At Kingston Grammar School (1949-1954) ‘Bunter’ Brown taught us Ancient Greek. You could see when he was not too sure whether he was actually succeeding in teaching us the ins and outs of irregular verbs and Xenophon’s glittering strategic excitements or Socrates’ Defence because he would start to chew the inside of his cheek and go red in the face. Then he would suddenly explode with seemingly uncontrollable wrath: we hadn’t done our homework properly (I hadn’t…); we had failed his notion of the Higher Learning. After five minutes he would equally suddenly stop mid-ire and apologise, “I’m so sorry, gentlemen…”
We six privileged gentlemen, having dropped Chemistry, Physics, Biology and Geography to take up Greek, had been advised by earlier generations of Greek scholars that if we wanted to divert his attention for a whole lesson we just had to ask him a question about Stoics and Epicureans. This never worked for us but he certainly could be encouraged to pass the time in a generally undemanding philosophical manner.
One day we got him on to the existence of God. “Look, gentlemen, if you found a watch in the gutter, the last thing you’d assume is that it had got there by some kind of magic: somebody will have dropped it, accidentally no doubt, and is even now bemoaning its loss. If you opened it to scrutinise the inner workings, you would also not conclude that the watch, with its complex system of wheels & springs, had not been made by somebody… So it is with this universe we find ourselves in: it is not the product of magic and it stands to reason that it did not come into existence by accident—this means that somebody must have made it. That somebody was God…”
Then the bell rang… The next chapter of Xenophon’s Anabasis would have to wait.
Whenever somebody asserts— ‘this means…’ (or words to that effect) what they are suggesting needs to be carefully thought about. We find ourselves on dodgy ground. For example:-
- The universe is a mighty complex construction—this means it must have been created by an ultra-intelligent being
- You’re always quoting from other writers—this means you have no thoughts of your own
- She isn’t smiling at me—this means she doesn’t like me any more
- You are awake at 5am each morning—this means you are an insomniac
- So you believe in the concept of Multiple-I’s that Gurdjieff presented—this means you think that there are lots of little men—homunculi—running around inside you
In each of these examples, the first bit is a matter of observation but the words that follow ‘this means…’ come out of the speaker’s false imagination; they are a construction from Internal Considering; they are the product of mind-reading; they are, in fact, probably what the speaker would ‘mean’ if they were to say the words they offer as general truth; the speaker projects their own meanings; they speak out of their own autobiography.
Much of the comment on so-called social media sites rarely rises above this level. It’s just as Marshal McLuhan said long ago: the more opportunities for mass communication there are the less people will actually communicate. Simplistic imposition and projection of meanings abound. They appear to cry out to be challenged but to enter into an exchange is to become trapped in Self-justification and probably eventually lured into the Making of Accounts—two major indicators that the perpetrator is locked in False Personality. Yah-boo-sucks, etc, Facebook lingo. One can easily make the decision not to bother.
My Response to Bunter Brown
I would not have dared say it to him at the time but my thought back then was that ‘God’ is a projection of something inside of you—superego, says Freud—out on to a universal matrix—it could be some higher part of yourself that you blow up into the shape of a bearded cloudy old man figure.
‘I am the God of my inner world’, says Gurdjieff. Quite enough.
The last I heard of Bunter Brown he had quit ‘teaching’ and gone off to become a professional Essene; I imagined him—I still do—digging around somewhere in the Near East for Dead Sea Scrolls, wiping his brow with his handkerchief when the going gets tough.. Something in me kind of envied him but as a budding Essene, I think his concept of ‘God’ must have been a bit more subtle than the conventional Watch in the Gutter variety he presented to us gentlemen. Something maybe akin to what JGBennett, whilst admitting that he cannot marshal a lot of ‘evidence’ for it, refers to in The Masters of Wisdom (of which the Essenes were (maybe still are…) a subset) as ‘the Demiurge’.
