Lichtenbergianism: the book

As I brought up at the Annual Meeting, I am semi-interested in assembling a book on the creative process by examining the ways we have found the basic tenets of Lichtenbergianism to be useful in our various attempts.  The discussions we have about each of these terms—and any we add to the list—will be the basis of the book.

My intention is to write a brief explanation and introduction of each of the tenets.  You can then argue the points as you see fit, and provide instances of the tenet in action.

The nine tenets, as presented at the Lichtenbergianism seminar on the GHP campus in 2013, are:

  1. task avoidance
  2. abortive attempts
  3. successive approximation
  4. waste books
  5. ritual
  6. steal from the best
  7. gestalt
  8. audience
  9. abandonment 

Let the wild rumpus start!

The West Coast Retreat

On Thursday, October 18, Marc, Dale, and Jeff B. flew from Atlanta to San Francisco, where they were met by Mike, who flew up from L.A.  They rented a Town & Country van (with a handicapped gear shift, which was actually kind of nice) and headed over towards Berkeley to pick up the key to The Cetusaurus.  Mike had lived in SF, so he was able to play tour guide as we headed across the bridges.

After we picked up the key, we drove a couple of blocks over to Phillip”s studio, a converted loft space crammed full of artists, Phillip included.  Phillip claimed to be a true Lichtenbergian in that he could not attend the very Retreat designed to include the West Coast members because he had work to do, but it was clear that the man is very productive.

Finally we hit the road and made our way over to the coast, where we drove up Highway 1. It is everything you”ve seen in the movies and commercials: a twisty, two-lane highway that hugs the mountains on the right and drops precipitously to the sea on the left.  It is absolutely gorgeous.

It”s also slow going.  The speed limit may be 55 mph, but only people in car ads drive that way.  It took us a good four hours to make it up to the house.  We started in midafternoon, and it was after dark when we got there.  (Great sunset, for which we stopped at one of the dozens of overlooks.)

There were also road signs warning of cows.  Cows.  And then, there were cows.  In the road, utterly unconcerned that they”d be struck by luxury vehicles careening around curves while filming commercials.

The house is exactly as you see it in the photos on the website.  Not as close to the beach as the photos implied, but that was OK.   We unpacked, sorted out sleeping arrangements, and opened the first bottle of wine.  As usual, the Thursday night discussion was over what we hoped to accomplish during the Retreat.

Jeff made no bones about the fact that he had been so productive that he had no intention of working on anything but grad school stuff.  Marc had brought reading to do.  Mike had a script he needed to finish, a song to work on, and juggling to practice.  Dale wanted to get back to re-orchestrating William Blake”s Inn, or failing that, to start on the “Five Easier Pieces,” and to work on The Book of the Labyrinth, a quasi-liturgical resource for meditation sessions in in the labyrinth.

Members will report on their progress in comments.

There had been no grocery store of note on the way up, and so there was no coffee for Friday morning.  Dale awoke early and drove back down to Manchester, where we were assured there was a well-stocked store.  (It was closed by the time we pulled through on Thursday night.)  It was well-stocked, being both a grocery store and an Ace Hardware.  Dale loaded up on essentials and made it back to the house as others were getting prepped for the day.

First, though, we had to go to the beach.  It was walkable, but it”s better to drive.  The beach was a giant boneyard of bleached tree trunk driftwood, driven there by Pacific storms.  Large outcroppings of basalt littered the terrain.

We drank it all in.  Jeff took a zillion photos.  Mike juggled.  Marc communed.   Dale drew labyrinths in the sand and meditated.   We climbed the outcroppings.

Finally we headed back to the house to work.  (See comments.)

The evening was given over to communion and meditation. (There was no hot tub, but a there was a sizable Jacuzzi which we used for solo soakings.)

Saturday.  We worked until lunchtime, and then at Marc”s suggestion drove back down the coast to Gualala for lunch and to play tourist at least a little bit.  Our main objective was the lighthouse at Point Arena, the tallest lighthouse in California, now renovated as an item of  historical interest.  More shipwrecks occurred there than anywhere else on the coast.

The view from the top of the lighthouse—they have removed the  to the museum—was stunning.

We headed back to the house for a little more work.  We wanted to drive down to the beach and watch the sunset from there—perhaps sacrifice a casino online goat or something— and there was some discussion about when we needed to make the trip.  Without internet, we were bereft of much information all weekend.  As Dale was debating starting supper—shrimp and grits—we were startled to realize that the sun, which had appeared to be safely above the horizon, was falling without let into the ocean eternal.

We leapt into the car and  rushed down the hill to the highway, watching with increasing hysteria as the planet revolved faster and faster, destroying our chances at this entirely meaningful experience.  At the end, all we could do was to pull in to an overlook and lamely get out to watch the afterglow.

