Creativity is only a construct

You know how psychologists always say that your childhood influences you in ways most people never realize? Yesterday I saw a few pieces of the puzzle that suddenly fitted together. As you may have noticed I wrote a few poems about a “little princess” over the last weeks. The reason I gave the figure that name is because for some reason the name Sarah keeps sticking to my mind, and, as you might know, that’s the Hebrew word for princess. So far…

Then yesterday I watched A hole in the world, the episode from the fifth season of Angel in which Wesley reads a bedtime story to his love, Fred, shortly before she dies. It was only a short passage, but it intrigued me and thanks to the Gutenberg Project I found out which story it was. Turns out I already knew that wonderful story (and I’m asking myself how I coud forget it). So good…

She sat with her feet tucked under her, and leaned against her father, who held her in his arm, as she stared out of the window at the passing people with a queer old-fashioned thoughtfulness in her big eyes.
       She was such a little girl that one did not expect to see such a look on her small face. It would have been an old look for a child of twelve, and Sara Crewe was only seven.

But here’s the problem: It’s called “A little princess”, was written by Frances Hodgson Burnett (who’s perhaps best known for Little Lord Fauntleroy) and tells the story of a girl called Sara. I’m not going to sum the story up, but it’s absolutely worth reading. There’s a summary on Wikipedia if you want to know more. What really brisks me up is this: was it really my idea to call the girl in my poems Sarah (forget about that additional h) and refer to her as “little princess”, or was it an old memory of a story I once knew that surfaced again? The poems are about something completely different than Burnett’s story, but still.

They say no matter how hard you try to invent something new you’ll always find someone who’s already had that idea. Could that really be true? What a pitiful world would we live in if such were the case…

5 thoughts on “Creativity is only a construct”

  1. Creating something TOTALLY new or original is very hard indeed. With so many people somebody probably had a similar idea already … But of course there are always exceptions to the rule. Otherwise there wouldn’t have been any new inventions and we would still have to go on foot instead of taking a car! ;)

    But even those inventions or creations only reassemble existing things in new and original ways. Since it’s rather hard to create something ex nihilo I think we just have to accept that … :)

  2. strange that you should post something like this, not so long ago i reflected upon something similar too, i came to a different conclusion than you i think.
    in fact i think that creativity is not so much about coming up with something completely new but rather it is a way of expressing something more, or something personal basing oneself on concepts that are commonly understood and incorporated into our thinking.
    basically what i mean to say is that without common ground for understanding there is no room for a new or original or creative idea since it would then only be understood by you and you alone. which is beside the point since you want to share something with the others.
    our whole world is based upon similar concepts upon similar understanding, even the act of thinking in a language already “reduces” us to a certain way of seeing and understanding our environment.
    i am not sure there is a way to escape that, and i am not even sure that it would be a good thing if it was possible.

    note that i am discussing the general thought of your post here, your example is more down to earth and seems to come as you say from a deeper part of your memory which passively directs your choices :), which does not hinder your creativity at all, as you already pointed out you combined your recollection with something entire different, maybe basing yourself on the feeling the “original” story evokes thus lending even more power to your own story (this is speculative of course and diverges a bit from my idea above, but would still reflect the need for known concepts to give depths to a new idea)

  3. Interesting causes for thought. I think I’ll write another post where I take up on your points as a comment would probably become far too long.

    Just a quick note about a point you made, Serge:

    the act of thinking in a language already reduces us to a certain way of seeing and understanding our environment

    I don’t like the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis – and it is very debated among linguists. For example: if you see a picture and have some knowledge about paint, you may be able to say “that is oil paint”, whereas I would have no idea that it is oil paint. We would however still see the exact same thing. I might not have the correct term for it, but would there be a need, I could still describe it as very vivid colours and subtle blendings of colours. I might lack the technical term, but that would not prevent me from understanding my environment, I would still be able to differentiate the oil paint from an acrylic paint for example. In fact, it is good to escape that basis of similar concepts: if you describe something well known in an entirely different way, look at it from a new perspective, that’s creativity. You go against similar understanding, making the reader / viewer think about what you want to express. The challenge is finding the right balance between breaking the rules and still making it accessible. Or not. Have you ever read Ulysses? Not a single person on earth fully understands the last stream of consciousness in that book, still (or because of that) it is considered one of the most important texts ever written.

  4. oh and there you had me thinking i had a new idea ;) (just kidding, though i don’t know Sapir-Whorf so i cannot really comment on how similar my idea on this really is).
    your example of the painting, yes we would see the same thing but we would both already see it as painting, which categorises what we see in a perfectly established frame (art, painting, artist, etc).
    if the sapir-whorf thing says that there is no diversity than i don’t like it either. of course everyone has a personal approach, but nontheless an approach with follows a certain logic, not sure if i bring this across correctly i guess i will wait for your post on the subject before launching in too long a comment-essay ;)

  5. They basically stated that language determines thought. ;) They took for example the urban legend up that says Inuid language has hundreds of words for snow. (Which is wrong, there are only 24 words for snow in the Yupik language, whereas there are 40 in English). They don’t say there isn’t any diversity, they simply say that language controls the way we perceive the world. So in their example Inuid would be more capable of distinguishing between several kinds of snow, whereas other peoples who are not exposed to the same climate wouldn’t.Language however adapts itself to the environment, if there is something unknown to the viewer he doesn’t see it in a different way, he simply has to imagine a way of how to describe it.
    You don’t even have to know the concept of a painting to be able to see that there are vivid colours that show a certain scenery. What I mean to say is: you don’t need that basis of both people understanding the concept of a painting in order for both people to see the same thing and describe what they are seeing, even if they’d use different words. That’s what I’d like to achieve in writing; create a new idea, a new concept, which I then describe to the reader.

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