Liberated from One's Own Subjectivity

Liberated from One's Own Subjectivity

"One of the first, knockout exercises that you can do with actors, which is used in lots of theater schools where they use masks, is putting a plain, blank, white mask on someone.The moment you take someone’s face away in that way, it’s the most electrifying impression: suddenly to find oneself knowing that that thing one lives with, and which knows is transmitting something all the time, is no longer there."

~ Peter Brook

What Really Gave You Joy

How to Make Origami Paper from Notebook Paper

Stuart Brown in conversation with Krista Tippett, from "Play, Spirit, and Character," On Being, June 19, 2014: 

I don’t want to foster broken bones and concussions and that sort of thing in kids, but an inherent part of being playful is taking risks. What you don't want to do is have the risks be excessive. And the natural history of play in the world, both animal and human, is that persistent play increases the risk of death and damage while it's taking place, but it appears to be absolutely necessary for the well-being and the future of the species.

So it's a conundrum. But to remove all risk from kids' play is to not allow them the spontaneity from within to develop themselves. It's a judgment call on the part of parents. And this is where I have some beef with the media — in that "if it bleeds, it leads" — the perceptions of the levels of violence and risk in our culture are really beyond what the actual risks are, so that a responsible parent feels they can't let their kid be out on the streets in the afternoon and that sort of thing...

I think it's safer for the person who is a player to take a few hard knocks and maybe have a fracture in childhood, than it is to insulate them from the possibility of that. I think that that constricts their psyches and their futures much more.

Any parent with a young child — say a child over three but under 12 — if you just observe them, and don't try and direct them, and watch what it is they like to do in play, and get some sense of how their temperament intermixes with their play desires, you often will see a key to their innate talents. And if those talents are given fairly free reign, if you allow those innate talents to build upon themselves and the environment is favorable enough so that it supports that...I think that then you see that there is a union between self and talent.

And that this is nature's way of sort of saying this is who you are and what you are. And I'm sure if you go back and think about your children or yourself and go back to your earliest emotion-laden, visual and visceral memories of what really gave you joy, you'll have some sense of what was natural for you and where your talents lie. I think it’s pretty important.

Listen to the whole conversation...

Overflowing with Thoughts

Excerpt from Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer

Marcus Raichle, a neurologist and radiologist at Washington University, got interested in daydreaming by accident. It was the early 1990s, and Raichle was studying the rudiments of visual perception. His experiments were straightforward: A subject performed a particular task, such as counting a collection of dots, in a brain scanner. Then he or she did nothing for thirty seconds. (“It was pretty boring for the subjects,” Raichle admits. “You always had to make sure people weren’t dozing off.”) Although the scanner was still collecting data in between the actual experiments, Raichle assumed that this information was worthless noise. “We told the subjects to not think about anything,” he says. “We wanted them to have a blank mind. I assumed that this would lead to a real drop in brain activity. But I was wrong.”

Daydreaming, March 17, 2012One day, Raichle decided to analyze the fMRI data collected when the subjects were just lying in the scanner waiting for the next task. (He needed a baseline of activity.) To his surprise, Raichle discovered that the brains of the subjects were not quiet or subdued. Instead, they were overflowing with thoughts, their cortices lit up like skyscrapers at night. “When you don’t use a muscle, that muscle isn’t doing much,” Raichle says. “But when your brain is supposedly doing nothing, it’s really doing a tremendous amount.”

Raichle was fascinated by the surge in brain activity between tasks. At first, he couldn’t figure out what was happening. But while sitting in his lab one afternoon, he came up with the answer: The subjects were daydreaming! (“I was probably daydreaming when the idea came to me,” Raichle says.) Because they were bored silly in the claustrophobic scanner, they were forced to entertain themselves. This insight immediately led Raichle to ask the next obvious question: Why did daydreaming consume so much energy? “The brain is a very efficient machine,” he says. “I knew that there must be a good reason for all this neural activity. I just didn’t know what the reason was.”

After several years of patient empiricism, Raichle began outlining a mental system that he called the default network, since it appears to be the default mode of thought. (We’re an absent-minded species, constantly disappearing down mental rabbit holes.) This network is most engaged when a person is performing a task that requires little conscious attention, such as routine driving on the highway or reading a tedious book. People had previously assumed that daydreaming was  a lazy mental process, but Raichle’s fMRI studies demonstrated that the brain is extremely busy during the default state. There seems to be a particularly elaborate conversation between the front and back parts of the brain, with the prefrontal folds (locate just behind the eyes) firing in sync with the posterior cingulate, medial temporal lobe, and precuneus. These cortical areas don’t normally interact directly; they have different functions and are part of distinct neural pathways. It’s not until we start to daydream that they begin to work closely together.

