What we play is life
In this chapter, I raise my primary research question: What is the relationship between lived experience and artistic creativity? I discuss the fundamental structures of lived experience from a Bergsonian perspective, and in so doing I question mind/body, subject/object binary concepts. I explore the potential Bergson’s Theory of Creative Evolution (1911/2005) and the work of Merleau-Ponty (1945/2012 & 1964/1968) and Grosz (2005 & 2011) have for furthering understanding of human artistic creativity. I then identify ways to eschew binary concepts, through my performance practice, for the purposes of researching the relationship between lived experience and artistic creativity.
In Section 1.1 of this chapter, I explore the philosophical lineage put forward by Grosz (2005 & 2011) that includes Darwin, Bergson, and Merleau-Ponty. I discuss how this lineage helps to question mind/body, subject/object binary concepts and proposes an immersive evolutionary account of lived experience. I take a Bergsonian position on the unity and centrality of life and its fundamental, open-ended, and generative immersive conditions. I then recognise how this radical shift in the conceptualisation of the ways in which things are organised is yet to have its full impact on our understandings of corporeity and materiality.
I discuss how the evolutionary theories of Bergson, and Darwin (1859) before him, have potential to greatly influence our understanding of artistic creativity. The work of these philosophers is important in this context because it makes life the fundamental organising structure of lived experience. This questions the phenomenological idea that the experiencing body is a given, and places human lived experience within the broader evolutionary context of all things. The human experiencing body, rather than being a central organising structure, is then conceptually transformed into an organism that is one amongst many that is pushed by the fundamental immersive conditions of life. I note that this conception life has profound implications for how we understand human artistic creativity.
In Section 1.2 of this chapter, I discuss Merleau-Ponty’s concept of “wild Being” (1964/1968, p. 170) as a related but different concept to Bergsonian life. I note that, although this work is unfinished and at times ambiguous, I am drawn to the wild, libidinal, primal account Merleau-Ponty gives of wild Being because it has resonances with the way artists describe the creative process.
In Section 1.3 of this chapter, I explore how mind/body, subject/object binaries have limited our capacity to gain a more precise understanding of the immersive conditions of lived experience. I discuss the complexities of questioning binary concepts in the wake of the ocular-centric metaphors used by key phenomenological thinkers to describe human lived experience. In particular, I critique the writing of Husserl and Merleau-Ponty and show that, despite their intentions, their ocular-centric metaphors obfuscate thinking about lived experience. I argue that Husserl and Merleau-Ponty do not offer us the means by which we might experientially eschew mind/body, subject/object binaries in everyday living.
In Section 1.4 of this chapter, I recognise that Merleau-Ponty eventually manages to find a way to describe a more integrated “circular course” of lived experience (1964/1968, p. 138). I discuss how he attempts in several ways to explain what he calls the “the intertwining – the chiasm” (1964/1968, p. 130) and how he develops a new conception of the body as a ‘chiasm’ or crossing that demonstrates the ontological continuity between body and world.
I introduce the Möbius loop model, suggested by Grosz (1994), as a more appropriate metaphor for rethinking the intertwining, immersive and evolutionary conditions of life. I discuss how this model is not only of value for rethinking, as Grosz, does body image, but is also valuable in rethinking the relations between other binaries associated with lived experience and artistic creativity, such as subject/object, and conscious/unconscious. Throughout the thesis, I note how the Möbius loop model will be explored as a significant framework for guiding the development and expression of my work.
In Section 1.5 of this chapter, I explore how mind/body, subject/object binaries have also limited our capacity to gain a more precise understanding of artistic creativity. I discuss how the prolific research into human creativity focuses on mental states, rather than on the role that body-centred, visceral phenomena might play in the creative process. I critique, in particular, Csiksentmihalyi’s claim that creativity is a mental process, and note how this focus inadvertently leads to unhelpful mind/body concepts about creativity. I note also that this conception of creativity is at odds with the way artists describe the corporeal lived experience of artistic creativity.
In Section 1.6 of this chapter, I report on some fragmentary evidence about the link between the experience of visceral phenomena and artistic creativity. I propose that artists’ descriptions of sensory experience in relation to the creative process suggest that they are accessing experience differently. I discuss how these descriptions of creativity reveal an under-explored research trajectory that is worthy of further investigation.
I close this chapter by recognising that it is possible to articulate an alternative ontological account of the relations between lived experience and artistic creativity, but that disembodied philosophical concepts can only take us so far. I claim that in my attempts to frame this project it was still not clear to me how I might, as Bergson says, “act and [to] live” as though an immersive and evolutionary construct life was true (1911/2005, p. 295). I cite this obscurity as the catalyst for examining artists’ accounts of the link between visceral phenomena and artistic creativity and as the reason for employing a Performance Research methodology that involved learning how to consciously access experience differently whilst engaged in creating artistic performance works.