Tag Archives: creative process

Twenty. (An anniversary retrospective.)

Today, May 20th, marks the anniversary of my life’s work. Twenty years ago, I set myself to developing a philosophy that I called Promethean, or Prometheanism. Today, composing Promethean philosophy is still what I do.

But many things have changed. To explain some of that, I feel like I probably have to set the stage just a bit.

When I started in 1998, I was writing with the internet audience in mind, which was then select, relatively-educated, and worldwide. Back then, online publishing was a frontier that required web design. It was before blog software. It was before social media sorted everyone within their culs-de-sac. In fact, the usual types were hand-wringing about the “digital divide” of access, not-yet universal, seemingly unaware that mainstream crowds can ruin anything special. Back then, many people actively surfed the web looking for interesting, random, and challenging reading, as well as stupid humor. (That was always there.) Scattered individuals who were motivated to learn and interested in a better future were excited to have the means to connect and congregate. I was unapologetically talking to this forward-looking elite—of all ages, socioeconomic classes, and origins—who were looking for enlightenment, and eager to participate in a renaissance.

Promethea.org maelstrom

The “maelstrom” theme I designed for the Promethea.org web site in 2000.

I wrote and published multiple articles and essays on the web, and especially created novel, illuminated presentations for a website called Promethea, including The Promethean Trilogy, which began with The Promethean Manifesto, the genesis of all Promethean writing of mine. I worked on e-books/series on subjects like the economics of liberated society, critiques of naive faith in democracy, the importance of typical philosophical errors, and prospects for ending war. One goal was to try to build a cross-disciplinary Promethean movement.

You see, back then, with enough talent and very little money, you could create and publish, and people would come. Intelligent people would read it, and converse with you. You weren’t competing with billion-dollar corporations for mere seconds of attention from millions of eyeballs. It was a promising time, but it didn’t last very long.

As of 2004, when everything unique and thoughtful was getting lost in an interminable internet, I began to shift my emphasis to writing paper books, instead.

Photo on 2011-12-22 at 06.02

Checked-off proofreading edits in a printed draft of Pyramid of Babel, December, 2011.

I spent about seven years, on and off, on the great project of writing an unpublished novel, called Pyramid of Babel. I’m proud to say that Pyramid of Babel turned out both provocative to the conventional tastes and temperaments of those who follow along in society—as a novel of ideas ought to be—and unique, as I think a great novel ought to be. It did not fulfill my goal of breaking in as an author, however, so that I could get other books out there. If I had known the dire state of the industry, its rigidity of genres, its sanctimony, and its gatekeeping by agents, it’s possible I would never have adopted that plan—prioritized the novel, bet on success, and sacrificed so much as I have in order to create it. That would have been a shame, artistically.

Pyramid of 5 Aspects of Pyramid of Babel

I made a Pyramid of the complete draft.

Along the way, I also finished and self-published a collection of essays in 2008 called Rising in Words.

I also wrote a lot of material for 2 or 3 important but unfinished nonfiction books. The lion’s share consisted of 1) research to flesh out a cybernetic attractor model of personality and mind, while 2) working to articulate it with the wonder and clarity of the best popularized science writing, so as make it understandable to as many interested people as possible—the closest thing to a user’s manual of the human mind I would ever try to write. I don’t work on it consistently these days, but I have plans to do so again, when the course of writing The Constellation of Man leads me back to the part where I have to work out how to communicate these same mental attractors that we all demonstrate.

Another batch of work laid out my sociological theory of the anti-social origins of conflict, not in Paleolithic human nature, but in historical-era hierarchical institutions, which empowered psychopaths and narcissists. (A subject also intended for a vid-doc script on Myths About Human Nature and War.) Part of the argument would be an evolutionary one, accounting for the presence of these sub-types. And, a perhaps-separable book built on overlapping research would emphasize psychopathoid personalities in modern society over their origins.

At some point I began writing some entries on this blog, Wisdom Dancer. I don’t entirely remember why, except that I needed a place to talk about process, and journal, and vent, basically (as opposed to my “real” writing). I did all that of elsewhere, first, and then gradually migrated here. Happily, I left social media behind.

Currently, I write material primarily with The Constellation of Man (formerly Prometheus Redux) in mind. This evolved from early efforts in The Promethean Trilogy to invent new kinds of philosophical literature, better able to tell a story about reforming and rekindling humanistic values. (Actually, Nietzsche beat me to it.)

thinking-through-philosophy-tpm

February, 2013

I have many emotions as I look back on twenty years of personal history as a philosopher, a creative artist, and a dissident.

I have thought and written across boundaries—for instance, between social criticism, philosophy of science, humanistic psychology, cybernetics, anthropology, political science, history, education, epic literature, and mythology, with enthusiasm for fusion. I’ve held no more regard for artificial academic boundaries than the artificial boundaries of government, or moralism, or collective divisions, which I have repeatedly written against. As a result, I have often found that I fit nobody’s expectations, and fit in nowhere; and that I make impermissible, unpopular arguments. I do not regret it. Taking sincere advantage of freedom of thought is highly likely to have genuine social and economic costs, not only in facing off with institutions and conventions, but with herd-minded people, and those simply ill-equipped by their institutions to recognize (and value) a wider breadth of thought than their conventions. Again, I do not regret it.

