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3 The Emergence of Creativity

What makes an assemblage creative? The answer is simple, and can be sought in the reciprocal way in which body and milieu determine each other. As we have seen, milieus organise themselves around a rhythm. This rhythm is not identity (it is not meter or cadence) but difference: each body differentiates itself, not only from other bodies but also from itself, through rhythm: “a milieu does in fact exist by virtue of a periodic repetition, but one whose only effect is to produce a difference by which the milieu passes into another milieu” (Deleuze & Guattari, 1988, p. 314). Through repetition of difference, a body pushes itself further, jumps milieu as it were. This is territory as process, namely an act that pushes a body always further, riding what Deleuze and Guattari have called lines of flight, namely lines that a body follows or carves anew that push the limits of the body's creativity always further. The creative energy of rhythm consists in the fact that it opens up spaces in-between milieus, between its beats, that allow one to move further, to another rhythmic configuration, another innovative formation. What is more, this pushing of the limits is visible to other milieus. It is all about creating and maintaining a distance with other milieus, while at the same time acknowledging an affinity with them: “the territory is first of all the critical distance between two beings of the same species: Mark your distance. What is mine is first of all my distance; I possess only distances” (Deleuze & Guattari, 1988, p. 319).

Although the above hardly needs spatial translation, it might be worth putting it more explicitly: the main condition for the emergence of creativity is the creation of difference through a repetitive rhythm that takes place in the space between propinquity with other milieus and distance from them. This is the reason for which similar knowledge-creating enterprises tend to congregate in specific urban areas, assembling themselves in clusters of affinity, yet attempting to differentiate themselves through their own rhythm: it is all about setting up adequate conditions for the emergence of creativity through innovative lines of flight. Each enterprise slices a piece of the spatial and temporal block of the collective milieu of similar enterprises in order to assemble around it the knowledge it needs in order to jump milieu and go beyond itself. As Brighenti writes, “the very production and accumulation of knowledge is a territorial move” (2010, p. 57). To simplify, knowledge requires territorialisation of a milieu, and creativity subsequently requires deterritorialisation of the same milieu and then reterritorialisation of the space between this and the next milieu. Knowledge does not necessarily lead to creativity, unless its very own gaps are covered by artful reterritorialisation, a different, new process of becoming, of changing oneself by passing into other forms of identity, even unsuspected ones: “one does not think without becoming something else, something that does not think—an animal, a molecule, a particle—and that comes back to thought and revives it” (Deleuze & Guattari, 1994, p. 42). But in order for territorialisation to be successful, there is a need for at least part of last night's territorialised space to be retained—hence, deterritorialisation is never a mindless erasure of the past but merely a reassembling of existing knowledge in order to configure it in new reterritorialising combinations.

We will follow Deleuze and Guattari and call each knowledge-creating enterprise's creative move, its refrain. A refrain is an expression of rhythmic difference that marks a territory against other territories. The discussion in Deleuze and Guattari spans various types of refrains, from bird songs to Wagnerian leitmotifs, all of which have the same function: to mark territory, and at the same time to make this marking obvious to other refrain-singing rhizomatic bodies. Through a refrain, a territory acquires perhaps the most important of its characteristic: it becomes expressive, it assumes qualities that differentiate it from others. A refrain endows an assemblage with spatial range and temporal consistency: “professional refrains intersect in the milieu, like merchants' cries, but each marks a territory within which the same activity cannot be performed, nor the same cry ring out. In animals as in human beings, there are rules of critical distance for competition: my stretch of sidewalk. In short, a territorialization of functions is the condition for their emergence as “occupations” or “trades” (Deleuze & Guattari, 1988, p. 321). The most remarkable feature of a refrain is that it allows an assemblage to carry on altering itself, to remain rhizomatic by finding new spaces in-between and bringing forth new opportunities for jumping milieus; yet, at the same time, the refrain allows the assemblage to ground itself by literally bringing it down to earth: “the role of the refrain has often been emphasized: it is territorial, a territorial assemblage.. .it always carries earth with it; it has a land (sometimes a spiritual land) as its concomitant” (Deleuze & Guattari, 1988, p. 312). This posits some interesting questions in relation to globalisation and the supposed despatialised nature of the current economy, which typically omits to take into consideration the relevance of its spatial context. The globalised fantasy of an u€ber ontology that manages to float, cloud-like, above spatiality and temporality, is routinely belied by the material presence of huge data storage facilities, call centres across the globe, or site-specific financial functions, to mention only a few examples,[1] and reveals the confusion between the dream of eliminating spatiality

(which is impossible) and the reality of displacing it to other, economically more advantageous geographies.

