A Conversation to Provoke Thinking on the Nature of Creativity Through the Art of Dialogue

I don’t know, Saturday morning and having to clap, that’s terrible. But it’s nowhere near as bad as this stuff about creativity. Really drives me crazy. I don’t have any problem describing it. I don’t have a problem defining it. I don’t have any problem explaining it. There lots of great metaphors for talking about it. But to get at the source of it is very very very difficult. So what we’re really up to in this series of seminars is to find a conversation, a dialogue, a discussion that can unconceal the source of creativity.

Now it’s interesting because sometimes when I speak I listen to myself and it sounds wrongheaded and what sounded wrongheaded to me about what I just said is, I think I said something about “discover the source of creativity,” that’s wrong because it sounds like something out there that we’re going to put our hands on, something like an object that we’ve got our hands around. I think the better way to say it is that we want to engage in a dialogue, we want to have a conversation that unconceals creativity at its source, and understand that what we mean by unconceals is something close to leaving us in the presence of creativity as a source. Leaves us (this is a little better) being there with creativity like an opening, like the freedom to be and an opening for action.

It’s interesting I was in a conversation yesterday; I can’t remember with whom now but anyway I was in a conversation in which I got stopped by the word dialogue. Oh I know exactly what it was. We were talking about computers. I was asking a man who knows something about it what was coming along in computers that was going to change the way in which human beings relate and use and are shaped by the existence of computers and he talked about the various things, all of which I can’t remember now, but I asked him about what would happen when people could talk to computers orally. I think we have a mistaken notion that when we sit at a keyboard and type something into a computer that that’s like talking to a computer, but I’d like you to think about the act of writing, whether it be with a pencil or with the keyboard, and speculate with me that what it means to write, what it means to put something down on paper or on an electronic screen is something akin to languaging like messages.

Boy I’m way over my head here. At any rate I was just speculating that when I’m writing I’m in a critical way not in a dialogue – as contrasted to when I am in language orally I’m not necessarily in the dialogue but I might be. So I want to sort this out with you. If you couldn’t tell, I’m sorting it out for myself as I’m sorting it out with you, underlining the fact that what you and I have created together that’s been of value we have in fact created together, as a matter fact we could say that it arose in the conversation which we are together. But I’d like you to think with me for a while and struggle with this a little bit and I want to struggle with it for two reasons. Number one I want to struggle with it because there’s a distinction here that I think can be useful in getting into this business of creativity and because we’re doing what were talking about. I’m attempting to be creative. I’m glad I didn’t notice that when I first began to do it because I’m sure I would have stopped me.

But now as I reflect on it I see that I am attempting, and I’m asking you to attempt with me, a creative act here, to generate something new, to create a new opening for ourselves. So I’m asking you to think that while we don’t notice it and while we lack the power of the distinction, maybe there’s something fundamentally different between writing and speaking, between the written word and the oral word. And maybe it has something to do with the notion that I am going to call messages. That when I am writing, while I might be writing, and inevitably am writing for someone, I could say to myself or think to myself or be that way which says this is a conversation, it’s a particular kind of conversation; it’s a conversation of messages. I expect to put my thoughts down and get them to you and if it’s a letter I’ll probably expect to get your thoughts back in response to my thoughts and maybe I’ll return another letter and we’ll have an exchange of messages. If it’s a book I may not even think about getting something back from you I’m simply giving you my thoughts. But when there’s a conversation, which I now want to distinguish as a dialogue, you have a different opening for the conversation. Instead of something serial, like whatever change you can produce, whatever something new you can create in a one after the other after the other series of messages, when you’re speaking orally in what I now want to call a certain kind of speaking orally (I’m going to call it a dialogue) the speaking is actually shaped by the listening and so it’s not like the series of messages out of which you get whatever you can produce by virtue of where you arrived at the end of the series of messages. But what you’re generating is shaping what you’re generating in the moment.

I was just thinking, because I kind of got forced into thinking about it talking to this person who knew something about computers, that when people can speak to computers computers may show up as a new kind of opening for them. I mean we think of it as a matter of convenience maybe at least people who don’t know much about computers like me think about being able to speak to the computer as a matter of convenience. I don’t have to push the keys on the keyboard. It’s faster. It’s more natural maybe. So it’s kind of easier and more convenient but maybe there’s something deeper there. Maybe when I can speak to the computer orally something new is going to happen. That’s I came to in this. But that’s the part I don’t know anything about. So I want to get away from that very quickly and leave that to the people who do know something about it to think about it. I assume that most of you are like me that you know enough about computers; hopefully you’ve gotten to the place that you know that you don’t know, so I think we can leave that arena. But I want us to take a look at whether being creative isn’t something more like a dialogue and we’re going to distinguish what we mean by dialogue more powerfully than I have so far because I’ve only intimated what I’m speaking about. Maybe being creative is something closer to a dialogue than it is to a series of messages which build on each other. I want to ask you to conjure up for yourself the idea of getting some place by moving down the path that’s sequentially closer and closer to the target. Sequentially clearer and clearer, sequentially more and more powerful, until you take that step across the gap and something new occurs in the final message so to speak, which final message interestingly becomes the beginning of a new series of thoughts and messages maybe. I want to contrast that with the new distinction. I’m having this conversation so that we get left with the distinction. I’m not trying to pass on information. I’m really asking you to engage with me and distinguish a domain of conversation or maybe in this case better said a way of being in which one is open that something non serial is happening.

It’s very hard I think for human beings to conceive of something which isn’t serial. Things seem to happen one after the other and whatever way we’re conscious, that consciousness which we are seems to organize things into a one after the other mode, and so we kind of take the world as a one after the other world. We are going to speak to a man who knows more about and has thought a great deal about this and has thought profoundly about the movement of time.

