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On Creativity

September 28, 2015

Thoughts of Isaac Asimov.

Isaac Asimov -

The process of creativity, whatever it is, is essentially the evolution of a new art form,  new gadget or new business idea, all involving common and domain specific factors. I am interested in the “creation” of new business thinking,  or the reapplication of old thinking in new and creative ways.

One way of investigating the problem is to consider the great ideas of the past and see just how they were generated. Unfortunately, the method of generation is never clear even to the “generators” themselves.

But what if the same earth-shaking idea occurred to two men, simultaneously and independently? Perhaps, the common factors involved would be illuminating. Consider the theory of evolution by natural selection, independently created by Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace.

There is a great deal in common there. Both travelled to far places, observing strange species of plants and animals and the manner in which they varied from place to place. Both were keenly interested in finding an explanation for this, and both failed until each happened to read Malthus’s “Essay on Population.”

Both then saw how the notion of overpopulation and weeding out (which Malthus had applied to human beings) would fit into the doctrine of evolution by natural selection (if applied to species generally).

Obviously, then, what is needed is not only people with a good background in a particular field, but also people capable of making a connection between item 1 and item 2 which might not ordinarily seem connected.

Undoubtedly in the first half of the 19th century, a great many naturalists had studied the manner in which species were differentiated among themselves. A great many people had read Malthus. Perhaps some both studied species and read Malthus. But what you needed was someone who studied species, read Malthus, and had the ability to make a cross-connection.

That is the crucial point that is the rare characteristic that must be found. Once the cross-connection is made, it becomes obvious. Thomas H. Huxley is supposed to have exclaimed after reading On the Origin of Species, “How stupid of me not to have thought of this.”

But why didn’t he think of it? The history of human thought would make it seem that there is difficulty in thinking of an idea even when all the facts are on the table. Making the cross-connection requires a certain daring. It must, for any cross-connection that does not require daring is performed at once by many and develops not as a “new idea,” but as a mere “corollary of an old idea.”

It is only afterward that a new idea seems reasonable. To begin with, it usually seems unreasonable. It seems the height of unreason to suppose the earth was round instead of flat, or that it moved instead of the sun, or that objects required a force to stop them when in motion, instead of a force to keep them moving, and so on.

A person willing to fly in the face of reason, authority, and common sense must be a person of considerable self-assurance. Since he occurs only rarely, he must seem eccentric (in at least that respect) to the rest of us. A person eccentric in one respect is often eccentric in others.

Consequently, the person who is most likely to get new ideas is a person of good background in the field of interest and one who is unconventional in his habits. (To be a crackpot is not, however, enough in itself.)

Once you have the people you want, the next question is: Do you want to bring them together so that they may discuss the problem mutually, or should you inform each of the problem and allow them to work in isolation?

My feeling is that as far as creativity is concerned, isolation is required. The creative person is, in any case, continually working at it. His mind is shuffling his information at all times, even when he is not conscious of it. (The famous example of Kekule working out the structure of benzene in his sleep is well-known.)

The presence of others can only inhibit this process, since creation is embarrassing. For every new good idea you have, there are a hundred, ten thousand foolish ones, which you naturally do not care to display.

Nevertheless, a meeting of such people may be desirable for reasons other than the act of creation itself.

No two people exactly duplicate each other’s mental stores of items. One person may know A and not B, another may know B and not A, and either knowing A and B, both may get the idea—though not necessarily at once or even soon.

Furthermore, the information may not only be of individual items A and B, but even of combinations such as A-B, which in themselves are not significant. However, if one person mentions the unusual combination of A-B and another the unusual combination A-C, it may well be that the combination A-B-C, which neither has thought of separately, may yield an answer.

It seems to me then that the purpose of cerebration sessions is not to think up new ideas but to educate the participants in facts and fact-combinations, in theories and vagrant thoughts.

But how to persuade creative people to do so? First and foremost, there must be ease, relaxation, and a general sense of permissiveness. The world in general disapproves of creativity, and to be creative in public is particularly bad. Even to speculate in public is rather worrisome. The individuals must, therefore, have the feeling that the others won’t object.

If a single individual present is unsympathetic to the foolishness that would be bound to go on at such a session, the others would freeze. The unsympathetic individual may be a gold mine of information, but the harm he does will more than compensate for that. It seems necessary to me, then, that all people at a session be willing to sound foolish and listen to others sound foolish.

