Lichtenbergianism: Chapter Two, 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 Two: Framework

The most perfect ape cannot draw an ape; only man can do that; but, likewise, only man regards the ability to do this as a sign of superiority.  GCL, J.115


Before we begin looking at the Nine Precepts, I want to lay out some basic ideas about creativity that are critical to the way Lichtenbergianism works.

We are all creative. Every one of us. It is inborn in us as humans. As I say in my Arts Speech[1], every child on this planet sings, dances, draws, and pretends long before she learns her ABCs or can count to 10. This is true of you, even if you think it’s not.[2]

However, most of us don’t see ourselves as having the ability to create because we are cursed to live in an amazing world. We have at our fingertips perfect performances of perfect pieces of music, perfect paintings or sculptures, perfect novels, even perfect photographs of perfect gardens—and we have allowed ourselves to believe that this perfection is the natural product of creativity.

It seems clear to us that only creative geniuses can produce such a level of perfection. Mozart is the supreme exemplar of that kind of creative genius, and I think it’s important to embrace this truth: mere humans can’t do it.[3]

However, it’s also important to embrace this as well: creativity is not genius. We all want to be creative, and we all can create.

So what is creativity, then?


It’s that simple.[4]

That’s art. Where there was not a thing, now there is. A poem, a musical work, a painting, a sketch.

A dance, an algorithm, a solution, a book, a lesson, an exhibit, an article, a movie, a manifesto.

A drumming, a journal, a cocktail, a script, a mosaic, a website, a children’s story, a documentary, a photograph.

It’s all out there—except it’s not, of course. It’s out there, but not until we find it and drag it—often kicking and screaming—into our version of reality.

How do we do that? Or rather, more to the purpose of this book, how can we make it possible for us to do that?[5]

Many years ago I encountered a very early version of an e-zine, created in Apple’s late, lamented HyperCard. I think it was called “The Bad Penny.” Its focus was on publishing work from people anywhere and everywhere, to give them an Audience. In its first issue, the editors wrote a manifesto that contained a key idea that has stuck with me: what the world needs is more bad poetry. Create with abandon. Create more and more poetry. Make it happen—flood the world with it. Don’t worry whether it’s good or not, just write it.

The point was to encourage people to create, and that’s the purpose of Lichtenbergianism.

But, you will object, I’m not really an artist. I buy those adult coloring books, but I can’t really create something new. I enjoy my Friday night sessions at the Sip ‘n’ Paint studio, but I can’t really paint a real painting. I scribble notes in my journal, but I’m not a real poet.

Right. So what do you call a person who paints or writes poetry or composes a song?[6]

Before we even begin, we must beware the “impostor syndrome,” that still small voice in the back of our head constantly warning us that sooner or later all the Others will discover that we are not who we are pretending to be. “They” will take a good look at our work, realize that we are a fraud, and they’ll set up a hue and a cry to alert the others. (Don’t you have the image in your head of Donald Sutherland raising the alarm at the end of The Body-Snatchers? You do now.) Really, we all feel this way. I feel this way.

I cringe every time I post a new piece of music on my blog or refer to myself as a composer—or when I started posting bits of this book online and pretended to be an author—because I’m not really.

Pfft, is my advice to you (and to myself.) There are so many ways to put this: Assume a virtue if you have it not. Fake it till you make it. Just do it.

Just Make the Thing That Is Not.

Tomorrow: the rest of the chapter


[1] cf. The Arts Speech, Appendix B

[2] Of course you think it’s true. You wouldn’t be reading this book if you didn’t think it was true.

[3] (Professor Peter Schickele reminds us that this is why the completely incompetent P.D.Q. Bach is such a comfort to us: after encountering Mozart, we feel like inadequate parasites; after encountering dear P.D.Q., we feel as if perhaps we could do as well if not better.)

[4] Ha. As if.

[5] (Creativity is not limited to artists, of course; I will use the word artist to include and connote painters, designers, actors, composers, writers, scientists, programmers, teachers—et al.)

[6] Answer key: a painter, a poet, and a composer. If Margaret Keane, Rod McKuen, and Coldplay have earned the title, so have you.

6 thoughts on “Lichtenbergianism: Chapter Two, part 1

  1. “Just Make the Thing That Is Not.” Yeah, just do that. No tall order there. While I was joking about “lack” previously in my comments, I do think the disjunction or tension between the “is” and the “is not” is a fine example of “lack.” And not always in ways you would typically expect. For instance, often, for me, the problem with approaching the “is not” is that the “is” is very satisfying and offers a kind of pacifying sense of completion. I say to myself, “Were I to make what ‘is not,’ I would want it express certain aspects of what already ‘is.’ The “is” evokes such a feeling of satisfaction, and I want the “is not” to amplify and extend that sense. BUT, then, to get to that, I find I have to clear out a space of “lack” in that very experience of the “is” in order to begin to approach the challenge of getting to the “is not.”

  2. That my be a reason why I can be a bit ambivalent about the entheogenic enterprise and the art that may emerge from it. The entheogenic enterprise completely shifts the ground such that the tension between the “is” and “is not” is not an issue. Maybe I seek to preserve that tension. I don’t know.

  3. Being so “bold” seems to touch upon a question of the Other’s authority and the “lack” seemingly located within yourself: “not only am I not Mozart, but neither am I authorized not to be Mozart.” In fact, it may be at some point the Other presented to you with the charge: all of your work will revolve around one sentence–“I am not Mozart.” Experiencing lack as a kind of trauma-of-self one revisits over and over. You, then, in your book want to be the “friendly Other” who sidesteps all concerns with authority and Mozart, who wants to protect the reader from an encounter with lack. But Mozart is still there, of course, even though seemingly de-fanged.

    I remember experiencing lack as I encountered a certain “baroque” approach to writing when young. Art can lead to lack. And that lack can set one on a course, can’t it?

  4. I think you’re wanting to load too much into the authority of The Other. I’m saying the opposite: the Other has no authority, not to the extent that we have to withhold our own Thing That Is Not because it can not measure up. That’s the very definition of the impostor syndrome, after all. The lack must be one’s own, not one engendered by issues with genius.

    Put in other words, a lack engendered by the Other remains a lack. Making “I am not Mozart” a problem is the problem.

    Perhaps I need to make that point more strongly in the text?

  5. The Other doesn’t exist, true, at one level. But it still exerts influence, nonetheless, often engendering an encounter with lack. (Remember that the notion of “art” itself comes to us from the Other.) Lack is inevitable. I don’t know that you need to make your point more strongly because that isn’t your style (I’m enjoying the book!). I’m just playing with various ways to “unpack lack.” Lack is “structural” in a sense. “I am not Mozart” is present in the structure, but you have offered a dialectical extension: “but that’s okay.” “Yes, Mozart was present at the inception of my desire to compose, but I have put him in his place now.” “I have found a way to set Mozart aside, and so can you!”

    You’ve set a great tone. Keep going! My speculations about your “superego” should be taken with a grain of salt. Just passing time till the next installment comes out.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *