopher of Difference
The Fichtean-Newtonian self in one of its purest manifestations. Note the dead tree.
The applications of this process of difference and the products of Newtonian measurement, are what is now called technological civilization. It has progressed so far that contemporary discussions include reengineering of biological life to create slave creatures capable of producing any possible industrial chemical, and reengineering human bodies, without regard to their links to unity. In this conception, those links, being outside of the Newtonian frame, are what is called emotion, and are considered negligible effects. Only an inhuman system would look upon life that way. Unfortunately, all of this activity (which calls itself humanism) was built upon error and will lead only to greater error. It has already begun.
Secwepemc Horses, Wallhachin.
There is nothing to eat in this field of weeds.
Next, I’ll be looking at creativity, and how these human technologies (or selves) affect the world, society, art, technology, environments and the future. I hope you’ll tune in. The results for creativity are really quite profound and, I think, surprising.
To understand why the earth is in a mess …
Coal-Fired Electrical Plant: Originally Creative, Now a Technical Model
… an understanding of creativity is necessary. Similarly, to get us out of this mess, we must understand creativity. I’ll be looking at it for a few days. Here’s a French take on the notion:
Le mot est un calque de l’américain « creativity », néologisme des années quarante, sans aucune connotation artistique. Le mot est apparu en français dans les années cinquante chez les psychologues humanistes (à la suite de la découverte par ceux-ci des publications des travaux d’Abraham Maslow et de Carl Rogers) puis les psychanalystes, puis les psychologues.
Creativity at the Hanford, Washington Military Plutonium Factory
Here’s a rough translation…
The word is an adoption of the American term “creativity,” a neologism from the 1940s, and has no artistic connotations. The word appeared in French in the 1950s among humanist psychologists (accompanying their discovery of the work of Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers) as well as psychoanalysis’s and psychologists.
French Actress Bridgit Bardot Being Creative Back in the Day
In this American context, creativity has NO connection with the arts …
Rembrandt, Self Portrait with White Turban: NOT creative
… but is the faculty of imagination which enables humans to create useful things that previously did not exist.
You Need This ®
Note: Very Creative
Got that? Creativity differs from the skill required to make things which are copies of things that already exist, whether they are hydroelectric dams…
Building Grand Coulee Dam, One Dive at a Time
… built upon successful models, or anything built out of a spiritual world view, which views creation as the property of the divine, which manifests itself in human activity.
The creative faculty denies the divine. Here’s how creativity is defined in popular culture:
In a summary of scientific research into creativity, Michael Mumford suggested: “Over the course of the last decade, however, we seem to have reached a general agreement that creativity involves the production of novel, useful products” (Mumford, 2003, p. 110), or, in Robert Sternberg‘s words, the production of “something original and worthwhile”.
Or as the French put it…
Elle peut être plus précisément définie comme « un processuspsychologique ou psycho-sociologique par lequel un individu ou un groupe d’individus témoigne [d’imagination et] d’originalité dans la manière d’associer des choses, des idées, des situations et, par la publication du résultat concret de ce processus, change, modifie ou transforme la perception, l’usage ou la matérialité auprès d’un public donné. »
French Resistance Fighter, WWII
Rough translation …
It can be more accurately defined as “a psychological or psycho-sociological process by which an individual or a group of individuals testifies the presence of [imagination and] originality in the combination of things, ideas and situations and by publishing the concrete result of this process, change, modify or transform its perception, use or material manifestation to a specific audience.”
In other words, as the French understand the American point of view, creativity is a social perception, based upon the manipulation of shared assumptions within a society; in no way is it a universal human characteristic, and in no way does it supplant the power of the spiritual world.
Choir, Chartres Cathedral
To the humanistic French, creativity is a part of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a form of American psychological understanding which posits that human needs span a range from basic needs to extraordinary and refined one, in such a way that no needs can be met until more basic ones have been fulfilled. Below is a graphic that shows how it works. You’ll note that creativity is one of the apex needs, only realizable within the concept of self-actualization, and only after esteem, love/belonging, safety and physiological needs have been met.
We can assume that in Maslow’s conception, and in the term creativity that comes from it, no creative action is possible without first more primary needs being met. To put that another way, creativity and self-actualization are identical in this schema. Practically, that means (for example) that a mother’s love of her children, or a farmer’s love of her land and the ability to create food from it, are creative acts only if the mother or farmer acts out of self interest; if the act is out of interest for the child or the land, it is not creative, except in that caring for a child is caring for one’s genes, so that’s good.
This is Not Love. This is Self-Interested Gene Protective Creativity Source
What’s more, the activity of the land, its ability to bring forth food, is not considered creative. In the world of creativity, land and soil look like this.
Intriguingly, Maslow’s graphic can be viewed differently, as a hierarchy that doesn’t climax at the actualized self, but at full embeddedness, like this:
In other words, following the French line of reasoning, those items to the left (self-actualization, esteem, love/belonging, safety, and physiological needs) are culturally specific. After all, they can be replaced with ones that are their direct opposites (Self as world, self as others, interpersonal self, embedded physical self, and physical self.), without disturbing the hierarchy in any way. If they’re culturally specific, however, they aren’t humanly universal. The French are aware of that. They reserve creativity for spirit. This is a bit of a difficult fix, though, because the word, in all its American strength, does not mean that. It means this:
Tomorrow: German creativity. Note: it also differs from the American definition, and also in culturally specific ways.
CREATIVITY, CREATION AND THE STATE OF THE EARTH AND OUR CITIES
Well, that’s cultural, because we are the earth, not the other way around. The Anthropocene, the Age of Man, is a term intended to show that the earth is now dependent upon us, which it is, but only because we’ve screwed up. Fixing the earth means fixing the huge, dysfunctional gap within creation, and setting aside the now-dated, 20th century word, creativity, before it’s too late. For me, working on this is an ethical imperative. Thanks for joining in.
Next: German and Icelandic creativity, for alternate perspectives of where we are and what is possible.
GERMAN AND AMERICAN CREATIVITY AND THE STATE OF THE EARTH
bezeichnet i.d.R. die Fähigkeit eines Individuums oder einer Gruppe, in phantasievoller und gestaltender Weise zu denken und zu handeln.
As a rule, creativity refers to the capacity of an individual or a group to think and act in manners rich with fantasy or materialization.
The gist of it is that creative thinking yokes imagination and the shaping of imagination into physical form, and that “creativity” is a social process by which products are produced. There’s more:
Zu den kreativitätsförderlichen Aspekten der Person gehören bspw. Personenmerkmale wie Offenheit für Erfahrung, Verantwortungsgefühl oder hohe allg. kognitive Fähigkeiten. Der Kreativitätsprozess wird meist als typische Abfolge von Problemidentifikation (Erkennen von Problemen), Vorbereitungsphase (notwendige Informationen werden gesammelt), Generierungsphase (mögliche Lösungen werden entwickelt) und Beurteilungsphase (Analyse der Lösungen) beschrieben… Kennzeichnend für kreative Produkte ist, dass sie gleichzeitig neu und angemessen, nützlich oder wertvoll für die Lösung eines Problem sind. SOURCE
The personal aspects of a person conducive to creativity include, for example, personal qualities like openness to discovery, feelings of responsibility, or generally high cognitive functioning. The creative process is most often described as the result of problem identification (the recognition of problems), a preparation phase (necessary information is gathered), generation phase (possible solutions are developed) and appraisal phase (analysis of the solutions.) Hallmarks of creative products are that they are simultaneously new and appropriate, useful or worthwhile for the solution of a problem.
Nothing at all about self-actualization! That difference from the American model is a sign that any definition of “creativity,” including the American one, fits the parameters of a particular culture, and should be read as such. The actual human capacity that leads to creation of products is expressing itself through cultural parameters, all of which have their own embedded contexts, such as this:
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT TO TALK ABOUT CREATIVITY
Over the past month I’ve exploring human identities and creativity and their impact on the environment. I do this because I have brothers and sisters, not just humans (but humans, too, including you), who I care about:
Those are just a few of the people I live with and who make my life. Living without them would be this:
Downtown Vernon, British Columbia
Over the last few weeks, I’ve presented a history of the development of the contemporary Western idea of self, and related that to three traditions of creativity:
American, which tries to activate a private Christ-like self to create a human who acts at one with God but leaves emotions as a mystery;
French, which leaves mystery and creativity to God, and encourages a self which makes refined objects out of received inspiration; and
German, which places creativity as part of a group that stretches back a few thousand years back in time.