If a single individual present has a much greater reputation than the others, or is more articulate, or has a distinctly more commanding personality, he may well take over the conference and reduce the rest to little more than passive obedience. The individual may himself be extremely useful, but he might as well be put to work solo, for he is neutralizing the rest.

The optimum number of the group would probably not be very high. I should guess that no more than five would be wanted. A larger group might have a larger total supply of information, but there would be the tension of waiting to speak, which can be very frustrating. It would probably be better to have a number of sessions at which the people attending would vary, rather than one session including them all. (This would involve a certain repetition, but even repetition is not in itself undesirable. It is not what people say at these conferences, but what they inspire in each other later on.)

For best purposes, there should be a feeling of informality. Joviality, the use of first names, joking, relaxed kidding are, I think, of the essence—not in themselves, but because they encourage a willingness to be involved in the folly of creativeness. For this purpose I think a meeting in someone’s home or over a dinner table at some restaurant is perhaps more useful than one in a conference room.

Probably more inhibiting than anything else is a feeling of responsibility. The great ideas of the ages have come from people who weren’t paid to have great ideas, but were paid to be teachers or patent clerks or petty officials, or were not paid at all. The great ideas came as side issues.

To feel guilty because one has not earned one’s salary because one has not had a great idea is the surest way, it seems to me, of making it certain that no great idea will come in the next time either.

Yet your company is conducting this cerebration program on government money. To think of congressmen or the general public hearing about scientists fooling around, boondoggling, telling dirty jokes, perhaps, at government expense, is to break into a cold sweat. In fact, the average scientist has enough public conscience not to want to feel he is doing this even if no one finds out.

I would suggest that members at a cerebration session be given sinecure tasks to do—short reports to write, or summaries of their conclusions, or brief answers to suggested problems—and be paid for that, the payment being the fee that would ordinarily be paid for the cerebration session. The cerebration session would then be officially unpaid-for and that, too, would allow considerable relaxation.

I do not think that cerebration sessions can be left unguided. There must be someone in charge who plays a role equivalent to that of a psychoanalyst. A psychoanalyst, as I understand it, by asking the right questions (and except for that interfering as little as possible), gets the patient himself to discuss his past life in such a way as to elicit new understanding of it in his own eyes.

In the same way, a session-arbiter will have to sit there, stirring up the animals, asking the shrewd question, making the necessary comment, bringing them gently back to the point. Since the arbiter will not know which question is shrewd, which comment necessary, and what the point is, his will not be an easy job.

As for “gadgets” designed to elicit creativity, I think these should arise out of the bull sessions themselves. If thoroughly relaxed, free of responsibility, discussing something of interest, and being by nature unconventional, the participants themselves will create devices to stimulate discussion.

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Django Unchained: The D is silent.

March 4, 2013



by C. Liegh McInnis

It was never correct to group much of African American-themed cinema under the heading “Blacksploitation.” The latest blockbuster of the genre deserves to be examined as serious social commentary. “Django Unchained exposes well the complex classes of slaves, the complex relationships between slaves, and the complex relationships between slaves and whites within the ‘peculiar institution.'”

Django Unchained: Don’t Miss What’s Truly Important Because of the Smoke and Mirrors

by C. Liegh McInnis

Stephen is the example of the calculating, critical thinking slave who learns/masters the plantation system/culture and manipulates it to his good fortune regardless of whom he must hurt.”

Django Unchained is a very good, possibly great, Western, if one can stomach Quinton Tarantino’s highly sexualized and gory style. My issue with Tarantino is that most of his films seem to be rooted in or use the white fascination for the exotic and violent black as a trope or backdrop for the sexuality and violence of his movies. However, in this case, Tarantino’s hypersexual and ultraviolent style is a perfectly suited vehicle to show the horrors of slavery, especially the degradation of human beings into chattel for the economic gain and perverse pleasure of white supremacy. That being said, while being a visually moving, if not often grotesque, film, rooted in sex and violence, Django Unchained exposes well the complex classes of slaves, the complex relationships between slaves, and the complex relationships between slaves and whites within the “peculiar institution.”

