Lichtenbergianism: Chapter One, part 1

As I work my way through the text of my putative book on the creative process, you might like to read the rest of the text so far here.  Also, the rest of my meditations on the process here.


Chapter One: Introduction to Lichtenbergianism

If this is philosophy it is at any rate a philosophy that is not in its right mind.   GCL, L.23

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What is a Lichtenbergian and why does it have an ism?

This is not actually a book about procrastination, as useful a strategy as it is.[1] Rather, it is how a loose-knit group of creative men in a small town upped their game by forming a society the purpose of which was not to create anything.

This book will not make you creative—you are already creative, just as every human is creative.[2]

This book will not free the artistic genius within you. It will not get you a record deal, a Tony Award™, or a one-man show at MOMA.

This book will not give you “creative exercises” to sharpen your skills. There are plenty of other books that are better for that and more specifically attuned to your own area of creativity.

This book is not even necessarily for those who make a living through their creativity. But if you are a Citizen Artist who thinks he/she might like to try writing a novel, or painting a portrait, or designing a labyrinth, but who keeps putting it off for fear of failing—that we can help you with.[3]

In late November/early December 2007, I sent out an email to a collection of friends noting that the Winter Solstice fell on a Saturday and would anyone like to join me around the fire pit for an evening of drinking, conviviality, and earnest discussion on the nature of art? Since that date was the weekend before Christmas, I was amazed when all six men accepted my invitation.

Most of us knew each other through my time at the Newnan Community Theatre Company, where I had been the artistic director for 20+ years. Not everyone had been there at the same time, so there was an interesting web of relationships from the very start.

All of us were creative in ways other than theatre—composers, photographers, writers, musicians—and moreover were creative in our careers as well—educators for the most part, but also a reporter, a computer programmer, even a clown.

All of us were at a point in our lives, both personal and creative, where we wanted to sit around a fire and talk about the nature of art with someone like us. In the intervening weeks, discussion on my blog ebbed and flowed, until one day I posted a (very negative) review of the Bavarian State Opera’s production of Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland.[4]

Discussion in comments became vigorous as we defended/trashed the “old forms” like opera and and debated whether they were still viable. Good times.

After a particularly vibrant exchange, Turff intoned, “To do just the opposite is also a form of imitation,”[5] and credited the aphorism to one Georg Christoph Lichtenberg.

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

I headed over to Wikipedia to find out who this Lichtenberg chap was and discovered someone after our own hearts: an innovative thinker who puttered around in many fields; a physicist and an educator; an Anglophile, who on a trip to England once visited the widow of the great typographer Baskerville to explore buying the designer’s elegant typefaces.[6]

And then… there was this sentence:

Lichtenberg was prone to procrastination. He failed to launch the first ever hydrogen balloon, and although he always dreamed of writing a novel à la Fielding’s Tom Jones, he never finished more than a few pages. He died at the age of 56, after a short illness.[7]

“He never finished more than a few pages.” Here, surely, was our patron saint. I teasingly assigned everyone the task of writing the first chapter in a “Tom Jones-like novel,” and we were off. Within a week, The Lichtenbergian Society had a charter, officers, and an agenda for the inaugural meeting.

Our motto: Cras melior est. Tomorrow is better.

Tomorrow: the rest of the chapter

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[1] Instead, see The Art of Procrastination: A Guide to Effective Dawdling, Lollygagging and Postponing , by John Perry

[2] See Appendix B: The Arts Speech

[3] Of course, the professional who finds him or herself in the grip of “writer’s block” or frozen perfectionism will find a lot to like in this book too.

[4] We were in Munich visiting our son, who was there studying German.

[5] Lichtenberg is today most highly regarded in Europe for his vast collection of pithy aphorisms, scribbled down in his WASTE BOOKS.

[6] Simon Garfield. Just my type: a book about fonts. Gotham, 2012. p. 98-100.

[7] Georg Christoph Lichtenberg. (2015, June 29). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 19:35, November 10, 2015, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Georg_Christoph_Lichtenberg&oldid=669229256

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