Lichtenbergianism: Chapter One, part 2

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.


So what does the Lichtenbergian Society actually do? We meet around the fire pit in my back yard, we drink, we talk. We have our Annual Meeting on the weekend before or on the Winter Solstice. We go on Retreat in the fall to a cabin in the mountains. We share and discuss issues online, mostly in our secret Facebook group.

That’s it.

Then where does this book and its philosophy come from? A very odd thing happened after that first meeting in 2007: despite our claims of being committed to procrastination, every single active member of the Society became incredibly productive. We’ve produced books, plays, musical pieces, countless blog posts. Careers have blossomed; some have changed completely.

Our annual goals[1] have gotten stronger and stronger, and often we achieve them.


It was my honor to work with the Georgia Governor’s Honors Program (GHP) for nearly 30 summers, rising to the position of full-time director of the program, a position I thoroughly enjoyed for the summers of 2011-2013.[2] That last summer, two Lichtenbergians—Turff and Jeff A.—took a week’s vacation to come visit, Turff because he had attended a similar program in Tennessee, and Jeff because he had helped supervise part of the theatre majors’ audition process for a couple of years; both wanted to see the program in action.

Since we already had four other Lichtenbergians on campus (myself, Jobie, Michael, and Mike), I posted a Lichtenbergianism seminar on the afternoon activity board for students and whipped up a brief presentation on the history of the group and Georg Christoph Lichtenberg. The rest of the session was simply each of the Precepts in an elegant font on a white background, and the assembled Lichtenbergians talked about how they used that precept in their creative work and in their careers.

The room was, to my surprise, packed with kids, and the presentation went so well that I wish we had videotaped it, if for no other reason that writing this book would have been a lot easier. After it was over, the non-educator Lichtenbergians expressed amazement that “the kids were taking notes!” Of course they were, I said: #1, that’s who they are; #2, this is very important information and it’s the first time they’ve had it laid out for them. I myself began this process at GHP with my painting teacher Dianne Mize; this is the beginning of that process for these kids.

That’s when it occurred to me that our little circle might have something to offer the world. This book comes from that thought.

Lichtenbergianism is a philosophy we take mighty seriously. For a Lichtenbergian, nothing is more shameful than getting right to work and doing All The Things. It shows a lack of moral fiber, we think, not to be able to avoid one task or another at will. Only slackers like Pablo Picasso, Johann Sebastian Bach, or Anthony Trollope never take a day off.[3]

It sounds completely counterintuitive, but Lichtenbergianism is in some ways like the description of Alcoholics Anonymous in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest: a rickety structure that shouldn’t work, but it does.[4]

Lichtenbergianism is not a prescriptive set of rules or procedures that, if followed, will make you creative. It’s not a way to become rich and famous, nor to quit your day job. This is not an instruction book.

Instead, Lichtenbergianism is a set of attitudes, of framing, within which it becomes easier to produce… something… anything. These attitudes/precepts give permission for the creative person to blunder[5] their way through the creative process as a means of achieving personal understanding/satisfaction. And to write that novel. Eventually.

None of the Precepts are new. We are not reinventing the creative process here. Lichtenbergianism is making no claim of originality or exclusivity to any of its components. We are shamelessly STEALING FROM THE BEST.


[1] see RITUAL.

[2] GHP was a four-week (originally six-week) residential program for gifted and talented high school students in all fields. I attended the program as an art major in 1970 and, as we say in GHP-Land, it changed my life forever. The level of intellectual, artistic, and personal empowerment provided by the program can hardly be believed.

[3] Picasso created nearly 148,000 pieces of art over his 75-year career. Bach composed cantatas for three years’ worth of church services—that is, 209 surviving cantatas, and that’s ignoring the rest of his output. Trollope wrote for three hours a day, producing 47 big, thick, Dickensian novels; if he finished a novel before the three hours were up, he just pulled out a blank sheet of paper and started the next one. Do you really want to be like these guys?

[4] citation needed—still waiting on Daniel to get me those page numbers…

[5] see Appendix C: The Invocation

12 thoughts on “Lichtenbergianism: Chapter One, part 2

  1. My absence that propitious summer? Enterprises such as these–and, by infection, their participants–run the risk of becoming too full–of itself and of themselves. It is both my disposition and vocation to hold open the place for lack in such situations. I won’t go so far as to touch upon the role of lack in the “success” of Lichtenbergianism–its “lack of success,” we might say–but the place should at least be held open.

  2. Note my grammatical failures in the previous post. A place for lack, always. And clearly I’m not GHP material.

  3. No, I am being a little Lacanian. Lack in the Other as a motivator of desire. Possibly useful for creativity. I’ll think about how to elaborate.

  4. The analyst should engender a certain lack or hole with his or her presence and response. The patient will unconsciously rely on a certain fantasy to contend with the “lack.” The analyst tries to discern the contours of that fantasy and coax its elements into consciousness.

  5. A fantasy that engenders a sense of knowing completion and self-satisfaction can be a bit cloying and often undermines creativity, I like to think (my fantasy). I, therefore, want to believe lack leads to a renewal of creativity.

  6. My definition of creativity (see CHAPTER TWO) is to Make the Thing That Is Not, so you may have a nail on which to hit the head there.

  7. From today’s Writer’s Almanac:

    It’s the birthday of the man who said: “Deprivation often makes a writer.” That’s Ved Mehta (books by this author), born in Lahore, India (now Pakistan) in 1934.

  8. Sorry. Not my intention to monopolize your comments section. “Lack” was really just my playing fast and loose with a concept to make a LACKluster joke about why I wasn’t at the GHP seminar.

  9. Just read your responses. I had read your next entry and was actually going to reflect on the “tension” between the “is” and the “is not” as an aspect of “lack.” Synchronicity!

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