The Green Man of Davos, Switzerland
This is indigenous memory that goes back through the first Cro Magnon settlers in Switzerland (their descendants are called the Swiss today) to the Himalayas, at least: to the roots of what we call human, at any rate.
Sure, Swiss. German is not a people. It is a language. You get up into the Swiss mountains and that German starts sounding like the French and the French like the German, and both of them sound like the Welsh from Caernarfon, which came from ancient Assyria long ago.
Caernarfon, from the Eagle Tower
One of the reasons I am doing this is aesthetic. I have two degrees in Creative Writing: the first, in 1980, was a degree in writing and the world, taught by a witch, who was a world expert on surrealism, poetic forms, literary modernism, the poetry of World War II, Robert Graves (the mid-century master of Mediterranean and Welsh mythology) and Welsh verse:
Robin Skelton …
… holding poet Susan Musgrave’s Surreal Art in his back garden.
The second degree, completed in 2007, was a masters level course in how to write in order to fit into North American pop culture, which, nonetheless, presented itself as a course in world writing. At that point, I realized that the discipline of Creative Writing had purified its American roots, and that earlier attempts to merge it with world literary culture had been overwhelmed. Social expression had supplanted art — the tradition of craft that had raised writing (and painting and sculpture, etc) as a vital member of the Enlightenment Triad of Art of Science and Religion that came from the dismemberment of the pre-Enlightenment Unified World. I am concerned that art is now expected to live wholly within the boundaries of a technological society, and interact with its citizens and technologies, first, and with the world through them. The thing is, though, I live here:
Coots Waiting to Migrate North
And one local gull looking for sandwich rinds or, well, hey, anything, really.
If anyone were to suggest, as contemporary Canadian forms of creativity and “art” do, that I have to give up my natural habitat, as encroached as it is …
… and take on a purely social one ….
This Blackbird Needs to Be in a Fir Tree Next to Those Rushes
Later, he needs to move into brown birches, and then the rushes themselves.
… that would be an unacceptable and dehumanizing demand, and yet that demand is made hourly and daily.
To adapt human lives to a technological water system, which has replaced the natural abundance of indigenous water systems in order to satisfy the needs of industrial agriculture and the political and social demands of deliberate overpopulation caused by inappropriate political systems, the land is turned into a parking lot. Better to recreate living human relationships with more than over-simplified social boundaries.
And so I have taken my long experience with art and creation and the reading and creation of texts, as well as my long experience with the quite different genre called Creative Writing, and have walked with them out into the world. The story today is not human. It is the earth.
Fraser River Sockeye Salmon NOT Making it to the Spawning Beds
It is a story of a warm river, the warmth of which is caused by certain ideas of the social embeddedness and rights of certain types of individual behaviour at the expense of others.
It is by expanding the sense of the human, based on accurate measurements of past human identity and creativity systems, that we can best change the earth. The image of the restaurant employee smoke pit and natural gas valve system is not a natural human environment. It is the environment for people constrained by technical definitions and power structures…
… that are very real and completely unacceptable. To expand this social conversation, I will next introduce other forms of creativity, from other cultural traditions —Icelandic, Native American (Plateau), Byzantine (Russian orthodox) and Islamic (Sufi). We could go on for months, around the world, but that’s a good start, and should be enough to make the point out of my own experience. I don’t want to talk about things which I do not know. That would be disrespectful. Somehow, the human image below, needs to be reconstructed…
19th Century Human Technology
A will extended across a ruined grassland slope. The fence represents the boundaries of both body and will — the American actualized self — and converts the earth into land, or, to clarify, into a series of independent actualized selves creating a common culture through their interaction. No intellectual or artistic comment is allowable, because it is this act of conversion which is the root of the culture. The state of the grassland (see any grass?) shows just how little of the earth this concept is capable of maintaining.
To this, we all have to contribute how we can. By the offering the story of my experience with creativity, I hope to be able to enrich the language with which we all speak with the earth, and which becomes the earth that speaks with us.
This is You
When you feel that without words, you will know that we are walking the same path. I call it human. It doesn’t matter what I call it. It’s life.
After completing my exploration of creative context, I will explore the nature of the self in its contemporary creative contexts, including artificial intelligence and other artificial human contexts. Then we will talk about the world and what we can do together.
CREATIVITY IN ICELAND
Iceland was long isolated from the rest of Europe and maintained ancient, pre-industrial modes of creativity, economics and land use long after they had been rendered obsolete elsewhere. Many parts of Icelandic culture did not leave an indigenous sense of land until the Second World War, when occupation by American and British military forces completely transformed the economy.
Abandoned Turf House, North Iceland
The wind, I promise, is unforgiving here. The house is built directly in it, on the crest of a hill above the Greenland Sea, so that the wind will take the winter snow away. The rest of the year is scarcely warmer. I would have left, too. And I love the wind!
For one thing, in Iceland you’re always under the observant eyes of ravens, who range out to the left and right of the god Oðin, acting as the harbingers and scouts of all identity: thought and memory. Here’s one keeping an eye on me.
One of the technologies that Iceland brought forward into the present is Nordic Mythology. It was preserved here, although lost everywhere else, and provides an alternate world view to all others. For one thing, it has humans dwelling on Middle Earth, between worlds of Fire and Ice. Middle earth is where they battle for dominance. The fire …
… and ice are never far, and come from beyond the world.
Snæfells, with Reindeer and Geese
This is a complex and deep heritage, which contains such creative technologies as haying …
Haying is the Art of Creating a Book out of the Sun
You can read it all winter long, or your sheep can. My book The Art of Haying explores these mysteries.
… the string …
Icelandic Horse Obeying The String That is a Human Will
… non-human personhood …
… the self living in the forms of the land…
Elf City, South Iceland
…in union with ancient story …
Raven Mountain, North East Iceland
… and creativity rising not from person but from space, in an ancient conception called the Tun.
Cow, Calf and Tun
All these technologies and many more meet in the culture of Iceland. The culture is their expression. Humans pass through this culture’s forms, in the same way they ride (or walk) across the land.
Golfing With Elves and the Dead, Too
In Iceland, nothing gets thrown away.
It’s the tun I’d like to talk about in terms of creativity today. A tun is something that you can observe (and take part in) everywhere in Iceland (and in the North). Here’s a tun in Denmark (the former colonizing power, grrr):
Den Fynske Landsby, Fyn, Danmark. The working courtyard in front follows the ancient Norse (and thereafter Icelandic) architectural model of a tun, an open air working room between buildings.
A tun is a building without walls or roof, where the money-making activity of the farm took place, and where the manure (the dung, a variant of the word “tun”) was stored, which could be spread on the fields to create future wealth. It is the source of economy.
Hedge fund version 1.0.
The tun usually connected to the track to the next farm, or out to the world of trade. Here’s a variant on a tun, from East Iceland…
In this case, the tun is the road itself. It’s the architectural space (within the landscape rather than the farmyard) that carries forth the energy of the tun.
Park your car here on the way back home from work.
The word “tun” is the German for “to do”. The English word is “doing.”
It is a place of energy that creates the economy and trade and activity of a country (or a farm), or lets it efficiently take place. It is the place where the future is created. Without it, the activity of humans would not be as organized as it is, nor could it be efficiently packed up and exported from the farm (or the country.) Iceland, of course, is a sophisticated modern country, so we can expect this source of energy to take many forms today. Here are a few:
The pattern of tun-in-the-pasture is reversed to pasture-in-the-tun. (The tun is Reykjavik.) This pasture, though, is in the shape of a disused turf house. Clever stuff!
Note that this is a re-purposed building. In other words, not only is the movie theatre a contemporary tun, but the building acts as one as well.
A very useful tun for work with souls. In this case, the houses of the village take the place of the buildings of a farmyard.
The trees are part of a nation building program of the Icelandic government. They represent not only shelter and beauty, but future money in the bank. In this sense, they operate as a dung heap in a tun. The land itself has been separated from itself into a special tun space here. Here’s something different…
This tun represents a combined cognitive, social and bodily space. It moves around and around through Reykjavik, invading people’s dreams and re-shaping them into effervescent images of mineral water. Not into the dance scene? No problem…
Note the elf house in the foreground. It’s good to live close to your neighbours.
