Anthropologist: a man
smelling another man’s hands.
Poet: a man
smelling his own hands.
Philosopher: a man
smelling with his hands.
God: among us
smelling our hands?
It occurs to me that artistic endeavors may relate to autistic endeavors—perhaps very closely. Our leaps beyond linear logic—to what we usually call creative thinking—are anomalous and counter-evolutionary coping behaviors when they don’t relate directly to survival and procreation. We generally consider our ability to leap great mental distances to be evolutionary; but where and why we leap is often less so. By definition, creativity is an unbalancing activity. It gains validation through its defiance of social organization. At the same time, subtleties of social organization are dissected and illuminated through this defiance.
The defiant mindsets of creative people count as psychological outliers representing the extreme estrangement of intellect from instinct, and thus are difficult for us to qualify. Creatives aren’t really part of our societies, but they do know our societies. They are rocks jutting from fast rivers: they may exist outside of mainstream society, but society’s feet must leap from one rock to another to cross the river safely. A cynic would snark that our species began to devolve the day we first imagined living on the other side of the river. Nonetheless, it’s there. So are the rocks—our rocks. Also, there is the history of genetics that designed our eyes—eyes which watch those rocks.
The really good rocks are marked and adored according to public consensus. When we can’t account for our responses to the beautiful chaos of cracks and textures in these rocks, we call them genius and declare them God-given. When our astonishment at a rock’s qualities rises above a certain level, we worship it as a prophet or god. If we have a negative response, and others don’t convince us that a rock has value, we say it is damned. Thus, the distinction between a genius and a savant is thin and flexible.
When we can’t reach a consensus on which rocks form a good path, as well as what each rock means to us, we hire experts, such as culture critics, philosophers, and scientists. The most relevant science for this task is anthropology. But anthropologists, like culture critics (especially art critics), have a weakness: they might accurately describe the wet footprints on the rocks, but not the rocks themselves. So, in as much as rocks seldom talk to feet, creatives seldom make sense to normal, linear minds. It may even be true that creatives seldom make sense to each other, though they would instinctively disagree. They would also disagree that creativity is an apologia for evolution—a rock is a rock and is divorced from any prima facie claims.
There are a few great minds that seem to have succeeded in penetrating these rocks beyond their footprints. We celebrate them as bodhisattvas returning from deep journeys into the unknown. They offer substance beyond what otherwise seems a thin, impenetrable shell. Their selfless sojourns bring hope of purpose to our linear lives. But a revisionist glimpse at these great minds might reveal we misunderstand where their journeys actually began. Consider en Hedu’Anna*, Themistoclea, Socrates, Plato, Archimedes, Homer, Sappho, Hypatia, Laozi, Confucius, Siddhartha Gautama, Jesus, Mohamed, Galileo, Michelangelo, Li-Po, Cervantes, Kant, Einstein, Simone de Beauvoir, and Stephen Hawking: all great diggers of truth—all rock hounds. Never the less, considering the tilted biographies of these great minds, we have to wonder in the end if they all are rocks, and not hounds.
When we send a thief to catch a thief, we understand the risk of our investment and can calculate its return (if he returns). But if we’ve been mistakenly sending creatives to catch creatives, they’ll force us to call good whatever puzzling paellas of realities they bring back. Also, if our own spies are double agents, should we guess that creatives send spies to figure out who we really are? Well, of course they do—of course we do.
*Of the uncommon names in this list, I will tell you nothing except that they belong here. Look them up.
My thanks to Jo Ann Teter for activating this sleeper cell by asking a question I couldn’t answer on Facebook.
June 14, 2012