For me, nowadays it does not seem so far-fetched to entertain the concept of a Demiurge as it used to do to believe in an old man in carpet slippers shuffling around the universe creating or destroying at the drop of some divine hat. The Demiurge—boundless Energy—that which runs through all that exists to keep it going—is a far larger concept than that God which is the mere projection of a simple bit of oneself on to a universal scale. Though it seems a shame to have to pin a label on it, the Demiurge fits well my long-time acceptance of the notion of a certain Something Far Larger than oneself. ‘The force that through the green fuse drives the flower…’ (Dylan Thomas)
“That means you believe in God…” No…
‘God’, the word, is demeaning, a poor invention of a half-baked human mind; I find it astonishing to listen to supposedly intelligent grownups on the radio talking ‘theology’—the current dialogue about the status of the Pope who has just resigned and the likelihood of a successor just sounds to me like so much clatter on the air waves; whereas a certain Something Far Larger than Oneself is mysterious enough to work the spiritual trick for me—all that’s needed is a quick squint at a starlit sky and there you have it. Nothing to discuss; the sound of silence.
In The Masters of Wisdom, Bennett brilliantly depicts the scope of a billion years of quasi-intelligent behaviour within the intricate movements and associations of countless bits of universe: millions of years for this and millions for that; the coming together of molecules, amino-acids, atoms and life beginning as ‘…a thin film of blue-green algae spreading over the surface of the ocean…’ then, for another five hundred million years, the ‘intense activity of photosynthesis…’ in preparation for cells and sex. Somewhat far from being a quick-fix.
Think of one of your own Earth years and then multiply it 500,000,000 times… Five hundred million years… Go on—associate into the figure and think of all the springs, summers, autumns, winters of your life that colossal span of time represents… Provide a proper realistic context for this moment NOW.
Then ‘…for more than half a million years, men had all the characteristics of humanity except creativity. This is a higher energy than consciousness and is characteristic of the Demiurge…’ This would be the ‘Adam’ of the Old Testament—just a metaphor… Bennett says this metaphor was ‘…the first man who had all the characteristics of [humans] as we know [them]… [able to] speak as we do; …enjoy creative fantasies and translate them into action; …aware of past and future [with an understanding]… that events could occur beyond the reach of the senses. Such characteristics are not direct operations of the creative energy, but they are not possible unless it is present to stimulate consciousness. Where did this come from? Creativity is the energy that responds directly to the will… The power to initiate new activity was still with the Demiurge alone. How was it transferred to man?’
What Bennett chooses to call the Demiurge is the energy that over millions & millions of years turned blue-green algae into the thing that’s sitting here engaging in prestidigitation with the computer. Such energy does not seem to me to be a case for crassly demeaning worship by people dressed in their Sunday best—it’s just something to marvel at every day of the week..
Bennett says that it was simply the lack of an anatomical structure that made it impossible for apes to form human speech sounds; they could ‘think’ but not express their thoughts. ‘…Neanderthal man had the same limitation. The great mutation around thirty-five thousand years ago [changed the structure of the larynx in human beings] and the new race could articulate speech sounds…’
A human-being can say, “The cat sat on the mat”; but the cat can only observe the man sitting on the settee. The human creates the spectacle with words; the cat can only state it wordlessly to itself. Words are a going beyond things as they are—all words are creative; every time we open our mouths we indulge in a creative act.
This says nothing about quality: what we say can be anything from being inspirational to constituting some species of baloney.
Bennett continues: ‘…The hypothesis I want to put forward is that this was the long-awaited moment when humans could be endowed with creativity to enable them to make full use of their powers…’ The nature of creativity is unique to each individual: ‘… it cannot be transferred from one person to another. It is an integral part of the essence, the instrument of the will, and the source of freedom. Creativity must enter us at the moment of conception, and this gives us the key to understand how it entered the human race. The Demiurge can take the form of a man or a woman and can beget children…’
We Are the Children of the Demiurge
What are we doing here on Earth? We are here to continue the coursing of energy through the system; we are here to carry on the creative activity of the Demiurge; we are at the midway point of millions & millions of years; we can accept or deny the principle at work throughout the universe.