From the perspective of a capital economy, this capital has depreciated to the point of needing to be replaced with a new depreciation sequence paid for with interest. In a tun-based economy, the expense of taking wealth from the land in order to build structures upon it is a debt that will be erased only when the creative (tun-ish) potential given from the land and embodied in the building and the tractor are mined dry and these materials (dung-wise) rot back into the earth. They are, in other words, a fertilizer. You don’t paint fertilizer. You also don’t throw it away. Want something more adventuresome? Iceland has that too.
Svinafellsjokul, Skaftafell National Park
A glacier is part of the common wealth of a country, that which belongs to all of the people and brings water and energy to all. It’s not just the people, either. It also brings energy to the land itself. Here, you can see what that looks like, on the other side of the glaciers.
Aka glacier turning into light. Very good for the soul.
A glacier can attract tourists (and mine them for wealth), provide healthy recreation for the people (an idea of nature, imported from coal-smoke-choked industrial England), and even provide habitat for fish …
These are both tun spaces. The mountain generates snow, which generates water. The lake collects the water, to provide habitat for fish. By concentrating energy in this way, mountain and lake make it available for human harvest. (Not that this is their plan.)
Unfortunately, capital-intensive economic systems can mess with that and simplify the idea of a tun almost to unrecognizability, like this:
Or art in the service of propaganda. Or a statue in the middle of a hydroelectric dam outflow channel that has diverted the water from Snæfells into the wrong fjord. Something like that. Here, here’s another look: See that? The ship steams upriver, loaded with generic manufactured goods, towards the economy created by turning Snæfells’ life-giving properties into cash, that can pay for electric toasters and Swedish toilet paper. It never, of course, arrives. Here’s its goal…The Heart of the Mountain
The statue was erected on the notion of eternal wealth, just before the economic collapse made the whole notion questionable. Here’s a construction site (abandoned) in Reykjavik, based upon the economic version of this dam …
If you get too abstract with your tun, you run the risk of running out of manure. Good to know.
Ah, perhaps you’re tired of farms by now? Well, here you go, way up in the north…
Powered by human energy (doing). Any fish brought into the boat (the tun) are instantly converted into wealth. Well, as long as your arms are strong and the weather holds.
This particular moveable tun has been sitting on the shore for a long time, but the principle still holds. When you start powering that boat with diesel, then a good chunk of the fish you bring in are not wealth, but payment for an operating debt, and, if you bought the boat on credit, a capital debt as well. If you’re not careful, the whole thing becomes a debt. Instead of organizing the wealth of your labour on the sea (very wet common space) for delivery to social space, the tun organizes social relationships for delivery to you. You have, in other words, lost your tun (doing.) Here’s a solution:
This garden is planted in Iceland’s northern capital to see what plants will grow in a cold, northern climate. The concentration is on decorative plants. That is part of Icelandic nationalism, a way of dunging the country so that it brings forth wealth (in the sense of a tun economy, organized around human relationships to common space (land and water, mostly), beauty and fecundity are both forms of wealth.) So is this:
In the summer, the richly-endowed residential high schools of Iceland are converted into hotels, serving travellers. This doing (tun) allows for them to be sheltered and fed without capital-intensive infrastructure on the land, that would not turn a profit (dung) and would be a drain on the community (a kind of field.) In other words, without the Hotel Edda concept, travel in Iceland would be greatly reduced. That is pure tun! In the winter, the schools are tuns of a different kind, gathering Icelandic youth together for their common education. It would be best, however, not to think of these multi-use spaces as either schools or hotels, but as a space which allows for and serves both relationships to the land. See? Pure tun! Similarly…
In sparcely-populated Iceland, a gas station is like a city in itself (Icelandic Staður, German Stadt [city] or Staat [country], English State, and in land terms a Stead, as in a farmstead. Here it’s a gas stead.) Everyone stops (where else?). Everyone eats (hamburgers, chicken, pizza and hot dogs, the national dishes of Iceland, and for the lucky soul a liquorice ice cream bar [available only in Iceland] if you root around long enough in the freezer.) The places so interrupt the roads in a tun-ish kind of way that even the police stop here. Rather than waiting at the side of the road trying to nab people of interest, they just hang out at the N1 and interrogate people while they’re filling up with gas.
Here’s a somewhat more esoteric tun from Kirkjubærjarklaustur:
… is part of the function of the tun, even when it’s a bit wonky from a stone cast up by a weed eater or, perhaps (judging from the repaired state of the wall) earthquake.
Similarly, a piece of propaganda-art (or is it art-propaganda?) in downtown Reykjavik provides an anchor point for tourists wandering down to the waterfront (very tun-ish, that)…
If I was crossing the North Atlantic in a longboat, I’d want it to be a made out of aluminum, too.
… while reminding the Reykjavikers that the money that built their glittering waterfront…
It interacts with other national tuns to create the worldwide tun network.
… came from the aluminum smelter (and glacial-melt electricity) across the mountain in Whale Fjord.
Leif’s ship points straight this way. This is a capital tun. That it needs space (Iceland) is rather incidental. It might have been British Columbia. Oh, wait, they’ve dammed rivers and diverted them through tunnels and extirpated salmon for an aluminum smelter in British Columbia, too! Like tuns, capital is everywhere. Sometimes it flows right through a tun and obliterates it.
Here’s Reykjavik’s most interesting tun, right on the waterfront …
The Reykjavik opera house and performance centre. It also houses a CD shop, a cafe, exhibition space, practice space for dancers, fashion shows and classical, folk and rock concerts. In other words, it provides a space for the concentration of cultural activity of all kinds in sufficient quantity and quality that it can be delivered to the people, the country, and the world. It’s also a beautiful piece of architecture that captures the sun light and casts it in coloured rectangles on the concrete plaza at its base, like sketchings made out of chalk. Tun all the way.
Not all tuns are so complex. Here’s one of the most basic (and powerful) of them all…
Note the road that comes directly to it. The tithes that came to a church accrued to the landowner who had built the tun space for the people and were, as such, a major form of wealth for Icelandic farms. The byproduct was the dead, who were planted in the tun — a kind of social dung, fertilizing the future (Heaven) or the present (built as it is on human memory, the more the memory the richer the present.)
In this conception of wealth, capital (and money) aren’t exactly the goal, but a product of the tun space. The carefully-bounded space below, on the other hand, added to the tun space…
Without the line that bounds this field, there would be no inputs to a tun space. It would only be a potential space. Never underestimate a line, in Iceland or anywhere else.
Here, this image may illustrate that more dramatically. Here we are at Myvatn (you may recognize this image)…
If we lift the camera just a teensy bit, we get some perspective…
Our horse is behind the rock.
You see how that works? The land has potential. It has a form of potential energy. The application of a particular technological approach towards defining it as space allows for different forms of energy to come out of it. A line gives us a field, gives us a horse. It will be brought into a tun, where this elementary relationship is retained. Capital gives us a geothermal power station. It will be brought into a city, where it’s own elementary relationships are retained. In the first case, the earth is full of life and living relationships. In the second, humans are separated from the earth, which is a field of energy, that can be harvested. The interrelationship between these two ways of being is complex, but at all times the elementary principle remains: creativity comes from the space that is outlined by technology; the outcomes are predetermined. In other words, we who are humans are not separate from technology and cannot just direct it to our will. All we can hope for is to create spaces, which create energy flows that lead to where we wish to go, but we should be very clear as to where they might lead. Here’s a kind of tun that got its start in Iceland over a thousand years ago:
The world’s first parliament convened on this spot at the confluence of the walking trails of Iceland in the year 930. All the people came and collectively decided their social arrangements, then followed the trails back to their home farms. This is the tun of tuns.
On the principle that space creates function and energy is latent in the land, some tuns are geographical spaces. Like this…
This was the view that Jon Sigurdson, father of Icelandic independence, took in as a child.
Here’s a slightly altered version:
Here’s an example of a common Icelandic tun: a ruin of a lost farm. The people of Reykjavik come from places like this that were no longer tenable in a capital-fueled society. They do, however, remain.
The mistake should not be made, despite the astute and chilling observations of Iceland’s Nobel Laureate, Halldór Laxness, that such buildings were a betrayal of the debt of humans to their land, as they were too capital intensive and not constructed within the flow of seasons and fate. Instead, it’s better to think of them as graveyards and memory artefacts, that continue to bind people to the land, although only in potential, and offer the chance of return. The energy that was squandered (as Laxness saw it) on these buildings, remains in them, as it also remains in the land, and can be mined again. Only in the sense of capital is it lost.