We think, most of us in this culture, of time as a kind of story, which unfolds one event after the other. I’m asking us to speculate, to stretch our minds a bit, maybe even to boggle our minds a bit with grappling with the idea of something working on itself so that in the act of speaking in a dialogue the speaking is altered because the context for what’s being said is altered as you’re saying it, that there’s something about in a dialogue the more clear distinction between listening and speaking. You know when I look at you when I speak to you my speaking is shaped by what you’re saying to me with your face and what you’re saying to me with the way you sit and even if I can’t see you directly you’re there.

I don’t want to say you’re there in my imagination because it’s not like I’ve got a picture of you. I’d like you to get this. I’m not saying that you’re there my imagination, by which I would mean I have a picture of you to whom I’m speaking. Rather I want to say you’re there in the conversation, that you arise in my speaking and that my speaking is shaped by your listening. Because you’re speaking becomes a context for my listening. So it’s not I’ve got something in here which I want to get out of here so that you can put it in there and deal with it and then get back whatever you now got in there having been changed slightly maybe by what I’ve said and then I’ll listen to your package, to your message, to your unit of conversation which I think we think of as message. I’m trying to get us to break through that notion as being only one of the possibilities of a way we can see conversation, to another kind of conversation which I’m calling dialogue and which I haven’t thought about very powerfully and which I’m asking you engage with me in thinking about as being a better distinction, a better clearing, for what concerns us in this series, namely creativity. So you can see I’ve gotten very far with it because I probably left you at worst confused, hopefully a little bit beyond that, but at worst confused, but maybe thinking that’s really the point here is to do some thinking together. One of the nice things about creativity is that it’s one of those things, unlike most things, that’s worthy of thought. I mean if you’re concerned about how thin you are or how much money you’ve got you may not be standing before something that’s worthy of thought, but when you are standing in front of a concern for creativity, as Heidegger says, you’re standing before that which is both worthy of thought and which gives you the possibility of thinking. So this is a subject about which we want to think and you know we’ve had this discussion before to contrast the thoughts we have with what it is we’re attempting to distinguish with the word thinking. We don’t mean thoughts we had. We mean something generative rather than a replaying of the thoughts we’ve already got for ourselves. So I’m asking you to think with me about the nature of the process of creativity as being something distinct from our normal notions of conversation which is units of messages and create this new realm in which to think about this subject called dialogue, by which we mean to distinguish something a bit more narrow than the ordinary use the word dialogue, but nevertheless something like what we mean in the ordinary use the word dialogue. Okay, now back to where I started because that was an aside. Like a dialogue. That’s what happens in dialogues. You know there are asides that get mixed in and they somehow, oftentimes they don’t forward the action. But every once in a while one of those asides actually creates something like a new opening in the conversation. That’s not bad that just came out of my mouth. Its funny I really love this thing about talking because we really do have the notion that somebody’s got something in there that they say that there’s this tape in there and talking is when you transcribed the tape with your mouth and it’s just so false for most of what we got to say. Because really what I’ve got to say shows up in the saying. It’s not there in my mind and then I say it. It really shows up in the act if speaking. Now I forgot what I said I liked it.

At any rate to get back to where I was starting. This is a subject we’ve been over before and I want you to bear with me because I think it’s critically important that we not merely understand this thing that I was talking about in the beginning, but that we actually dwell in the distinction which it is. It’s a place I’d like us to be able to come from rather than a piece of information we try to use and what I was talking about in the beginning and what I want to distinguish now is that there’s a certain way of thinking or if you like of knowledge, or information, a certain way of conversation which is very powerful for describing something. It’s very powerful for giving you a picture of something. For example we use metaphors which are powerful conveyors of ideas and yet on the court, that it is to say that in the moment of action, in the moment of being, there’s no metaphor present. There’s no description present. There’s no definition present. But there is something there which gives us this opening for action and this freedom to be in those moments of presence. So I’m wanting us, in the course of this series, to continue to come from and to dwell in, and as I used the term before, to come from that what we’re after here is not a better description of creativity, not a better definition of creativity, not even a better understanding of creativity, not a better metaphor or group of metaphors, not a better enumeration of the characteristics and qualities people have when they’re creative, not a better description of the creative act. But rather we want to keep coming from is there something we can say to each other. Is there a conversation in which we can begin to dwell? Is there a speaking and listening that we can be such that we’re left with creativity like an opening for creative action and like the freedom to be creative?

I said in the program that I did this past weekend that it was a lot easier to play tennis if you were a great tennis player. It’s a lot easier to win tennis games if you’re a great tennis player and people wonder why I’m saying it because seem so obvious and therefore trivial. But what I’m really getting at is that there may be a being of performance. I mean we use it and we mean it trivially when we say that a person is a great tennis player. We mean it somehow descriptively. But if we look a little bit beyond our intention with the phrase and consider the notion that there just might be this phenomenon of being something underneath a mere description of a person as being a great whatever to an actual opening for being that’s there. And while our ordinary way of speaking about it gives us no access to this being let’s say being great maybe we can in this series invent a way of speaking. Maybe we can invent a dialogue and a conversation that actually leaves us with this freedom to be, the opening for being creative.

I think nothing makes being creative more probable than being creative so that’s what the series is about. It’s a question we’re going to live in over the course of this series. Can you and I be in a conversation and invite people to be in a conversation with us such that we’re not left with merely a better description, merely a better definition of creativity? Not merely understanding it more clearly. Not even with a set of rules or prescriptions or a better set of rules or prescriptions for being creative.