The Kybalion: ‘The Universe is Mental… There’s an ‘I’ that can stand aside and witness the operation of the Me’s mental creation and generation…’
I can observe the passage of events in the thinking of the Universe—the Demiurge. I can try all this on for size—in itself it is a creative As-if. It behoves us to recognise our status in the workings of the universe and participate in its creativity as best we can. If we fail to take up this option, life is of no consequence whatsoever.
Towards a Theory of Creativity
This is the title of a brilliant paper by Carl Rogers written in 1954. Since 1970 when I first read it it has been the basis of everything I have done in the way of teaching and thinking. It falls naturally into the preceding argument!
Carl Rogers asserts that there’s a desperate need for human beings to come to terms with their essential creativity. At the date of writing he said there was a dearth of creativity—how much worse have things become in the last 60 years.
- In education we tend to turn out conformists, stereotypes, individuals whose education [we imagine to be] ‘completed’, rather than freely creative and original thinkers.
- In our leisure-time activities, passive entertainment and regimented group action [predominate]…
- In the sciences, there is an ample supply of technicians but the number who can creatively formulate fruitful hypotheses and theories is small indeed.
- In industry, creation is reserved for the few—the manager, the designer, the head of the research department…
- In individual and family life the same picture holds true. In the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the books we read, and the ideas we hold, there is a strong tendency toward conformity, toward stereotypy. To be original or different is felt to be ‘dangerous’.
We are left out of the creative process when we merely follow A Influence culture; since Rogers wrote his piece the alluring power of e-communications has come to dominate life; advertising with its power to impose a uniformity creeps into every corner of existence; the Global Capitalist Conspiracy forces individuals and groups and whole countries to work harder & longer for less and less. No time for creativity.
On the Other Hand…
In a time when knowledge, constructive and destructive, is advancing by the most incredible leaps and bounds into a fantastic atomic age, genuinely creative adaptation seems to represent the only possibility for people to keep abreast of kaleidoscopic change… With scientific discovery and invention proceeding, we are told, at a geometric rate of progression, a generally passive and culture-bound people cannot cope with the multiplying issues and problems. Unless individuals, groups and nations can imagine, construct and creatively devise new ways of relating to these complex changes, the lights will go out… international annihilation will be the price we pay for a lack of creativity.
We will no longer be tapping into the process set in motion by the Demiurge millions of years ago. The lights will go out…
That’s the diagnosis. What does Rogers propose? What was so compelling for me forty years ago?
Firstly his definition of creative outcomes. There is no fundamental difference in essence, he says, between painting a picture, composing a symphony, devising new instruments of torture, new weaponry, working out a scientific theory, adopting new procedures in human relationships, a child inventing a new game to play with her mates, the cook inventing a new sauce, writing a first novel and making a renewal of one’s self.
Creativity is the realisation of one’s potentiality, the drive towards self-actualisation.
All human activity is creative. This says nothing about quality or morality; the act of taking a step forward is all that’s necessary; the step forward is a creative movement when it is thus conceived.
On the matter of judging the outcomes of the forward movement into novelty Rogers has this to say:-
Presumably few of us are interested in facilitating creativity which is socially destructive. We do not wish, knowingly, to lend our efforts to developing individuals whose creative genius works itself out in new and better ways of robbing, exploiting, torturing, killing other individuals; or developing forms of political organization or art forms which lead humanity into paths of physical or psychological self-destruction.