Well, there are many other forms of doings in Iceland. Cataloguing them won’t add to that appreciably. But perhaps this image might sum it up:
Like the string that defines a field and allows for concentrated activity, a bridge is another technology both similar to a tun and connected to its energy. It allows for improved delivery of material to the tun, without the contamination of important water sources with the mud generated by foot traffic. In this case, perhaps not so well, but, hey, I used this bridge on my way to the Dwarf Church in Seyðisfjörður, and it did its thing. Oh, and as for bridges, here’s one…
Slowly, a people who have lost their connection to tun space are refinding it, in the golf course surrounding a church which was set up next to an elf city in the lava fields south of Reykjavik. Humans are like horses in a field. They really can’t wander that far.
Well, that’s the tun (our contemporary ton, or town), in many of its forms. It is in these spaces that Icelandic creativity takes place, because the tun (not the individual self, not God but focussed activity rising from location, here in Middle Earth, between cataclysmic forces) is where creativity takes place. In Iceland, it is Middle Earth, Miðgarðr, that is creative space. A similar set of illustrations can be worked out for the other technologies (string, etc) with which I introduced this post, but for now, I think you get the point: in Iceland there is a form of creativity and a corresponding land sense with little if any connection to American, French or German land senses. The culture, however, is more creative than those others. That’s worth sitting down in for awhile and getting to know. So, until next time when I will speak about Indigenous creativity on the Columbia Plateau, thank you for spending some quality time with me among the elves.
INDIGENOUS CREATIVITY IN THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST
Some cultures are so ancient that they watched the glaciers come and go 10,000 years ago. So it is with the Syilx culture of today’s Colville Confederated Tribes. Once the ice melted and the post-glacial floods abated and the people climbed down from the high country or pushed through from the south and east, the first person sniffing his way was the ancestor Sen’klip, who the Yakimas to the south called Spillyay and the Nez Perce to the east called Itseyéyeh and most people just call Coyote now, and when he needed someone to talk to, to mull his thoughts over with, he shat, or farted, depending on the severity of the conversation, and talked to the smell on the wind. Well, his conversations are still here, on the road between Nespelem and Coulee Dam, above the river. Look, you can even see the hole made by the conversation, in the middle of the pile.Sen’klip left hundreds of piles like this in this stretch of the Columbia (in the gorge cutting across the middle of the image). Not to be missed for the world! They will outlive the Grand Coulee dam, just upriver. Stories like this form one of the threads of Indigenous creativity on the Columbia Plateau. In other cultures, creativity might come from certain intersections of forces within a person, what is currently called emotion or identity or self or self-actualization. That is not the case here. Here the same intersections happen in the land. It is a permanent and timeless intersection of forces. People move through it, in its own patterns.
Not Gravity Gradients But Bodily Shapes in Bodies That Are Not Human
One of the important components of this kind of creativity is that it relates to two lands at the same time: a timeless one, in which all beings are equal and speaking to each other, and one created by them, in which coyotes are wild dogs, deer are four-legged grazing animals, and “the real people” (to distinguish them from the coyotes and deer and so on, who are also people) are humans. These worlds were once one, but are now divided between a world of spirit and the earth, where spirit makes itself manifest as plants, animals, wind, rain, rivers, mountains and so on, which effect human behaviour. Creativity rises from this relationship. A song in Spokane culture, for example, is created by spirits, in their world, and passed to humans, in theirs; when humans sing the song, they gain access to the spiritual world, and spirits gain access to theirs. Nonetheless, the song does not come from human invention; it is received. This is an intricately woven conception of an intricately woven world, in which the grassland hills provide a bounty of food across a wide range of seasons if they are cared for by a principle called Yil. To speak about Yil, let me introduce you to one of the problem deer of Bella Vista. By problem deer, we mean that she comes down at night and nibbles shrubberies planted in the front yards of people who keep houses for the summer and, strangely, go away to some place warm for the winter, when the land looks like this:
They are missing so much! In the summer, people call for the deer above and her sisters to be shot. You might see what the deer think about that below…
The only edible thing on the hill is this saskatoon bush. That makes for a lot of wandering, back and forth, from one bush to the next, and, here’s the thing. The grassland didn’t evolve for this, and it’s destroying it. Hence the descent to the shrubberies.
Deer trails. It’s like a lion pacing in a cage at a zoo. This is not the weaving of Yil, but it is the weaving Yil makes when its threads are broken. More on that in a sec. First, let’s look up on the hill, where the aspen saplings in the wetlands that one might graze if one were a doe with a bright eye are dead, because someone misunderstood just a few things, there’s nothing to eat here anymore. The wetland is no longer part of the weave of the land.
One error here was long-term cattle grazing and the over-concentration of deer caused by improperly designed human housing estates. Another is that this is a pond. Hardly. It is the heart of a body that includes deer, ravens, flickers, foxes, coyotes, dogwoods, hawthorns, firs, aspens, alders, mice, ducks and so much more.
Haws: Part of the Body that is Otherwise Called a Pond
(In this case, a kilometre away. Psshaw, that’s nothing.)
Another error made here is that deer eat grass. Yeah, some deer, and some grass only. They prefer succulent plants, especially flowers, big buds and seed heads.. Another error is that aspens are trees. After all, aspens have trunks and leaves and branches, right?
This is one organism, that grows underground and sends up vertical trunks. It is preyed upon by more fungi and bacteria and viruses than anything else going and dies like the dickens, hence it is important that it continually throw up a huge number of new, sapling trunks. The oldest organism of this kind is 70,000 years old, the oldest living thing on earth. The organism above is dying. Most of the aspen creatures in my grassland are dying, because of cattle, irrigation and housing development. That is the seventh dimension: beyond the grass getting up and moving in the form of a deer or a human, which is the sixth dimension, all living creatures are one creature; what one does affects all the others as if it were done to themselves. This dimension has a name. It is Yilx. More on that in a sec.
(Click it for a better view.)
First, some weaving, or Yil. It goes like this: if cattle graze the wetland, the aspens die and deer must eat saskatoons. If deer overgraze the saskatoons, there are few berries for birds, coyotes, bears and humans. With little to graze, because saskatoons grow slowly when deer chew on them, the deer pace back and forth across the hill, eroding the microbial crust of the earth and breaking up the grass and balsam root communities, with a detrimental effect on mouse and marmot populations, coyotes, foxes, badgers and hawks. And why does it matter, if you have cattle, you might ask? It matters because the resilience is gone from the land and what was able to feed all the people, including deer and humans, now feeds only cattle, who are incredibly inefficient at converting grass to protein (and, besides, there isn’t much edible grass up there on the hill for them.) The land ends up producing less, which means it lives less, and since you are in the seventh dimension, and thus part of this life form, you live less, too. After enough time at this game, the land doesn’t even support cattle anymore. Just sagebrush, which is only good for burning up. The image below shows a grassland converted into a field, across the valley, and a wetland clogged with houses and roads in the valley bottom, where the deer should be hanging out and which should be feeding thirty kilometres of 135-kilometre-long Okanagan Lake, but is not any more.
Since we are the same organism, if the deer are blocked from access to the valley bottom and the life that should be produced there out of the flows of rain, gravity and sunlight out of the world of spirit, so are we, the humans. We are the prisoners just as much as the deer, and creativity is lost to us as much as it is to the land.
There is a name for this entire organism, by the way. It’s called Syilx, which is the name for the indigenous people of this place. It doesn’t really mean “the people” or anything like that. It is a way, a relationship, a form of inclusion and respect. The people gained this understanding from living on the grassland and watching it. I know this, because this is how I gained my own. Here’s what the Okanagan Indian Band has to say about Syilx:
The word “Syilx” takes its meaning from several different images. The root word “Yil” refers to the action of taking any kind of many-stranded fiber, like hemp, and rolling it and twisting it together to make one unit, or one rope. It is a process of making many into one. “Yil” is a root word which forms the basis of many of our words for leadership positions, as well. Syilx contains a command for every individual to continuously bind and unify with the rest. This command goes beyond only humans and encompasses all stands of life that make up our land. The word Syilx contains the image of rolling or unifying into one, as well as the individual command which is indicated by the “x” at the end of the word which indicates that it is a command directed at the individual level. The command is for every individual to be part of that stranded unified group, and to continue that twisting and unification on a continuous basis. It is an important concept which underlies our consideration of the meanings of aboriginal title and rights.
You can read more by clicking here. Or by going up the hill.