Another characteristic of the refrain is its openness to the new, the environmental and the potentially risky. The refrain is the effect of a rhythmic transcoding, namely the openness of the assemblage to fragments of difference that become automatically part of the assemblage. This is neither mere adding-on to the existing language of the assemblage, nor however an ingestion of difference. Rather, through transcoding, creativity emerges as innovative reterritorialisation: “whenever there is transcoding, we can be sure that there is not a simple addition, but the constitution of a new plane, as of a surplus value. A melodic or rhythmic plane, surplus value of passage or bridging” (Deleuze & Guattari, 1988, p. 314). Transcoding carries on with territory-as-process while reminding the assemblage that its boundaries must remain both open and closed; both marked and ready to be permeated by new fragments of difference that come from different milieus and might have the potential of unsettling the existing assemblage. Yet it is within that risk that the creative potential also nests. This is particularly relevant to issues of creative identity, which are often tied down to obsolete similarities (with one's own past, with one's own collectivity and so on) and impede experimentation with other bodies for fear of being affected too much and thus losing one's 'identity'. But identity very quickly becomes mere shackles, if the practice of transcoding, namely openness to difference through heterogeneous assimilation, is not adopted.

This openness, however, does not mean that the assemblage is encouraged to return to chaos. Only flirting with chaos is allowed! And no doubt, flirting there must be. Flirting with chaos as the constant need for creativity that can come only through a mad becoming, an unthinking, a dizzy glance into the abyss. For “what would thinking be if it did not constantly confront chaos?” (Deleuze & Guattari, 1994, p. 208). Yet, as already mentioned, this creative thinking must be inserted in a plane of consistency, which retains its heterogeneity while displaying an openness to its altered states. Remarkably, to the question 'what holds things together?', one should refrain from answering in the traditional way of origin, hierarchy, centre, boundaries. Deleuze and Guattari (1988, p. 327) argue that it might well be “the most deterritorialized component, the deterritorializing vector, in other words, the refrain, that assures the consistency of the territory.” The one that moves above the ground while grounding the assemblage is the one with the capacity to make the whole assemblage stick to its internal consistency. The refrain is not a strict boss or a rigid structure, but a medium of opening while repeatedly keeping to the rhythm of the assemblage's identity. This is the reason for which Deleuze and Guattari (1988, p. 336) call the refrain a transversal: “what holds all the components together are transversals, and the transversal itself is only a component that has taken upon itself the specialized vector of deterritorialization. In effect, what holds an assemblage together is not the play of framing forms or linear causalities but, actually or potentially, its most deterritorialized component, a cutting edge of deterritorialization.”

The above discussion can be consolidated in three important findings: first, it is by now obvious that a refrain is a component of an assemblage, a collectivity, a pack of wolves scouring a territory. This means, quite simply, that knowledgecreating enterprises can never exist in spatial isolation but always in a collectivity. In these conditions, creativity might emerge. Still, creativity has to do with the ones who position themselves at the edge, humming an ever-altering refrain while pushing the boundaries of the assemblage on ever-new lines of flight. Second, there is no beginning or linear organisation in the creative assemblage. Rather it is a matter of “densifications, intensifications, reinforcements, injections, showerings” (Deleuze & Guattari, 1988, p. 328), namely differentiated viscosities of organisation that cluster around particular strengths while distributing strengths, gaps, intervals, inequalities. This is the meaning of beginning in the middle, namely taking into account one's milieu and progressing from it, in speed and pause, in trial and error, working inside whole reaching outside. Finally, the very act of consistency is creative, since it rides on the various rhythms rehearsed within, in the operation of transcoding without homogenising: “a superposition of disparate rhythms, an articulation from within of an interrhythmicity, with no imposition of meter or cadence. Consolidation is not content to come after; it is creative. The fact is that the beginning always begins in-between, intermezzo.. .What makes a material increasingly rich is the same as what holds heterogeneities together without their ceasing to be heterogeneous” (Deleuze & Guattari, 1988, p. 329). The above elements, namely collectivity, absence of origin or linearity, and creative heterogeneity, will be of assistance in the following section, where the concept of atmosphere will be suggested as a way of thinking about organised milieus of creativity.

  • [1] See my work on globalisation in Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos (2007)
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