Yet, contrary to Ben Daite’s assertion in his review “Django Unchained – The Black, The Beautiful & Ev’thing Ugly,” Django Unchanged is not the first or best film to do this.  So, when Daite asserts,

“It’s a black hero movie of some sort, a well crafted emancipation epic of a black man and shames the myriad emancipation organisms we have been hitherto inundated with in movies like the coveted Sweet Sweetbacks Badasssss Song by many a black film academics. Who said a black film cannot be bold, hot, intelligent, packed, disturbing and soothing at the same time? No film, like Django Unchained, has ever drawn the moral and physical color line so inadvertently,”

I can only cringe from the fact that Daite allows his desire to love and defend Django Unchained to show just how clueless he is regarding the history of African American films.

Tarantino’s hypersexual and ultraviolent style is a perfectly suited vehicle to show the horrors of slavery.”

First, while lacking the budget needed to make it as well-polished cinematically as Django Unchained,Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song (1971) is a very good film. In fact, its style is quite revolutionary.The film’s fast-paced montages and jump-cuts were unique features in American cinema at the time and a precursor to the action-packed style for which Daite applauds Django Unchained. Also, the manner in which Sweetback is forced to use his penis constantly as a bargaining tool comments on American fixation with the black penis (as Tarantino eventually does in the later stage of Django Unchained) and on the notion that far too many African American men fall into the trap of allowing their penis to become a major aspect of their identity. Furthermore, I should not be forced to remind Daite of Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte‘s Buck and the Preacher (1972), which not only addresses the conflict between African Americans and whites but also addresses the problem of all people of color (in this case African Americans and Native Americas) navigating their issues with each other while engaging their common issues with whites.  And, if we understand that Death Wish and the Dirty Harry series are, essentially, urban Westerns because they are driven by the same white supremacist notions of conquering the savages, then we understand that Shaft (1971) also refutes Daite’s historically misinformed assertion.  Additionally, Django Unchained does not come close to discussing or drawing “the moral and physical color line” that is drawn, deconstructed, mocked, refashioned, and obliterated in the manner of Blazing Saddles (1974), written by Mel Brooks and Richard Pryor.

 Of course, maybe Daite’s assertion of Django Unchained‘s superiority to other African American films is rooted in it being “hot” or “hotter” than other African American films that address race, but someone should remind Mr. Daite that “hotness” is relative and, often, judged on differing generational criteria. With that said, I seem to remember that most women found Richard Roundtree to be “hot” in his portrayal of John Shaft, and the same is true of Mario Van Peebles’ portrayal of Jesse Lee in Posse, Denzel Washington’s portrayal of Trip in Glory, and, if my memory serves me correctly, more than a few women were brought to a swoon over John Amos’ portrayal in Roots of the African warrior, Kunta Kinte, whose unbreakable desire for freedom and courage to obtain it are the heart and soul of the narrative. But, in fairness to Daite, when he says “hot,” I know that he also means the stylistic production and presentation of the film. Again, to this I respond that “hotness” is relative and often based on generational criteria as well as what the current technology allows a film to do.

White filmmakers are regularly given larger budgets and creative control than African American filmmakers.”

Remember, we all have fashion moments in our past for which we hope no one finds those pictures.  The same is true of film.  Often, the current marvel of fashion and high-tech production, especially special effects, in movies often appears inferior (lame and dated) just ten years later.  But, the reviews of that time tell us just how “hot” and stylish those effects were then.  Still, in any era a film’s “hotness” is directly related to its production budget.  Therefore, Django Unchained‘s “hotness” may be more a tribute to the manner in which white filmmakers are regularly given larger budgets and creative control than African American filmmakers.  Let’s not forget that Spike Lee was forced to go with his hat in his hand to African American funders to finish Malcolm X because the studio’s budget wouldn’t produce the epic that Lee sought to make.  And even Robert Townsend had to fight with the studio for more money because, as he says, “The amount of the budget determines whether there are five hundred screaming fans after a Five Heartbeat’s concert or if there are just five people in an empty alley.”  So, the style or hotness of the film is not so much about Tarantino as it is about the types of limited budgets African American filmmakers are given even after they have proven themselves to be excellent.

 Yet, what’s really flawed about Daite’s review is that he spends so much time trying to convince readers that Tarantino is a bold and revolutionary director just for making Django Unchained that he never fully discusses the most important aspect of the film, which is the juxtaposition and exploration of the various ideologies of slaves, namely the ideological positions of Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) and Django (Jamie Foxx) as well as Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) when one considers that she is an example of the manner in which various slave classes/ideologies were often created based on the ideology of the plantation where a slave was born or purchased as an infant.  (Check the history of Phillis Wheatley.) So if Mr. Daite could remove his head from Tarantino’s ass long enough and stop making jabs at Lee long enough, he might find the time to write an analysis of the film that shows us how Django Unchainedsucceeds rather than spending the entire review stroking Tarantino’s…err…ego while giving the middle finger to the history of African American cinema. Thus, the saddest part of Mr. Daite’s analysis is that he becomes guilty of the same flaw of which he accuses Lee. For some reason Daite seems to think that he can only celebrate Django Unchained by denouncing the history of African American cinema.