A fascinating place in this braided world is the village. I was paddling around on the old molten glacier of Vaseaux Lake (below), when I realized that the traditional Syilx village on this site was not just the flat along the Vaseaux Lake shore at the right of the image …… but also the lake itself. A village is for people. Seen spiritually, water is people. So is this:
In this case, the house at the centre of this image has been built around the pictograph on the north-facing slope of the boulder between it and Vaseaux Lake — a remnant from when this area was a German colony in the sun, between and immediately after the world wars. In this case, it is a piece of land set aside for village memory and renewal, although removed now from its role. This, too, is part of the village …
Humans and people are the same, but not always the same. Sometimes people are Nodding Onion, such as here at Tepahlewam, on the Camas Prairie south of Lapwai, in Nimíipuu Country.
I’m not jesting here. I think it’s vital. If a relationship to the earth is going to be built that will allow it to thrive in the Syilx way, it must be admitted into human social circles, not as humans, but on its own terms. The cliff below, above the ancient village of the lower Kooskooske, at the mouth of Lapwai Creek which drains the Camas Prairie to the north, is not human, but it is part of the village. It is a person.
The grizzly bear that left these tracks does not have to be physically manifest to be a person, either, or to be a part of the village. It exists in the spirit world. Without that knowledge, there is no renewal of the earth. The earth is us. The task of humans is to rebuild the village, and welcome their relations back home. Even Paper Wasp, nesting here in a gas bubble in an old basalt flow above the Salmon River.
The village is Yil, and makes the command of Yilx to its people, the Syilx. When they hang out with paper wasp, when they allow Wasp into their village, that spirit world is within the village. It is able, within those bounds, to create. Outside of the village, it just buzzes around. At the moment, though, society is here:
That’s not how to treat a sister. That’s how to colonize an alien planet. It’s time to put such fantasies behind us.It’s time to come home. There’s one more dimension to this spiritual-physical relationship that is embodied first in the land, then in the people, and then in the village. This is the tradition of song and gambling (it is a form of spiritual gambling, with profound stakes) called S’lahal, or The Bone Game, or The Stick Game. First, you start with a person:
When you get a whole bunch of persons together you get people — a village, shall we say. Like this:
Plateau Men Fishing, Celilo Falls on the Columbia River, c.1950 Source
So, that’s a group of persons, and when they get together their interactions are called social. S’lahal, the bone game, is social:
But, wait. The story of S’lahal is told in this amazing book…
You can read about it. It has its own very beautiful website here: songsofpowerandprayer.com. It’s outwardly about a shaman and a priest who learn to blend their faiths in the Plateau, through song, but it’s also about social groups. In short, every person in the Plateau is a member of a social group which includes not only his or her guardian spirit but the entire world of spirits that manifest themselves as the animals and plants of the earth.
Look at all those spirit creatures on the far valley wall, too, eh.
Humans are one of these forms of materially present spirits.
One Young Woman from Every State of the USA Pours a Jug of Water Over the Grand Coulee Dam
And this is how the world ended. I didn’t say spirit was all sweetness and light.
Here’s, I guess, the other side of this s’lahal game called Damming the Great River of the West:
Every game needs two teams.
Thing is, there were other teams.
Nk’mp Sockeye, Okanagan Falls
Luckily for them, the Okanogan River joins the Columbia below Grand Coulee Dam. The Skoelpi salmon of Kettle Falls were not so lucky and were lost to the dam.
The game of S’lahal is played with these spirits, with songs that are often created by them. In short, every S’lahal player had a social group that included family, tribe, nation, and all the animals and plants and rivers and mountains of the world. Even pine pitch and stumps. And this bunch:
Buck and Canada Geese on the Impounded Columbia West of Kettle Falls
Communication was a unifying force that brought these orientations together. Song was one way. This was another:
These words are another. And these:
Raven at Lolo Lake
The old mammoth hunting ground and bulb gathering ground on the Camas Prairie between the Clearwater, Snake and Salmon Rivers.
Even the language I am writing in here and which you are reading, English, has its roots in that mode of being, and didn’t start catastrophically deviating from it until a couple decades ago. This is the language of goose girls and cowherds, fishers, crofters, charcoal burners, salmon poachers, beechnut gatherers and kids herding pigs with a stick and sheep with a crook. I’m proud of that.
Not just that, I’m glad. It means that the separation of people from the world is not a Western cultural thing. It is a consequence of environments, continually at war with the social knowledge living energetically within language, trying to be born with every sentence, like this, perhaps:
It spells that the cutting of men and women from their home is not a bond knotted around all people of the West. It is a town warring with the bonds within its words and the spells between them, birthing anew with every knot in every telling.
Pregnant Whale, Wedding Rocks, Makah Illahie
Think of it. You create a whale by slowly wearing away the rock with the action of your own hand until the whale is there, and then you let the sea wear it away over centuries, taking that attention away and dissolving it into the water, to insure that whales will come, rich and pregnant with calves, for hundreds of years. When the art is gone? It’s never gone. It’s in the sea. It’s in the whales.
I have introduced the concept of Yil, however, to get at the idea of environment, as well as environmental sustainability and renewal. There’s an old word from this place which expresses this concept well: illahie. Here’s what it looks like here when the snow is gone:
… and it’s not a claim to legal land title. It’s a person’s illahie. It’s the land that one is. It has an interesting story, too. All words in Chinook Wawa, or Chinook Talk have an origin. Some come from Tsinuk, the language of the old traders at the mouth of the Columbia River. Some are from other indigenous languages, in this illahie rich with them. After all, the Tsinuk (Chinook) were trading in Wawa long before Europeans lugged themselves out this way. Some are from French, like leman, for “hand” or lapote, for “door.” Some are from English, like sugar for “sugar.” Some come from playful echoes of sound. Wawa (language or talk) is one of those. It’s the sound a baby makes (wa wa), and the sound a person makes when no one understands him (blah blah, for instance), and that’s kind of the way traders were, and kind of the way of pidgin language that lacks a certain amount of subtlety, shall we say. Illahie, though, oh, that’s an interesting one. Here’s my guess: it’s French, from the métis traders of the Hudson’s Bay Company, who came overland from Canada, or perhaps the French-speaking Iroquois traders who came before them, before history, and are only recorded in Skoeilpi legend, but are no less real for that. You could have Scots ancestry, too. That worked.
And here we are, back in song and in the power of creativity itself. If I’m right, the word is originally “la hai”, a hedge of sticks (it’s how you planted one), even a fence (they were often woven from willows) [note: the spelling change is because the recorders were English and spelled “hai” the English way, as “hie”]…
A Stick Fence from the Day. Source
…and the prefix “il”, which makes it “il-lahie”. Does that come from the French pronoun “il” for “he”? Or does it come, perhaps, from the nsyilxcen word, “yil”, the braid I’ve been discussing here all this time? If it’s French, it would mean “his fence”, but the French would be poor, pidgin even, so perhaps Iroquois, and perhaps Sahaptin or Salishan, spoken by someone just learning the language and poking fun. That works. If it’s “yil” it would mean, “the hedge of sticks that is braided together.” That would work, too, because the hedge of sticks in Cascadia is the game of s’lahal. It goes back nearly 14,000 years in this illahie. We know, because it’s called “the stick game”, the “sticks” are made of bones, and the oldest set of s’lahal bones we have are nearly 14,000 years old.
S’lahal played in Vancouver, in 2011 Source
It’s played today with lengths of wood, because no one has much of a source of mammoth bones anymore. It’s a game played with drumming and songs, as you can see above. One old s’lahal song sings that in the early gambling to see who was going to be the hunted in the future, after the people were separated into people and animals, it wasn’t looking so good for humans. This hairless and sickly lot were down to one s’lahal bone and it looked like the soup pot for them, but then one of the spirits of one of the animals took pity on these weak mewling, naked, clawless and toothless things and gave them a song. That made the difference. Life came to humans from the song’s ability to change the mood of the game in their favour. Ever since, s’lahal has been played with songs, drumming, polyphony, antiphony, swagger, bluff and laughter. If you’re thinking, hey, that sounds like coyotes teaching their kits to howl outside their dens under the warm August moon, you’ve got it about right.