This leads to what Rogers calls ‘the inner conditions of constructive creativity’
- Openness to experience: extensionality. This is the opposite of psychological defensiveness… It means lack of rigidity and lack of permeability of boundaries in concepts, beliefs, perceptions, and hypotheses. It means a tolerance for ambiguity… It means the ability to receive much conflicting information without forcing closure upon the situation…
- An internal locus of evaluation. Perhaps the most fundamental condition of creativity is that the source or locus of evaluative judgement is internal. The value of a product is, for the creative person, established not by the praise or criticism of others, but by the self. Have I created something satisfying to me? Does it express a part of me—my feeling or my thought, my pain or my ecstasy? These are the only questions which really matter to the creative person, or to any person when she is being creative. This does not mean that she is oblivious to, or unwilling to be aware of, the judgement of others. It is simply that the basis of evaluation lies within herself… If to the person it has the ‘feel’ of being ‘me in action’, of being an actualization of potentialities in herself which heretofore have not existed and are now emerging into existence, then it is satisfying and creative, and no outside evaluation can change that fundamental fact.
- The ability to toy with elements and concepts. Associated with openness and lack of rigidity is the ability to play spontaneously with ideas, colours, shapes, relationships—to juggle elements into hitherto impossible juxtapositions, to shape wild hypotheses, to make the given problematic, to express the ridiculous, to translate from one form to another, to transform into improbable equivalents. It is from this spontaneous toying and exploration that there arises the hunch, the creative seeing of life in a new and significant way. It is as though out of the wasteful spawning of thousands of possibilities there emerges one or two evolutionary forms with the qualities which give them a more permanent value.
A salient characteristic of the Demiurge, according to Bennett, is its ability to play endlessly with possibilities.
“I cant believe impossible things,” said Alice. “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” Lewis Carroll
So You Want to be Part of the Expressiveness of the Demiurge…
If you want to write poetry, you must read lots of examples of what ‘poets’ have written in the past; steep yourself in their writing: Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams, TSEliot, Ezra Pound, John Donne, Norman MacCaig, Kathleen Raine, on and on along the poetry shelves. Model yourself on them; and eventually come to some unique personal synthesis which might take years to dawn on you. Stick at it. Play with ideas and images and judge the results for yourself.
If you want to write novels, you must have read plenty of novels: Hardy, Lawrence, Conrad, Robbe-Grillet, Sartre, James Hanley, James Joyce, Iris Murdoch, John Buchan, Henry Green, Virginia Woolf. Though this list could hardly be more diverse, you must come to some way of working that is congruent with the ideas you have swimming around in your head. Stick at it. Play with ideas and images and judge the results for yourself.
If you want to write music, you must listen to much music. Don’t listen to those who say that music must have melody—that way lies perdition—what’s more it’s not true—music is just a sounding together of notes of different pitches: the rain makes music, the night sky is a musick, the wind in the woods, a motorway is a grand cacophony, the whine of the computer + the ticking of the clock + the creak of the chair & the tapping of the keyboard gives you something that Edgar Varese might have been aiming at.
if you listen
to the sound you may miss
(George Ives to his son Charles)
Lend your ears to Brahms & Beethoven & Mozart—these are the greats of the past—and then go for Havergal Brian, Schnittke, Vaughan Williams, Mahler, Lutoslawski, Penderecki, Giya Kancheli, Elgar, The Beatles, Michael Finnissy, Andrew Toovey. Then find out how music works by following a printed score with the sound of the music and sit at a piano and create your own pathways along the dancing staves. Stick at it. Play with ideas and images and judge the results for yourself.
If you want to create works of art, you must go to an art gallery and look closely at the marks on paper or canvas—how do they combine to produce something you might learn to drool over? Look for the compass point incision at the centre of Ben Nicholson’s circles & notice the razor blade marks where he has scraped paint away; observe the way Kurt Schwitters assembles the bits & pieces of everyday life; the Magic Cities of Paul Klee; get right into the design of any work of art you care to choose, its division of space, the use of colour & texture, the moving spirit. Learn to Stick at it. Play with ideas and images and judge the results for yourself.
If you want to do anything, first find out how it works. Then allow your mind to be programmed; let the poetry, the word-smithing, the music, all the artefacts enter your neural pathways; let some kind of Judicious Blend occur and notice the way that, though things appear to be separated, everything is in fact intimately connected up. The ultimate clue is the raging desire and stickability to make True Expression of what you see & feel. Play with ideas and images and judge the results for yourself.