Tarantino correctly identifies Stephen as the traditional Greek and Shakespearean figure, such as Iago, who has the ear of the King and manipulates his position for his own good often at the demise of others.”

To be clear, when Samuel Jackson responded to Tarantino’s questioning of if he would have a problem playing Stephen by stating, “You mean do I have a problem playing the most hated black man in the history of American cinema?,” one wonders if the general public will understand the depths of what Jackson was saying. What makes Django Unchained a good, possibly great film, is, again, the layering of the complexity of African American characters.  Stephen is not just a flat, stereotypical house nigger or sellout or Uncle Tom or handkerchief head.  Stephen is the example of the calculating, critical thinking slave who learns/masters the plantation system/culture and manipulates it to his good fortune regardless of whom he must hurt.  To his credit, even Tarantino correctly identifies Stephen as the traditional Greek and Shakespearean figure, such as Iago, who has the ear of the King and manipulates his position for his own good often at the demise of others.  But even more, Stephen is proof that the slaves both intellectually (administratively) and physically maintained the plantation during slavery and much of the South after slavery.

As a digression, watching The Jack Benny Program, I often wondered if the white writers purposefully crafted Rochester, Benny’s valet and chauffeur, as being more intelligent and moral than Jack Benny or if it was simply a Freudian slip of white supremacist schizophrenia.  Moreover, drawing a chronological line from Rochester to Stephen and plotting that line with a host of African American servants and slaves, one realizes that African Americans not only built America, but they also maintained it administratively.  Yet, I wonder how many people will not realize that the library scene between Stephen and his master, Calvin Candie (Leonardo Dicaprio), is not fantasy but a fictionalized retelling of the manner in which African American slaves and their offspring have been and have remained counselors for whites in leadership positions. How many African Americans had the ideas, but whites obtained the patents or job promotions based on African American intellect and work? Stephen is not a heroic character, but he is not a mindless boob either. Stephen is an example of one of the various ways that African Americans were forced or chose to analyze, navigate, and manipulate the schizophrenia of white supremacy for survival and profit.

The African American community is not taking seriously the need to produce enough critical thinkers to engage and evaluate artistic portrayal of real-life issues.”

An African American whom I have known since high school once said to me in 2010, “C. Liegh, your problem is that you spend too much time with niggers. Niggers ain’t got no money, no power, nor the sense to use either if and when they get ’em. That’s why I hang out with white folks.” This person works as a highly paid consultant in his field with very lucrative contracts from major white firms. One person may view this person as a modern day Stephen, and another person may view this person as somebody just taking life as it is. The real question is what is informing how one may perceive this person because the real problem is that the African American community is not taking seriously the need to produce enough critical thinkers to engage and evaluate artistic portrayal of real-life issues in a manner that allows the mass of African Americans to understand what is being said about us in all forms of media and what is being done to us in every way possible, even when it is being done by us. Furthermore, a key to understanding all of this is understanding the complex history of African people.

So, again, I wonder how many people will really understand what is occurring in the library scene between Stephen and Candie. If there is real brilliance to Django Unchained, it is Tarantino’s writing of and Jackson’s portrayal of Stephen and Dicaprio’s ability to portray Candie’s schizophrenic dependence upon Stephen in a manner that exposes Stephen’s plantation magnitude. Then, add to this Django’s ability to analyze various circumstances and navigate them accordingly along with Tarantino’s crafting and positioning of other slaves to complete the complex three-dimensional portrayal of multifaceted human beings all reacting to slavery in the manner that best suits their understanding, personality, and benefit, and Django Unchained does become a film worthy of most of the praise that Daite gives it, and one does not need to marginalize the history of African American cinema to celebrate the artistic (creative and critical) successes of Django Unchained, unless one is positioning oneself to be a literary neo-Stephen.

C. Liegh McInnis is an instructor of English at Jackson State University, the publisher and editor of Black Magnolias Literary Journal, the author of seven books, including four collections of poetry, and one collection of short fiction.