Too Young to Play S’lahal (May)
Sometimes, s’lahal can be bad for your health, though. That’s because it’s played with mammoth bones, or with arrow shafts tipped with them, signifying men. Each arrow is a song. Each song is a wager. And…when French métis traders (typically the dark-skinned sons of Quebec French men and native women) arrived it became a splendid cross-cultural joke: in French “la hal,” or “la haie,” is a pun between “a hedge of sticks” and “a suntan” — in other words, “lahal” is the stick game of the people with dark skins, or “the forest people,” because the French word “La Tenne” has always meant the celts, the forest people who painted their skins dark with walnut or fir sap (Tanne, or Tannenbaum in German), just as the English word “tan” has always meant exactly the same thing. To get a tanning, in other words, is to get whipped, which colours the skin bright red; to get a tan, in other words, means to have children with the people of the forest, and to bring their darker skin colour into your family line — a fine métis bit of wit. And maybe you’re going to get whipped, or beaten, in that game of s’lahal, eh?
E.J. Kipp, 26, (left) and his brother Andre Picard Jr., 33, of the Nez Perce Nation in Lapwai, Idaho, demonstrate how a game of Sticks and Bones might go. Source
Hey, if you can’t laugh at yourself, what’ve you got? Laughter aside, there’s deep, ancient wisdom here: humans and spirits and animals are all woven together in s’lahal, and they are woven together in the land that s’lahal made: the illahie. The earth, and all its interwoven creatures, the illahie, is the game. It’s s’lahal. It’s the play. It’s the weave we are.
By the way, in Wawa, “sticks” are what English speakers call trees and French speakers call des arbres and Germans see as Bäume. The bison know them differently. Look at them there in Yellowstone with their game pieces! And that’s the illahie, the land that is all woven together, with the spiritual foundation, woven together from the beginning of the world, and keeping that beginning alive, and woven with all the rich diversity of the land bound together in a game of mutual communication and respect. Here are some ravens playing s’lahal with me above Kalamalka Lake:After the glaciers melted 10,000 years ago, the region’s nomadic hunters gradually developed the technologies to survive year long in this land, at the same rate at which salmon recolonized it after their glacial refuges in Mexico and its signature grassland biomes took shape, with human intervention. The land and the people became one at the same rate and often in response to each other. They accorded the same dignity to the other inhabitants of the land, because the land was identity and larger than them all. It did not belong to them as much as they belonged to it.
It’s logical. Before the land took its present shape, it was a different land. Before the Syilx became the keepers of that land (for such is the meaning of “Syilx”), they were a different people. In terms of the land, and a consciousness based on the land, they have, in fact, been here forever. In Western terms, that’s like the discussion about the Big Bang. It’s not possible to posit a universe before the Big Bang, because the universe is the expression of the Big Bang. So is it with the Okanagan, and the Syilx.
The Big Bang is Watching You
That the people and the land are one also means that human consciousness and the land are one. In Western terms, this is an emotional statement. In Syilx terms, it isn’t. (Remember: Syilx is not precisely a race; it’s a way of thinking.) The eagle’s face the sun carves out of the cliff below and the bald eagle above it are one. It is nonsense in terms of science. It means something in terms of a land-based consciousness.
Nonetheless, Western thought recently was the same. The following image, for example, shows the Bockstein, the Goat’s Rock across the German Rhine from the holy city of Bingen, complete with a bit of Christian iconography speared into its heart and an elderberry bush to keep witches away. A bit more than a century ago this outcropping of devil was dynamited, to keep it from dropping rocks onto the rail line far below. As you can see from the carefully-tended spear and the surviving elder, the old beliefs haven’t exactly died out.
They didn’t die out in Christian tradition either. Here’s a kind of accommodation in Rüdesheim itself. Christ as a sun, at the intersection of heaven and earth, and, look, he’s really a wine cork, and the cross is really a grape plant, here where wine-making began as an act of Christian devotion and commerce. Christ as a sun god? That’s not really Christ, is it, and those vines? Pure celtic.
This kind of view of the land didn’t start here in the land currently occupied by my city, Vernon, however. This was never the heart of Syilx territory, only one of its major extensions. The heart was here…
The cave complex that looks out on this view here has been used by the Syilx for 8,000 years. It’s from here that they moved north, and here they learned to read spirits in the land, such as the human-faced mountain sheep above. It’s here that they hunted rhinos before they became the Syilx. Lake Lenore is about six driving hours south of Vernon, British Columbia.
When people came north, following the retreating ice, they found their stories from Lake Lenore written out on the land, with new variations, and they read them, and they settled where they were strongest. Yes, they were looking into their own minds, minds created by story which was created by land which was created by story, which was all, ultimately, created by ice and rock.
It’s such a powerful and popular idea to call today’s age of the world the Anthropocene, the Age of Man, in which it is human activity which dominates the world, often badly. That’s a culturally-loaded assessment, however, because in the Syilx world, human activity had the same power with the world, but chose to use it for different ends, ends like this:
It’s not a pretty flower. It’s food.
We’re not talking ancient history here. The takeover only began in earnest 150 years ago, when men were hammering the spike into the heart of the Bockstein. The cougar and the ancestral figures I showed you above, are from this complex cliff complex of two separate geologies in collision.
The story was once continuous. It led from the watching cougar, to cougars and turtles across the lake, in what is now Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park, and Cougar Canyon to the south. This illahie — this story or song in chorus — has been the subject of a land claim by the Syilx since 1895. 120 years of stalling followed. The only value left in the land is the visual, romantic value of ‘the view’.
This is what songs look like in physical form. In Western tradition, they might look like a group of human people. In Indigenous tradition on the plateau, all people join in. The “real people” are tasked with keeping the song going.
The song responds by giving them new songs.
What a song!
Let me make a suggestion: aboriginal perspectives are understandable because they are familiar. All humans have aboriginal cultural roots. If it were otherwise, speaking with the Syilx would be like attempting to speak to whales or sea stars. It isn’t. It is as simple as …
Colville Indian Reservation
… taking down the barbed wire and walking out into grass that belongs to the grass. Indigenous creativity comes from that simple act, and from the staying there.
Next: Sufic and Byzantine Creativity!
As part of my ongoing discussion about how different traditions of creativity lead to different human-earth relationships and, ultimately, different earths, I’d like to introduce you to some ideas I learned while writing my new book of poems, Two Minds.
That’s Khedr, the Sufic power of unified nature and ethics. Let me demonstrate:
See that? Two moments of a continuous world are separately illuminated by the attention of the power of wisdom and by being brought together in one space embody it. This wisdom is not generated by human individuality or personality but by the act of a human stepping into space which is complete and unbounded, creating a division, and allowing wisdom, which is ever-present to reveal itself in a spark of wit, a quick realization, a moment of beauty, an artful spark, or any of its other manifestations. It is there for just a moment, then is gone. The manifestation, however, can be coaxed out again by a second pair of images or thoughts, such as this:
Once again, wisdom is present, hovers in the air like light over the desert or a wind swirling dust, and then is gone. Through a series of these dances with the omnipresence of thought, an artful structure is constructed: not of words , but of the moments at which wisdom has inhabited the words and taken on form and shape in a dance with them. It is as if light has entered the beginning of one of these series of meditations or conversations, has trickled down over its ledges, and pools at its base.
Well, in Iceland (above) it can freeze from time to time!
Khezr is one of the afrad, the Unique Ones who recieve illumination directly from God without human mediation; they can initiate seekers who belong to no Order or have no human guide; they rescue lost wanderers and desperate lovers in the hour of need. Here he is:
Take a look at the dragon wings he has instead of oak leaves for hair. With claws, and everything.
In Sufic tradition, there is no separation between St. George and his dragon: they are one. This one-ness between wildness and civility, that is Khezr. Nature doesn’t have to be killed in this conception. It is a conception of balance. That’s the way of the ghazal. It’s also the way of a man walking.
Byzantium! The eastern roman capital, that survived until the Turks made it Istanbul.
Early Christians in the Thousand Year Empire
In Twentieth Century Poetry, it holds a beloved place.
I was on my way to discover the Northern Orient on the via regia, the King’s Way, the Old Salt Road to Minsk. This “Northern Orient” was a concept I had invented on a previous trip to Dresden via Eisenach. I’d read about Islamic scholars, walking through town, in conversation with German monks, on their way to the Rhine, the great roman cathedral of Worms, and the University of Heidelberg, and back, and I saw this bath at the Wartburg Castle, ostensibly for knights who had returned from the Crusades.
The Wartburg is where Germany began in a song by the minstrel Walther von der Vogelweide:
I wanted to see more. Who wouldn’t!
“Go see the Russians,” an uncle told me. “Germany was once an eastern country. Our family has closer ties to Russia than to the West.” I did not understand that, coming from Kanada and all.