In music, the modern way is to wonder—how can I bathe the public ear in harmless tunes they won’t have to work at that will make my name and make me a lot of money? This is not the true way.
In art, the modern way is to think what extraordinary disgusting thing can I do to shock and appal and amaze to get me Marketable Notoriety and make me Loads of Money? This is not the true way.
My Art Training
What got me on what I like to think of as the right track, consisted of watching my father draw before I was ten and, before that, when I was around five, carefully noting how his mother painstakingly chased very small blobs of paint with a brush into the awkward corners of outline pictures in a child’s painting book; I think of sitting at her side every time I make a painting and thank her silently.
At teacher training college, specialising in Art & English in the mid-1960’s, I caught the Schwitters Bug for some reason and suddenly started making 3-D wood constructions (‘Little Towers’) which I was amazed to discover were, in spite of myself, in demand at 10/- a time (proper money, ‘ten bob’=50p now).
In due time, while I was still at College, the 3-D experiments flattened themselves upon a wall. That this has been a forty year obsession can be seen from this construction made from bits of wood left over from the renovation of a house in Flitwick, Bedfordshire in the late 1980’s.
Currently, this construction continues to crumble away on the outside wall of our house in Sutton Bridge, subject to the elements and home to mason bees who have preferred to explore the old screw holes for nests rather than the little cardboard tubes we arranged elsewhere for them at some expense to ourselves.
There was an architectural feel to all the constructions I’ve done between 1966 and the present time and the circle comes straight out of Ben Nicholson…
It’s still impossible for me to look at bits of wood, their textures, the fragments of paint adhering to them, their decay, without wanting to make a dive for the PVA and the box of panel pins to make constructions out of them…
An obelisk is under construction in the garden in Sutton Bridge. The cats enjoy sharpening their claws on the superstructure. I have a box full of bits of wood waiting to be nailed to it; the old piano parts have not run out either…
Space Division, plane surfaces, textured surfaces, circles, quarter moons, arches, chalices and gable ends. These are the things that rouse my enthusiasm when I’m in arty mode. Why?
Why Do We Do What We Do in Exactly the Way that We Choose to Do It?
I have an obsession for gable ends. Where does that come from? I started filling sketch books reasonably systematically in 1960 and it’s interesting (to me at least), looking back, to realise that my choice of subject-matter was frequently determined by the presence of gable ends!
It occurs to me, digging back into these old documents, that when, around the age of 8, I was asked the childish question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I used to answer, with some passion, “An architect!” It felt absolutely right somehow but I might just as well have said, “An engine driver…” or “An ice-cream vendor…” for all I knew about anything at all.
By the time I was modelling on Kurt Schwitters in 1965 I was also paring down my sketching towards abstraction with Victor Pasmore on my mind:-
Abstraction & Gable Ends really began to take off during the course of a thunderstorm over Luton on 4th August 1971! The gable ends here are very self-conscious:-
When the College of Education where I was lecturing in the English Department was closed down on me in 1976 I came away not just with the novels of Henry Green which I stole from the College Library over a period of weeks knowing that they could have no better home than my front room (from the window of which this pencil sketch was done) but with a quantity of discarded paintings done by students on 2ft by 1ft 6 inch hardboard. In the Autumn of 1978 I cut some of these in half and began the series that has lasted on and off till the present day. I’ve stuck at it!
I have no idea how & why I was driven to do this unless it was the bubbling to the surface of all the foregoing. These were palimpsests—an idea which really appeals to me and surfaced ten years later in another obsession—that of Found Poetry; reworkings of old stuff mostly found in the darkest parts of secondhand bookshops.
The process here was to cover the half-painting with black gloss house-paint and then to scratch the outline of the Magic City into the still wet paint, removing some of it with brown stain on a cloth to reveal, on & off, the colours of the original painting. It was a very instantaneous process which anticipated my next obsession—haiku and watercolours done roughly in the sumi-e fashion. An altogether right-brained approach to producing works of art; when it works the results can be really exciting; but not when you think too much about how exciting it is—then it’s not.
