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5.2 Ambivalence in “Creativity”

I had left open the question of whether a repetition of the Neo-Platonist plan of the Renaissance, according to which each individual is a microcosm, is possible.

What appears to be dominant today can first conceal and then reveal new

possibilities and consequences. The fact that a significant sector of the economy shows the need to identify with a word like “creativity” is a sign of a major change that is taking place. “Creativity” is a “symptom” of the spirit of our times, of its “tuning in” with life—but a symptom is not a diagnosis. Even if the dominant trend often seems to be unambiguous (e.g. according to the analysis made by Th. W. Adorno or M. Foucault), its dominance may hide some ambivalence, due to the conflicts between media like money, the Web, information, weapons, and other 'old' media, like personal bodies, or proximate spaces.

In this respect, the Internet constitutes an interesting field of ambivalence: on the one hand, it is used in social networking in a narcissistic way, as people try to substitute the universally legitimating stage of the press and TV with a new stage for a personal show. On the other hand, the Internet suggests a sober scepticism with regard to the supposed need for a universal stage and its alleged rules. Indeed, the effectiveness of the media depends on the beliefs that keep them in use. The effectiveness of mainstream “information” presupposes a belief in the idea of the need and possibility for a universal point of view one can identify with, in the shared spectacle of “public opinion”. This belief has its ancient genealogy in faith in the existence of absolute divine judgement and its implementation by the lateantique and medieval Catholic (¼ universal) church, or Protestant communities, or the Orthodox church, as the historical embodiments of the Holy Spirit.[1] This implementation was influenced by ancient, medieval and early modern ways of life, with their related media. The disappearance of older ways of life undermines this current belief in the need for a universal point of view, and faith in the existence of “universal” objective information. This belief is currently sustained by the cooperation between communication, money, knowledge economy and an ideological use of creativity in order to persuade everyone to be an active and equitably positioned player on the world “stage”.

This situation is, however, mobile and changeable. The economic order is socially unstable. It presupposes a belief in the division of labour and the existence of professions. But the divisions between trades rests on disappearing economic means and forms. The “profession” is an economic form inherited from a “profession of faith”, as Max Weber has shown. These landmarks are vanishing, and along with them the old confidence in the economic order is wavering. We can see this decline also in the onset of a lasting, increasing unruliness in every space considered to be peripheral—from the suburbs of big cities to all the peripheries of financial and military capitalism. “Near” and “far” become less and less obvious notions. The European Middle Ages established a new privileged status for the city vis-a`-vis the country; modernity did the same with the centre vis-a`-vis the periphery. Modernity coincided with the exploration of the globe and the discovery of other lands and civilizations. Adventurousness is a typically modern cultural trait. Distance was more important than proximity. The three privileges (the city vis-a`-vis the country, the centre vis-a`-vis the periphery, far vis-a`-vis near), combined, gave rise to the modern hierarchy between “capital” and “province”. Now the Internet, combined with low-cost flights, is changing these values by bringing about a new mixing of near and far. Soon the “near” is going to be no less relevant than the “far”. The old medium of space requires us to rethink the concepts of “near” and “far” by means of “proximity”, that is the acknowledgement of the intrinsically ethical nature of each space and place.

The “proximity” in a milieu is not only metrical (even if metric distance is very influential): creative proximity is the meeting point where things evolve, where they can change in a close, even intimate field of thoughts, images, and desires: where everyone says “I think, I feel, I wish, I do”. Metric proximity without an open willingness to meet otherness engenders no nearness. In this regard, there is a difference between creative practices triggered by messages obeying external rules, directed by the logic of profit or media legitimacy (and hence building up hierarchies and distance), and practices driven by a yearning for liberation, freedom, and the love of life itself. These are praxis, according to Aristotle's meaning of the term.

The initial example of music in a room can now be taken up as a simple model to understand different ways of achieving human relationships with and within space. A place is not neutral, for it is always emotionally and ethically defined: one finds oneself accepted or rejected. Affection is not only a human or an animal quality: it is immanent in every environment and landscape.[2] In the classic concert there a strict division of roles between composer, performer and listener, and space produces exclusions. Instead, in the example of free collective improvisation, space is inclusive. Here too there are roles, but they may be exchanged, due to the importance assigned to listening and the forgoing of the idea that high-quality music only comes in the form of written, complete works. What is important here is the process of mutual exchange and increase of energy. This simple musical example shows significant similarities with creative milieus. As in the case of musical interplay, in which there is no sharp separation between invention and execution, and in which roles can be played with flexibility within the group, the most significant practices in a milieu are those which come together in the moment of invention.

I can now add a further reason why I chose a musical example. Music, the sound that one hears, is a good indicator of what a society is. All traditional civilizations, such as the Greek—as Plato testifies in his own way in the Republic and Laws[3]—or the European Middle Ages and the different Ottoman, Indian, Africans cultures, among many others, have rightly assigned ethical significance to music. The Western, globalized sound that is heard today is mostly at a loud volume. It is often listened to in a solitary way, with headphones, and in association with various other activities: driving a car, travelling by bus or subway, running, or swimming; it is experienced as the soundtrack to shopping in stores or supermarkets; or it is listened to in the search for a trance state, in disco clubs or rave parties. It seems as if people were trying to find some kind of continuity in sound that could lend identity to their own individual existences and relations with others, while these are constantly being challenged by the speed of information exchange rates and the economic conditions (See Goldoni, 2011). This sound is a tuning in, a Stimmung,[4] with the main messages of society. However, in these messages there are ambivalences. Therefore, working on sound, listening through music, is a step toward a more general awareness. The real life space becomes the place for an actual testing of possibilities and insights to be put into practice in everyday life: for policies of friendships (See Goldoni, 2012b). And this is the case with every true art.

Culture and art—partially already within a historical context that differs from that analysed by Bourdieu—no longer ensure any career or a social promotion, except for a very narrow élite. They are produced by a multitude of persons almost for free or, rather, as a means of gaining awareness of the nature of existence in a particular context. The destruction of the division of labor, of labor itself, is reducing life to a sort of pure existence, without real rights. The issue of what constitutes a “right” is now increasingly subject to negotiation. This implies a rediscovery and reinvention of the relationship of proximity, through an ethical reinterpretation of existence.

Ethics both depends and does not depend on media. Media are necessary means of expression of life itself. In this sense, ethics requires media. Ethics without media does not exist. Media create habits, addictions. Ethics constantly works for freedom from these addictions. An ethical turn towards space—with a free sense of gratitude towards life—is necessary, to create an open space where various media do not build up rigid hierarchies and obsessive attitudes, but can interact freely. The “centre” is here, now, in the awareness of space and relations. This is a possible, contemporary, repetition of the ancient meaning of oikonomia: to take care—and hence find the law, the nomos—of the 'house': the space and place we live in.

  • [1] Agamben (2011) shows this theological genealogy of economy and government.
  • [2] On this ethical connotation of the notion of landscape, see also chapter “A Hermeneutic Approach to the Knowledge Economy” by Cusinato.
  • [3] Plato, Plato, Republic 395 c–403 c; Laws 653 b–660 d
  • [4] G. B€ohme's theory of “atmospheres” is indebted to the theory of Stimmungen and tones developed by J. B€ohme (2013, p. 163), which later also inspired H€olderlin's theory of Stimmungen and To€nen as the “spirit of a sphere”: a natural-human context (Goldoni, 2013a)
 
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