Thursday, November 15, 2012

Curiouser and curiouser

Earlier tonight I sat up in bed on my laptop with quite a glazed look in my eyes, I imagine. For some reason, the past few days have had me feeling slightly lethargic and loopy; after big meals or in the evenings it's almost as though I'm not here at all. Rather, I'm floating in the netherworld between sleep and wakefulness, too incoherent to form rational thoughts and yet too unwilling to pass into dreamland without fulfilling the days quota of responsibilities (including this blog).

It's the residual effect of being in Europe. It's an hour earlier here in the United Kingdom, but I still have the internal clock of Danish, German, Austrian, Italian time. It's hard to shake even that slightest of time differences when it's coupled with the tiredness of sleep deprivation.

But although this feeling doesn't account for any of my most profound moments of stimulating company or intrapersonal interaction, I do credit it with being the time when I'm most creative - if only because it's the only time I can tap into my very strange unconscious mind.

This week in my art history course we were at the Tate Modern talking about the surrealist and Dada movements in the early 20th century. For the sake of simplicity, I'll focus only on surrealism because that most closely relates to my mind on these late evenings.

The surrealist movement was a reactionary period in art history (as were virtually all other movements). It was all about tapping into the unconscious mind - Freudian in principle - and rejecting ideas of minimalism and the return to pure classical, antiquated art forms during the time of its creation.

This was a style searching for its way, trying to exhume itself from the tired aspects of old world creation.

I think that's why it so appeals to me. And why a lot of times I create it myself, unknowingly.

"Painting" by Joan Miró
One of the pieces we looked at during class was of a series of squiggles and shapes on a canvas that had been primed in a vibrant blue. Our tutor talked about how the artist would employ automatic drawing (letting the mind wander and create without focusing on subject matter or substance), and that whatever the outcome was became the art object we were viewing.

There are times when I write and I find myself in a really strange state of mental incapacity. I sit in front of my computer screen, one foot in the real world and one in my own little world of the unconscious. In this state, I'm able to form actual sentences but unable to create actual thoughts.

I've been told I should just write an entire blog in this state and share it without editing. Some might find it funny, the musings of my mind when I'm not quite aware of what's coming out of it. It's like that moment of falling into a deep sleep, when you are dreaming about something but reality is still playing a part.

Like leaving the television on and hearing it in your half-asleep state, then seeing it reflected back at you by some measure from underneath your eyelids.

This used to happen to me a lot when I was younger. My dad would turn on the television to wake me up for school and I'd be able to dream the story on the screen in my head. It would have some strange twists that were not present in the actual story, but still it was a fascinating meld of both the conscious understanding of the program and my mind's confused and rambling interpretation.

I like to think this is how surrealists think. They're fascinated with how their minds can still produce thoughts when they're only half-coherent, and they try to grasp onto that period of creation as best they can so they can create what they believe is something authentic and personal.

Is this how someone like Lewis Carroll created his works? I can just see him sitting at his desk at Oxford, a photo of a young girl peeking at him out of the corner of his eye (do yourself the favor of learning the odd history of Carroll and his relationship with the young Alice Liddell, it's pretty disturbing but fascinating just the same). He has pen to paper and he's working meticulously on a manuscript. But as he scribbles he finds himself drifting off. These are the moments when poems like "Jabberwocky" flow out of his fountain pen.

If you haven't read it, then here's a little taste:

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

In a way, this style of creation feels deliberate, almost contrived. There's something that makes it seem ultra-calculated, as if you couldn't even create that nonsense without thinking really hard about how best to be nonsensical. Which ruins the principle of nonsense in the first place, doesn't it?

Upon looking up the poem, I found an interpretation on Wikipedia that had definitions of the nonsensical words used in it. It attempts to clarify something that is incomprehensible. That's how the human mind works - we always want to make sense of the unfathomable. But when I read Lewis Carroll or when I look at surrealist art or anything else that appears to be the work of the unconscious, I almost prefer to just enter my unconscious at the same time. And to believe that the people behind the work did the same.

I think that's the principle behind it, anyway. The best thoughts are created by the mind unconcerned with thoughts. The thoughts shared while in this state may not make sense or have much intellectual value, but they represent something inherently personal, however confusing or jumbled.

Maybe one day I will let go of my conscious desire to be in control and share something I write when I am half-asleep. On the other hand, since it doesn't come out as eloquently as "Jabberwocky," I'd worry that the value would be lost on anyone who doesn't understand the concept of literal nonsense.

This is a skill I need to tame until it creates something that is comprehensible regardless of incoherence. At the moment I'm working on it. Because I really admire the skill that I see in these other artists; to create something beautiful without the overuse of their mind at all. As a writer, I always need to be in my right mind. But do I?

That's the question.

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