Strange how all my obsessions have remained current, there for the choosing as and when.
From Darkness into Light
Four years later, on some old chunks of floorboard picked up off the side of the road, I started to use layers of sugar paper covered with white wall emulsion paint (for texture) & felt tip with a minimum of added colour.
Wandering round the City of my Mind became so much part of me that I would sit in endless Bored Meetings at the FE College to which I had migrated and doodle possible vantage points. ‘Deep down my consciousness of the city is my consciousness of myself…’ Fernando Pessoa
By a strange mental reversal, this whole process began to influence the way I perceived and depicted ‘real’ towns & cities: on a day traintrip from Luton to Dartmouth this heap of buildings sprang out at me.
I didn’t see much of the Magic City during the 1990’s preferring to spend my time on developing an approach to watercolour that got each picture done and dusted in not more than about thirty minutes. This coincided with the renewal of an obsession for writing haiku, the Japanese short poem which is of the moment and written in the moment or not at all; the artistic equivalent is sumi-e.
It’s not that my watercolours look much like Japanese sumi-e painting, nor are they done with special brushes or paint carefully made from ground up powder, just that they are executed with the same sense of immediacy & truth to the moment…
Returning to Shaftesbury
in 1998 I viewed St James at the bottom of the hill with a different pair of eyes—eyes conditioned by this Magic City thing, aware of how the gable ends composed the scene.
It’s only recently occurred to me that this originally other-than-conscious fascination for gable ends started back in the 1940’s, after the War (yet another one to end them all…) when I remember the sudden sense of freedom to go on trips to the seaside. That was when I first saw the heap of houses either side of the line as the train arrives at Preston Park and then Brighton.
When we first went there with Mrs Manning and her son John, in 1946, the beach still had barbed-wire along the place where sea meets land. Later you could paddle there in this shifting perimeter where the ancient Celts liked to imagine that Wisdom exists; when you straddle sea and sand you have a foot in two camps.
Return to the Magic City
These are the most recent Magic City paintings. I have arrived at an idea I think of as ‘serial painting’. I work with chopped up photocopies of previous paintings, enlarged or reduced in size, reassembled to make new vistas of a Magic City and then painted into. I find this process totally absorbing and spend hours at it…
The Long Way Back
And all this will disappear like blown froth off storm waves…
The question arises: How is one to keep all this in mind?
The Aphorisms of the Masters of Wisdom provide a map of the way back home.
- Breathe consciously… placing attention on each successive breath to maintain presence. Ouspensky regarded this focus as the basis of self-remembering. Attention is sharpened. My own way of keeping focus is the writing of haiku—this is my own zikr.
- Watch your step! Remember where you have come from and notice well where you are going to; observe the creativity involved in the forward step.
- Make a start on the journey home… & out of the world of unrealised potential towards the Kingdom of Heaven which you will know is deep within your self.
- Exercise solitude in a crowd! Participate fully in ordinary life but without losing the inner freedom to desist from identification with any of it. Walk through the market place and be not aware of a single sound. Bunter Brown said to me one day, “Soon you will be able to concentrate on what you’re doing without noticing all the hubbub around you…” There was always a sense of absence about him.
- Maintain contact between tongue & heart. Ask yourself constantly, “Is what I am about to say or do likely to contribute positively to the swing of the universe?” If the answer is no then desist from all action.
- The seeds of transformation are already within you; be single-minded. Maintain solitude in the crowd!
- Engage in watchfulness. Learn to withdraw attention from what is undesirable. Never do anything unnecessary.
- Recollect that loss of self results in objective loving.
- Keep account of temporal states. Stop! in order to understand the passage of time. Always be thankful when you return to a state of Presence.
- Mentation by form rather than mentation by words.
- One’s own existence is the obstacle to final transformation.
And so back to being blue-green algae and the journey across billions of years begins again. Round and round, each mental circuit more useful than the previous one.