Back at the house, we settled in to a quiet evening of discussion.  The main topic: “What do you fear the most?”  Loved ones were excluded.  We were honest.  You had to be there.

Sunday morning, we got up and departed around 5:30 am so that we could arrive early enough in San Francisco for Mike to show us some of the sights.  After negotiating the worst road in America over the mountains—we had to stop twice so we could calm our nausea—we emerged into the Sonoma valley.  Vineyards at dawn, quite lovely.   The landscape in general is amazingly beautiful.

When we arrived at the city, we stopped at the battery overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, which is pretty majestic.  In town, we almost resisted referring to the streets of San Francisco, including that section of Lombard Street which Mike took us down because, as he put it, “We haven”t had enough twisty roads today.”

We also went to Fisherman”s Wharf, where Mike took us to the Musée Mécanique, a “collection of coin-operated mechanical musical instruments and antique arcade machines in their original working condition.”  It was awesome!

Finally, it was time to head to the airport.  We dropped Mike off at the Walt Disney Family Museum at the Presidio, where his sister would pick him up.  (He was taking an Amtrak train back to LA.)  After lunch at the airport, Jeff split off to go work on a presentation and then board the plane for Norman, OK, where he was attending a Native American conference.  Dale and Marc flew back to Atlanta.

Summations, additions, and emendations in comments.

L. 12. 1 Bear Hunt Song, or rules of creative conduct revised

  1. Be wary when it feels like a word association game.
  2. What is the form?  Form is the wheel you don’t have to re-invent.
  3. If it’s truly new, it should be somewhat off-putting, something you would just as soon skip past or avoid, like a stranger who a year later is an intimate.
  4. Today’s intensity is tomorrow’s regret.
  5. Welcome intrusions.

I have no problem with these.  I still feel cute as a button uttering them.  Shirley Temple cute, if I’m being honest.

Three gnaws a bit, though.  I want it to be more concise, more aphoristic, more…Lichtenbergian .  Georg is the Master!  I’m so happy the quote rotator is back up to speed, humming away.  In these dark days of diminished production quotas, it’s a reason to visit the site everyday.  I can fiddle with Three, maybe, in the spirit of Lichtenberg:

3.  The truly new is that troubling stranger who in a year’s time could easily become an intimate if you gave in to your instincts, but who would more likely reject you outright for understandable  reasons.

Shirley Temple is now disgustingly cute.  I think my more compact version is actually longer, but it feels more precise and even has a touch of storytelling verve, which is not usually my forte.  So it’s a keeper.  Bon bons at play…

But I’m also content to chuck all of them.  I don’t really believe in them as working guidelines.  I don’t really believe myself these days when I claim I create.  I have been revisiting the circumstances that first put me on a supposed creative path, and the truth is, I really cannot speak of  those circumstances in any other way than as an encounter with an impasse.  At a certain point in my development, I met with something I couldn’t understand or encompass or circumnavigate.  The instruments I normally employed to get at things were useless.

Always an exciting moment, of course.  And, in my case, I think, traumatic.  Every encounter with an impasse is something of a trauma, I might assert.  The moment of defeat makes an impression and sets the stage for a lifetime of re-visiting, of rehearsing the fatal encounter.  Exciting, traumatic, and, ultimately, therefore, essential.  Because, as I said before, you are not equipped.  You lack savoir faire.  There is no help.  You become a moment of possible extinction.  Such a threat, a loss, a lack, touches on the essential, on you, on life.  You can’t find a ring to grasp.  You plunge.

Here’s a version of the Bear Hunt Song as thoughtfully preserved by a helpful Boy Scout troop.  The song is basically a guide to using prepositions in one’s various encounters with the world.  It is the prepositions that function as the working codes, the symbolic formulas, that afford you the chance to move on Reality, to engage it, to establish meaning and possibility.  Reality as a set of known possibilities is, in fact, mapped out in the song.  But here’s the interesting thing:  at the heart of the song is an encounter with an impasse.  And that moment, really, is the essence of the song.  The key moment, the thrill, is when prepositions aren’t worth a damn.  And that is why it is fun to perform the song.  Repeatedly.  The Bear.

To put it briefly, my particular preoccupation with “creativity” and all that it promises and withholds is due to meeting a Bear.  My continued engagement is a rehearsal charted by a particular practice, a particular way symbolic reality works and then unravels.  I flee and re-approach.

I was lost in a Baroque tangle and baffled by words.  That was the Bear.  At the time there were no friendlier words to begin to characterize the predicament or the effect.  I then began to collect related objects that seemed to want to adhere to the initial mysterious mute monstrosity.  The “creative” path took its place as a possible connection to that mute kernel, along with others.  All within a family drama, of course, and surrounded by various figures of interest.  And so I orchestrated more and more elaborate meetings with the thing in the cave.

What to do?  What will this new clarity tell me about how to proceed?  I’ll keep you posted.