The creativity of undergoing

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49 Citations (Scopus)


Creativity is often portrayed as an X-factor that accounts for the spontaneous generation of the absolutely new. Yet the obsession with novelty implies a focus on final products and a retrospective attribution of their forms to unprecedented ideas in the minds of individuals, at the expense of any recognition of the form-generating potentials of the relations and processes in which persons and things are made and grown. In these processes, practitioners are characteristically called upon to copy the works of past masters. However, though they may be guided by a script or score, every practitioner has to improvise his or her own passage through the array of tasks the performance entails. With examples from music, calligraphy and lace-making, I show that the wellsprings of creativity lie not inside people’s heads, but in their attending upon a world in formation. In this kind of creativity, undergone rather than done, imagination is not so much the capacity to come up with new ideas as the aspirational impulse of a life that is not just lived but led. But where it leads is not yet given. In opening to the unknown — in exposure — imagination leads not by mastery but by submission. Thus the creativity of undergoing, of action without agency, is that of life itself.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)124-139
Number of pages16
JournalPragmatics & Cognition
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014


  • Aspiration
  • attention
  • calligraphy
  • concrescence
  • copying
  • creativity
  • doing
  • education
  • history
  • imagination
  • improvisation
  • innovation
  • lace-making
  • music
  • notation
  • ontogenesis
  • performance
  • time
  • undergoing


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