All this mental activity comes with a very particular purpose. Instead of responding to the outside world, the brain starts to explore its inner database, searching for relationships in a more relaxed fashion. 

From Equilibrium through Interest to Concern

Excerpt from Next Word, Better Word: The Craft of Writing Poetry by Stephen Dobyns:

We go to art for pleasure, distraction, sustenance, and the apprehension of felt life. We go to expand our moral experience of the world, to come into contact with the beautiful, which may in fact be ugly. We go to find something more perfect than ourselves, to find a graceful, dramatic, and/or unusual relation between the parts, whether colors, sounds, movements, words — the primary mediums of all the arts. We go to experience a particularly harmonious and organic structure, a certain evocativeness or emotional significance, a grouping of metaphors or allusions, and we go to art to engage with the manner of presentation. We go out of curiousity; we go to forget ourselves, become ourselves, move beyond ourselves. We go for knowledge. Most of these elements we need to find to a greater or lesser degree. One or two by themselves aren't enough.

When these elements work together, art has the ability to lead us out of our complacency and ask ourselves the question: How does one live? Art doesn't answer this question, but it pushes us toward it. As Checkhove wrote, art attempts to articulate a question exactly. How well it does this, how forcefully, how compellingly, and how well it unifies these elements and makes us care about them become our criteria for great art. And when a work of art, such as a poem, fails, it fails because some of these elements are missing or have been poorly realized...

Subject matter, as it develops from a nonverbal intuition into the slow joining of form and content, tries to fasten these elements together...Subject matter begins when something takes our attention, a word that derives from the Latin verb attendere, meaning to stretch toward, to give heed to. Before that, we may exist in a state of indifference, or stasis. For the early Greeks this was a person's natural state, and when he or she was disturbed, it happened because of the intervention of a function god — separate gods, of anger, fear, joy, desire, courage, ambition, grief, and so on — smaller dieties who were directed by the more significant Olympian gods such as Zeus, Hera, or Apollo. When a person was touched by a function god, he or she became animated; that is filled with breath. The disturbance moved that person from equilibrium through interest — which in Latin meant "to be between" — to a concern, which, again from Latin, for sifting, mixing together, and, by extension, scrutinizing or trying to comprehend...

Something takes our attention, whether from curiosity or from being hit over the head. At this point we might lapse back to equilibrium or move forward by attraction (or away through aversion). Clearly, if one is hit over the head, this process is very rapid, but so is the process of falling in love at first sight, or seeing an object that one wants to possess. Many concerns stay with us over long periods of time, even our entire lives. Our personalities are defined by those concerns.

To Be Good at Feeling

"We exist in a time where technological change is taking place so profoundly that as human beings reared on the 20th Century paradigm there is little way we could possibly keep up. Think for a second about the effect this must have on our emotions. Though Beginners weaves a simple narrative about a man and his relationship to his father, his girlfriend, his dog and his work, there is a bigger story at play. Some people draw well, some people play music well, some people make films well, but how many of us actually feel well? I'm speaking of 'well' in the sense of being able to feel with talent…to be good at feeling. To act and live within the full expression of the word and to accept all the responsibility that it entails. Perhaps, even if we have to approach this journey as beginners, this is a proposition worth considering."

~ Aaron Rose, excerpted from The Art of Feeling Well in Drawings from the Film Beginners

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“Creative people tend to be both extroverted and introverted. We're usually one or the other, either preferring to be in the thick of crowds or sitting on the sidelines and observing the passing show. In fact, in psychological research, extroversion and introversion are considered the most stable personality traits that differentiate people from each other and that can be reliably measured. Creative individuals, on the other hand, seem to exhibit both traits simultaneously.”

~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, from “The Creative Personality,” Psychology Today, July 1, 1996

Vacuums Around Vacuums

“We had this confluence of characters—and I use that term very carefully—that Vanity Fair illustration by Riskoincluded people like Powell, Dick Cheney, Condi Rice, and so forth, which allowed one perception to be ‘the dream team.’ It allowed everybody to believe that this Sarah Palin–like president—because, let’s face it, that’s what he was—was going to be protected by this national-security elite, tested in the cauldrons of fire. What in effect happened was that a very astute, probably the most astute, bureaucratic entrepreneur I’ve ever run into in my life became the vice president of the United States.”

“He became vice president well before George Bush picked him. And he began to manipulate things from that point on, knowing that he was going to be able to convince this guy to pick him, knowing that he was then going to be able to wade into the vacuums that existed around George Bush—personality vacuum, character vacuum, details vacuum, experience vacuum.”

~ Lawrence Wilkerson, top aide and later chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell from “Farewell to All That,” Vanity Fair (February 2009)