What our correspondent also understood, sitting there in his basement bathtub, was that the literature of creativity was a genre of surpassing banality. Every book he read seemed to boast the same shopworn anecdotes and the same canonical heroes. If the authors are presenting themselves as experts on innovation, they will tell us about Einstein, Gandhi, Picasso, Dylan, Warhol, the Beatles. If they are celebrating their own innovations, they will compare them to the oft-rejected masterpieces of Impressionism — that ultimate combination of rebellion and placid pastel bullshit that decorates the walls of hotel lobbies from Pittsburgh to Pyongyang.
Those who urge us to “think different,” in other words, almost never do so themselves. Year after year, new installments in this unchanging genre are produced and consumed. Creativity, they all tell us, is too important to be left to the creative. Our prosperity depends on it. And by dint of careful study and the hardest science — by, say, sliding a jazz pianist’s head into an MRI machine — we can crack the code of creativity and unleash its moneymaking power.
That was the ultimate lesson. That’s where the music, the theology, the physics and the ethereal water lilies were meant to direct us. Our correspondent could think of no books that tried to work the equation the other way around — holding up the invention of air conditioning or Velcro as a model for a jazz trumpeter trying to work out his solo.
And why was this worth noticing? Well, for one thing, because we’re talking about the literature of creativity, for Pete’s sake. If there is a non-fiction genre from which you have a right to expect clever prose and uncanny insight, it should be this one. So why is it so utterly consumed by formula and repetition?
I’d like to suggest an answer to this question: the problem is that there’s actually no such thing as “creativity.” It’s a made-up concept bearing no relation to anything that exists. It’s a classic case of what the Marxists used to call “false reification.” Let’s never speak of it again.
Gee whiz. I can't use "the internet." I can't use "online" or "offline." And now I can't use "creativity." You eggheads are making it tough for us scribblers.
Awwww, Nick, that's the nicest thing anybody has said to me this week.
(Actually, you can refer to the internet as long as you don't say that anyone is "addicted to the internet." But "creativity," no, you can't use that one at all.)
At least I'll always have "reify," "valorize," and "fetishize."
I would never so much as try to take those away from you.
There's no better evidence that "creativity" is not a thing than the many incoherent studies on whether coffee, alcohol, getting up early, etc., make you more or less creative. I always read the breathless news pieces and wonder what they think they mean by the term. I can never figure it out.
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