Creativity and Writing Pedagogy

Followed a link to an excerpt from Creativity: The Work and Lives of 91 Eminent People, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in Psychology Today. I think the creativity is a kind of sore spot in rhet/comp, maybe in part because of the longstanding tension between rhetoricians and "creative writing" in English, but also because of the strong social-cultural turn in our field. Csikszentmihalyi's work describes the "creative personality." The democratic impulse in our discipline would rail at the idea that creativity isn't equally available to all our students, and the critical-theoretical impulse would look skeptically at how such personalities are characterized.

That said, creativity is inextricably tied to writing. You can't have invention without creativity. There's a reason why writing assignments do not provide students with a thesis statement and a list of facts and then ask students to arrange them. And even then, the better results would reflect creativity in arrangement and style. But creativity is strangely an ugly word in education (as Sir Ken Robinson points out so well in his well known TED talk) and even within rhet/comp. Ask a classroom of students if they think of themselves as creative.

So Robinson argues that we all have creative potential but that it's beat out of us by formal schooling. Perhaps it is not just schooling alone though, eh? Perhaps it is the whole popcycle, as Ulmer puts it, the ideological processes of subjectification. I don't think it is necessary to get into the whole nature/nurture debate as to whether creative people are born or made. But I do think it is interesting to consider the whole challenge of teaching writing (and hence creativity) from the perspective of subjectivity (or psychology if you prefer).

Csikszentmihalyi writes "If I had to express in one word what makes their personalities different from others, it's complexity.
They show tendencies of thought and action that in most people are
segregated. They contain contradictory extremes; instead of being an
"individual," each of them is a 'multitude.'" Of course this immediately resonates with Deleuze and Guattari for me. The article then lists ten of these contradictory traits. Most of these are familiar and yet important to recall. Creativity demands an openness to play combined with a strong sense of discipline. Creativity requires passion for one's work but also an ability to detach oneself, to be objective and open to criticism.

I would tend to argue that pedagogy is always already about the production/management of subjectivity. After all, isn't the purpose of becoming educated to be transformed as a person? So perhaps writing pedagogy ought to be about recognizing or proliferating the multitude within.

I guess this would raise several questions.

  • Is this possible? Can people be taught to be creative?
  • Is this desirable? Creativity is not necessarily the best thing in life, is it? There seems to be a fair degree of unhappiness associated with creativity.

I would say that people can be taught to be more creative and that I've had my best success in doing that by putting students in unfamiliar genres (like digital composition). I can't say if it is desirable or not. However I must say that I found this short article interesting. I think it does reflect the creative people I have known. I'm not sure what it means but it makes sense that creative people feel comfortable doing things that other people do not do so well, that they have access to subjective states that are unfamiliar to others.