~ There is only one journey: going inside yourself. ~
- Rainer Maria Rilke


Mediating Chaos: The tension underlying creativity ~ Saturday, January 10, 2009

The notion of chaos has really be intriguing me lately—perhaps in part because I have felt so blocked, creatively, of late. I have felt stagnant and held still. And suddenly, the motif of chaos has been rearing its head in all sorts of different contexts.

There are two sides to the chaotic: the positive, creative and procreative aspect and the negative, destructive, violent and dark aspect. I’m mostly going to be talking about the positive side of it in this post.

See, the thought that recently came to me was that creativity is like a conduit into the chaotic. It breaks us out of the stagnation of routine and the everyday (order). It keeps us fresh and alive. Of course, if that conduit gets too wide, then the chaotic does turn destructive. Those too caught up in the wilderness, the lack of structure, the anarchy of the chaotic can all too easily lose themselves to it. That’s how I can see many artists, musicians, writers and innovators moving into madness, substance abuse and so on. Their creative conduit into the chaotic was so wide that they lost themselves to the potency of the anarchy. Some were frightened by it, some wanted to lose themselves to it, some simply couldn’t reconcile the power of the chaotic coursing through them with the everyday, the structure of life in mainstream society.

As a slight digression, I think children are directly tapped into that chaotic element. They don’t see the need for order and structure (though they are comforted by it, and consistency in routine helps lull and soothe them) because they are so recently emerged from the chaotically unformed. The process of socialization is a process of providing kids with the tools they need, on the one hand to navigate the structures of society, but also to see the patterns and structures in life itself. Just as children’s visual cognition creates chairs and tables and toys out of lines and colour and shadow, and their ears begin to hear words and pitch and tone where before it was just sound (a process of ordering the chaos), at the social level, they are also learning to make patterns and predictable rules out of the chaos around them. This sort of pattern recognition and grasp of how things work allows them to learn and discern when it’s safe to cross the road, for instance.

So, it occurs to me that life is all about holding that balance between order (safe but boring) and chaos. Most of our great—and many of our not-so-great—stories are about the predictability of order and the everyday being disrupted by one or several unpredictable/chaotic elements. A young man, crossing a field, finds a severed human ear in a park; a young girl raised in Africa must brave the challenges of an American high school; a man enters prison in order to rescue his brother from death row. They’re all part of the archetypal journey—the call to adventure, answered, and the crossing of the first threshold, into the other world. In each case the person’s life is changed. Nothing is the same again, as the everyday devolves into something altogether different.

That’s the chaotic--or at least a fragment of it, thrown into the everyday. Suddenly, those predictable rules don't apply, or no longer apply in a consistent way. New rules must be learned if the hero wants to survive and be successful in his or her quest.

For many of the rest of us, the chaotic is a little less wild. We greet it via our different creative outlets and hobbies—gardening, quilting, painting, woodwork and so on. Or, we encounter it through children and the energy, movement and antidote to stagnation and the everyday that they embody.

If the chaos gets overwhelming, we begin to feel things slipping out of our grasps and our control over our everyday structures start to waver in ways we often find unpleasant and destabilizing. The destructive side of chaos, in the case of wars and social anarchy, is one of the extreme manifestations of this. Suddenly, all the rules we previously understood are gone, and we have to find new ones, and quickly, if we want to survive.

On the other hand, if we don’t have enough creative/positive chaos in our lives—enough outlets—then we can sometimes turn to other facets of the destructive side of the chaotic. Drug and alcohol abuse as well as other forms of destructive behaviour often emerge in such cases—it’s a refuge from the mundane. Sometimes it begins as something apparently benign or fun—a few social drinks to loosen up (and don’t get me wrong—in many cases, it stays that way). But as with that artistic conduit, chaos can be a dangerous thing, and the conduit can begin to widen without volition. Before you know it, it’s flooding in and turning everything upside down—reaching out beyond the safe boundaries you thought you’d established and wreaking widespread havoc in your life.

A’course, I don’t want havoc. I just want a teensy, tiny little conduit into the chaotic—a slim little cable that can supply me with a decorous feed of creative chaos that I can shape into something that entertains me while I work on it. Barring that, a Muse of Fire that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention would not go too far amiss either. I’m taking applications. Please include resume and a cover letter describing relevant experience.

::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 9:56 AM::::


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Anduril Elessar
Susan Deefholts

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