Home Sweet Home!
Or maybe I did. This is what I found, across from the Recklinghausen church, with pigeons pecking at the cobbles outside and old women shuffling past with mesh shopping bags, in a cold spring wind…
The Ikon Museum of Recklinghausen
I eventually worked out that the Northern Orient I had been searching for was modern, a re-creation of a dream that never was…
… built within a dream that was heavily reconstructed itself. Look at the generations of reconstruction in the Wartburg facade below!
Still, the roots of those romanesque arches aren’t Western. Yes, they come from Rome, and Rome? It wasn’t a western state. It was a pan-Mediterranean culture, and so was Germany until modern times.
Emperor Barbarossa’s Camelot in Gelnhausen, Hessen
This greatest of all German Emperors earned his glory by being an enforcer for the Pope against secessionist German princes and died during an invasion of the Holy Land. His civilization was Roman, and Mediterranean, and included at its heart, the Orient: Byzantium.
Who wouldn’t want to follow that trail East!
Well, I didn’t find the northern orient I was looking for. It’s a dream of keeping something alive that is long gone. It is a beautiful and powerful social force. What I found in its place was something even more essential. I found Byzantium itself, right there in Recklinghausen. I found the Ikons.
Each ikon is painted 50 times — it’s a devotional practice — with wax or enamel. Because of bitter war in early Christian Byzantium over whether it was a sin or not to paint an image of God, who was, after all, nameless and unknowable and so could not be constrained into an image, the figures in icons are stock images, meant not to represent saints or holy men or Christ or Mary but to be symbolic representatives of belief, only. This got the images past the censors, and after Russia took up the craft …
… and much time passed, it became clear that the central image in the art of the Ikon was the image of resurrection, of life springing from the dead land, or Easter, as this ancient, pre-Christian motif, springing up in Christianity and renewed by it, is known in Christian tradition:
This force of contemplation lies behind each and every ikon. Ikons don’t show Heaven and Earth divided, with spirits working as intermediaries, as Western images do …
The Crucifixion of St. Peter, Nathalie Motter Masselink
… but are Heaven revealed here and now without intermediary.
This is Not an Image of Heaven
In fact, it is not an image. It is a devotion that, matching the original saintly devotion (here of Mary and Jesus) is their presence.
The traditional, non representative forms of the figures fill the space the Western tradition fills with character and plot. There is no plot, or story, in the Byzantine, or Orthodox, tradition. There are moments of clarity and entrance. These resemble very closely the moments of appearing, disappearing and cascading wisdom and artfulness I spoke about yesterday in regards to my book of sufic verse, Two Minds,
There is, however, a difference, and that has to do with that notion of resurrection. It is at the centre of this art. I learned it by walking out the door of the Recklinghausen Ikon Museum, into that cold spring wind. For five minutes, I walked through a spiritual earth. Everything was bursting with this force: the old woman, the pigeons, the cobbles, the church wall, the weeds bursting between the stones, the weeds reaching up beneath the chain link fence across from the Kindergarten, the bell ringing on the church, clouds in the air, myself walking: it was all this force of becoming, but a becoming that had no direction, that was, that was there, present as it had always been present, and I had entered it. I was not to know that at that moment my life had changed. Everything that followed was an unfolding of this energy. I met many characters along the via regia: St. Elisabeth of Hungary, who served the poor in Eisenach…
… St. George and his dragon …
In the Byzantine Imagination, Words are Images.
(A glimpse into a poem I wrote after coming back from the via regia.)
…the Muse Clio and her entourage…
… a dryad …
… Barbarossa …
… a toppled old fool …
Paul von Hindenburg, Where the Russians Buried Him in 1945 Kyffhäuser
No one wants him back. Not even the Neo-Nazis who come in tour busses to this place.
… and many many others, including, of course, Khedr …
Some of these characters were living momentarily within statues. Many others, for which I have no photographs, were people, including Artemis, St. George’s Dragon and the Devil in his red sports car in the tangled alleys of Bautzen. I asked a poet I know from the East, if this was just my recognition, through family memory, of Eastern visual metaphors, or if it was the East itself. “It is,” she said, “the way it is for all people on earth except for those who live in the West. This is the human experience.” I asked, “Why is it different in the West?” She answered, “Because it’s too busy. There are too many distractions.” In other words, the structures of the self and the thought in the West block the riches of living at one with the world. There are sure lots of these distractions.
Buchenwald Memorial on “The Road of Blood” Above Weimar
Far too many distractions.
How’s a sleeping emperor supposed to think?
Distractions that turn stories of mercy into stories of individual human suffering.
Calderon’s “St. Elizabeth of Hungary”
After the arrival of humanism, the roses of her miracle are gone. What is left is disrespectful, physical, and cruel.
One painter who made the transition from East to West is Marc Chagall, who fled the Russian Revolution for Paris, adapted the non-linear narrative structures of ikons to French Art, et voilà!
An Old Testament Idyll
Adam and Eve
Christ Announcing Apocalypse
Those are my titles, but you get the drift. Objects appear in these paintings after the manner of the sacred figures in an ikon…
… arranged not by a conception of “nature” or “natural space” or “physical perspective”, but by an arrangement of “spiritual perspective.” This iconic world is relational, and the spatial relationships between objects in it, or people, or figures from folk tale, have life to the degree to which they approach a story that is already present and is everywhere, such as, I would like to point out, this moment (not this spot) in Yellowstone…
… and this one …. … and this one in Blackfoot Country to the North.
There are hundreds of millions of these moments in every space, or hundreds of millions of these spaces in every moment.
An old etching lives on.
Their story of total presence is a human story. What humans walk through when walking through presence like this is themselves, but that self is far more than human.
Christian Showing Me the Way through a Cherry Orchard in the Zurich Overland
It is bursting to life in every moment, from a well of energy, that consists mostly of rest and expectation. One has to be open to the energy that is given…
Cistern Spring, Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone
… and one must give thanks. In the Recklinghausen Ikon Museum, these mysteries are revealed in light. It was a way of celebrating the return of the town’s sons and fathers from imprisonment in Russia in 1956, a commemoration of the town’s daily rise from the darkness of the coal mines, and of its reconstruction from the ruins of 1945. In the Ikons’ natural environment, they live in darkness. Candle light catches their gold, they flicker with the life of light, and draw you to it.
In the Byzantine way, and the way that became the Northern Orient, the sufferings and punishment of St. Elizabeth (for giving her food to poor and denying her own body, which was slated for the king’s bed, while she was in widow’s grief after her husband was killed in Barbarossa’s senseless and bungled Crusade) takes on this form:
St. Elizabeth’s Chamber in the Wartburg
Sure, it’s a 19th century embellishment, but that’s the wrong way to look at it. It is a space of honour, in which energy can gather, be concentrated, and from which it can be carried away, and from which the energy never dissipates. It is not a mystery but it is mystery, like this:
Mare, Reykjanes, Ísland
That is a unified conception of word, image, thought, body, space, time, life, earth and transcendence. These are valuable forces. They are the forces of growth, renewal and becoming. They are not to be scoffed at. The via regia leads to the Byzantine expression of this energy, at the crossroads of East and West. Here are two images of this ancient European road, with differing views of what it created.
Via Regia near Marienstern Convent, Saxony
That is not land you’re looking at there. It is a way.
Via Regia, Downtown Naumburg, Saxon-Anhalt
That is not a city you are looking at there. It is a road.
It was a long journey for me to realize that as artful as the reconstructions of the Wartburg were in the 19th century, the gesture of coming home from the Crusades, of being home and opening all the world from there, was of more value than the physical story the Crusades told and tried to enact, and did more for people and the earth. One enters the space by paying attention. Until then, one walks on. At some point, every pilgrim must stop walking.
Sacred Celtic Forest Above the Rhine
The old language of the trees is still spoken here. Each footstep is taken through it. It goes on speaking once one has passed, just like a sufic poem or an Orthodox ikon, or a continual offer to stay with the life of the world.
A true pilgrim stays.
Rainer Maria Rilke, 1875-1926, Rauron Village Church, Valais
CELTIC, GREEK AND EARTH-BASED CREATIVITY
Back in the old days that are still alive with us now …
The Celtic Alps, over Lac Neuchâtel
… people came from the East with the treasure of life …
The Gundestrup Cauldron (Feast Dish)
This large silver celtic dish, found in a Danish bog, originated in Assyria. The celtic figures on it are Assyrian. This, silver and shining, is the moon.
