The key to creativity
I’ll return to Frankenstein later.
Let’s begin with the idea of copying.
Critic and theorist Roland Barthes is quoted as saying “Every iteration is a reiteration.” Basically, what this means is that there’s nothing new under the sun; that everything ‘said’ has already been said.
So much for originality.
But what if originality is not really what it’s about?
What if the key to creativity is in stealing disparate ideas– as Dr Frankenstein stole body parts to make his monster – and stitching them together to make something new?
Frankenstein is a how-to on the reiterative creative process. Here’s the scene where Dr Frankenstein is collecting the body parts to make his monster:
I collected bones from charnel-houses and disturbed, with profane fingers, the tremendous secrets of the human frame. In a solitary chamber, or rather cell, at the top of the house, and separated from all the other apartments by a gallery and staircase, I kept my workshop of filthy creation; my eyeballs were starting from their sockets in attending to the details of my employment. The dissecting room and the slaughter-house furnished many of my materials; and often did my human nature turn with loathing from my occupation…”
Pretty ew, right?
Ew is how it feels at times to recycle ideas. Some ideas are grotty, outdated or so often cited it feels cheap to (re)use them.
“ What if the key to creativity is in stealing disparate ideas – like Dr Frankenstein stole body parts to make his monster – and stitching them together to make something new? ”
If he’d started from scratch he’d never have been able to produce.
In his TED talk, Kirby Ferguson, writer and director of the four-part web series called Embrace the Remix, shows how creatives from Bob Dylan to Steve Jobs used what already existed to make the ‘new’. He says, “I think this is mostly what we do. Our creativity comes from without, not from within. We are not self-made. We are dependent on one another, and admitting this to ourselves isn’t an embrace of mediocrity and derivativeness. It’s a liberation from our misconceptions, and it’s an incentive to not expect so much from ourselves and to simply begin.”
Mary Shelley knew this. In fact, many great writers do.
We even have a term for it – intertextuality.
Frankenstein is alternatively titled ‘The Modern Prometheus’, and was made in response to a competition between Shelley and some of her mates to write the best horror story – all after being tucked away on a stormy night – reading ghost stories.
So, what can we learn about creation from Frankenstein?
Be a culture scavenger
Creative work is informed by your culture. This means what you read, what you watch and listen to, what you see, social and cultural histories and cultural ephemera all contribute to the finished product.
If there’s anything the postmodernism revealed, it’s that combining high and low culture, fooling around with pastiche and bringing unlikely phenomena together in surprising ways is a playful and meaningful way to create.
Start uncovering trinkets for your creation stockpile.