… and transformation…
The Staghorned God, the Stag, and other Transformations (Gundestrup Cauldron)
The image of Buddha sitting under a tree to receive wisdom differs not one bit. Here also are Jonah and the Whale (also Merlin and the Salmon), the Tree and the Serpent, and a snake that is simultaneously male and female. These images take many forms in and of themselves. They have an ancient source.
… and this energy changed again and again. It appears in the correlation between testes and grapes in this Greek statue of Dionysus, the rising god …
…and in this vineyard church in Assmannshausen am Rhein, where the Celts grew grapes long before the romans, and then the Germans, came.
Assmannshausen, Looking North
The Rhine was a celtic serpent winding to the north long before it became a German one.
This ancient story …Hauterive, Lac Neuchâtel
… of new life springing from the dead land …
Vernon, Lake Okanagan
… blooming …
… ripening …
Pinot Noir (Black Pine), Meyer Vineyard, Okanagan Falls
… and waiting for the god to come …
Chopaka Gewürztraminir , 1995
Seven Stones Winery makes wine from these grapes now.
…who is God …
… Dionysos …
… and the Celtic grapes before them, which were themselves the god …
Wild Celtic Grapes and their Industrial Children
… lives on in all of us, while the snake, or the vine, winds on…
… and on …
The Rhine in the Sacred Celtic Woods of Its Middle Flow
… and on …
The Celtic Snake of the Siebenfelsen Sacrificial Site
Yach, Black Forest
This is the boundary between life …
Birth Channel, Siebenfelsen
… and death …
… and life again, that springs up out of the earth…
The earth has been shaped here into a hermaphroditic structure. Here at the base of the goddess’s torso that is the hill (her naval has a wild boar, in a copse of hazels), the phallus rises directly adjacent to the vagina. The snake curls around in behind, in the company of a horse. The age of this structure is unknown. It predates German colonization.
…and that is worshipped by human hands bringing its story forward into another year, and shaping that yearly round in its image, by working with these powers of the earth, and with none other.
Western Bluebird in a Celtic Sacred Apple Tree
Psychologically, it is the story of transformation of human selves in the presence of the god …
Daphne Flees Apollos Advances of Reason and Becomes a Laurel Tree (Apollo and Daphne, by Antoni del Pollaiolo)
Note the snake (river) that Apollo has just tamed below.
… into the living things of the world, which gives life:
Mary and Jesus, Marienthal
It is the work of every farmer who works by hand. The world becomes a farmer’s mind.
Bachus (the Roman Dionysus)
The god pulls his thoughts from the ground (he is, after all, inhabiting stone) and gives them to others (and himself) as nourishment, in many different ways.
In this conception, the self is the location of metamorphosis and transformation, the point where one force becomes another and in so doing is one with it. It can look like this …
The Kiss, Rodin
… or like this …
…or take other sophisticated forms, but in it, always, body and earth, life and death, living and dying are united in inseparable combination, always in physical and earthly form undergoing a continual process of transformation. This is the old knowledge of the people of the earth from India to Ireland, who are at home on it. It is never present, never a set physical force, but what comes, suddenly, and with a force that changes you into something you were just the hint of before.
When I found that troll, I knew I was home. Look at the skulls it has spat out. Look at the water. To drink, one must go to him. Look at his one blind eye. This is Oðinn, the god. This is how the earth and the mind can become one. One thinks by planting and nurturing. In this way of presence, creativity is an act of participating, of helping, of nurturing, of bringing to life. This is my life.
The View From Goethe’s Forest House
I was trained in these traditions of poetry, art and identity from birth, and likely long before that. This is what I know. This green technology, green landscaping and green psychology is not what you can find in books. We should go walking some day, I think. We have much to talk about.
Next, I’ll be integrating these discussions on creativity to cast a clear lens on the issues around creativity, identity and environment today, one footstep at a time. Thank you for being here.
CREATIVITY TECHNOLOGY ART
Perhaps an image of creativity would be useful. Here is a vineyard at Hauterive, Switzerland. That’s Lac Neuchâtel in behind. The 21st Century term creativity here does not refer to the creative potential of the lake, or the creative energy flowing through the grape vines. Neither does it apply to the artful skill of the man or woman who pruned the vines, or the future skill of the winemaker who will help their fruit on their way to wine. Those are pre-21st century skills, and are not what is called creativity today. In their place, creativity is a series of problem solving strategies that use technology to enforce codes of ownership, especially codes that eliminate communal energy or labour costs. These include: the spot-welded fence, a solution for quickly manufacturing a replacement for hand-woven willow hedges; the drip irrigation tubing, a solution for eliminating the need for community water systems and the adaptation of crops to landscape; close spacing of vines, a solution for concentrating minerals and sugars in grapes, on a per-acre basis, without costly inputs of stone walls to collect heat or the dispersal of animal manures; and upward training systems, to concentrate the fruit at one level, to allow for easy bird control, untrained labour, and rapid harvest. All of these are technological fixes for the replacement of human community, human artfulness (dignity in work and its use as extensions of human space), and human labour. Here are similar technologies applied in an orchard in Vernon, Canada:
The “problems” solved here are the exclusion of deer, who come for the growth these orchards replace, as well as the exclusion of people, to protect against aggressive insurance claims and to assert ownership; rapid productivity of the orchard, due to grafting onto ultra-dwarf rootstocks, enabling a rapid capital turnover and integration with marketing campaigns and the development of new apple varieties to build market without having to build quality or flavour within industrial packing and storage systems instead; the elimination of almost all labour costs; efficient saturation of chemical sprays; maximum light exposure. Again, they are all technological solutions, are all called creative, all manipulate relationships to the land by simplifying ecosystems (and creating technological dependencies, a kind of drug culture, as their foundations) and all eliminate common space, artfulness and labour. That is the observation for today: creativity is no longer art. Does it follow that art is no longer creative?
Is it not the recombination of previous technologies into narratives of assembly and disassembly? Are not these narratives called arrangements? Does that not say that the role of human actors in contemporary creativity is to arrange technologies into narratives? Fine for novelists, maybe, but what about poets? If they’re not creative, what on earth are they doing? This man wonders…
This is not a poet. This is a German historian and journalist on the Kaiserstuhl, who is trying to figure out what the poet behind the lens sees. So is the poet!
More on that tomorrow!
THE FIRST PRINCIPLE OF CREATION
Let me show you something beautiful. Call it bunchgrass if you like.
The form of these is a balance between all the forces acting upon them. Their spacing, for example, is a function of rain fall, slope pitch and root system extension. These are not so much at individual grass plants of great age but multiple instances of force and balance, all related to a central set of energy flow patterns. In effect, this is the world, deep in time and space, where time, space and identity are one. That that appears different from the ponderosa pine needles below, part of the same community …
… means only that together they make a more complete picture of the totality of presence in this place. Creation is a glimpse of unity, not of difference and not of a technique for generating difference so it can be removed. It is not in the head. It is not a game. Here, let me show you:
That’s a view looking Northwest into the Coldstream Valley from the north shore of the Commonage above Kalamalka Lake, if you like. It also shows a continuous grassland, in which one slope catches the sun and another catches the clouds. There’s a hidden dimension here. Here’s a clue:
The young ponderosa pine above, far more ancient than the grasses in the foreground, has hollow, grass-like needles. Look how it catches the wind that catches the lake. It is water, wind and grass in one. And just look up onto Turtle Point, right in the sun’s path:
The ponderosas and Douglas firs are vanishing into the sun, just as the lake is, and the trees are as broken up into waves as the waves themselves. It would be easy to say these are just illusions given by the inadequacy of cameras and the human eye, but that would be to miss the creativity in the scene: it is the biological bias of human perception and cognition that creates the narrative of connection that binds the scene together. That is the same balance that the form of the grass expresses, or the differences in sun capture in the interlinked slopes below.
That moment is the complex living organism called Earth. We (and I include deer, porcupines, bunchgrass, pines and other people in this) are not part of this organism. We are this organism. Any creativity that does not come from such unity comes from the stripping away of self-imposed barriers to reveal it. The unity was already there.
The earth — the unity — does the stripping away, through unity. These are bodily responses. Contemporary science, art and religion, which were created out of an old unity of thought and to express an identical individualizing impulse can not speak of this response. It is what we bring to art. In that space, there is no creativity, because it is everywhere. Tomorrow I will talk about the possibility of staying there.
The extended discussion will start Monday. Thank you.