The large majority of what I have written remains unpublished—some of importance, unfinished. The weight of potential hangs over my work, as I do it; I rarely have the satisfaction of completion and feedback, and have never had the feeling of success. It was not a journey I embarked on for attention or reward, although I intended to have more of an impact. It has certainly not been a journey I have continued because any project has, so far, really accomplished what I set out to do. These days, I often have to think that I write for the future and not the present. I continue because the work itself compels me, or needs me. It still fascinates. It still frustrates. I could say that I continue to write because I am a philosopher, and I cannot be someone else.

I can, all at the same time, appreciate that I have made much progress over the years as a writer of philosophical literature. Mastery does not come easily, and it is never finished. Abilities and efficiency go through ups and downs, not continual improvement. But once in a while, usually by sticking it out through many trials and errors—as well as through the marvelous leaps of imagination—the writing does play out as it feels like it was meant to, and fully satisfies even the perfectionist in me.

I will always have mixed feelings about testing the lines between epic accomplishments and impossibilities. I cannot be satisfied with less, in any case. I will always have that kind of ambition.

Regardless, I figure that twenty years of shouldering responsibility in a cause I am truly proud of, and have never compromised—and 20 years of labors, undergoing some immense challenges—well deserves a bottle of Lagavulin Scotch whisky. So that will be my toast tonight. No lamentations for what might have been.

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Video Journal Episode 2

Video journal by underground philosopher Colin Patrick Barth on the art of writing original philosophy (in the Nietzschean tradition), with insights into the creative process of writing a 3-volume work of literature, “The Constellation of Man.” Recorded August 11, 2017.

Included in this second episode:

  1. The big news that some excerpts are now online at my blog, Wisdom Dancer.
  2. the importance of failure along the way, or
  3. Why This Second Episode Took So Long.
  4. (Not) getting comfortable with failure in ambitious creative work, in which failure is quite natural.
  5. Lateral, associative thoughts versus too much deliberate planning, or methodology.
  6. Most written philosophy is boring.
  7. How I’m trying to let resonant images organize material according to a different intuition, which is counterintuitive to a systematic writer.
  8. … the occasional pause, and a bit of inarticulate meandering. Brought to you by sleep deprivation (also natural).
Video

Video Journal, Episode 1

Video journal by underground philosopher Colin Patrick Barth for updates on recent writing and insight into the creative process. Recorded January 10, 2016.

Included in this first episode: a little too underground; giving a name to my current project; uses of metaphor and archetypes; thinking differently about philosophy.

Resonating

Things the irrepressibly original Tom Ellard recently said:

Six years ago I took stock of the vampires and creeps that populate the ‘independent’ music industry and figured that there was nothing there for me anymore. The whole thing could blow it out its copious arse.

Thing is, music industry isn’t music, which I love and need and would still make if the last person on earth. So that wasn’t going to stop.

When we closed shop it signalled a whole bunch of new people in my life. Unlike the last lot they seemed bright and caring and to be really into what we had done. It was great to have new family but after a while it dawned on me that we’d swapped our vampires for undertakers. These new guys throw a hell of a funeral! They like funerals so much they dig up the old bones over and over again.

I love these guys, but they get all anxious if you mention any year past 1980 something and, you know, I ain’t dead yet. So I just did my music. The weird thing being that I started to get jealous of my old self.
Man, that guy got all the praise, the smug bastard.

Maybe I should have been working on some grand project that would throw music into the future but I like to listen to strange pop songs and so that’s what I have made. For the longest time I didn’t think they were worth sharing and then realised that was more pretentious than just putting them out here.

In a industry where every fool claims to be a genius all I am going to say is here’s my new tunes. I have reworked them 1000x each and have to stop.

Also, when his early 80s Severed Heads work was complimented:

Like many artists I am really happy with the things I am currently exploring, because it’s always about growing and learning. I’m happy that you like the things you mention but please understand that it was all awfully long ago, and so much has happened since that time it hasn’t the same meaning to me as it once did.

Yes.

I love and need the processes of thinking, creating, and writing—cascades belittled by these bottled words, when they happen. The degree of overlap between meaningful philosophy and the publishing industry, or academia, or indirect interactions online for that matter, are really beside the point.

Like Ellard, I have a secret ‘album’ that isn’t all that secret. (All right, mine is a grand project, but no one will believe that until or unless they’re changed by it.) It will be done when it is. When it’s done, I’ll likely move on, and gradually stop caring about it so much as I have. That will be when other people get the chance to care about what’s finished for me—or not.

I have had occasion to find out that my former efforts were an influence on various people in the past, either because I was referenced, or (transparently) copied, or complimented. I also have more experience in lamenting receptions that were not what I’d hoped for. The truth is that a thousand awards would likely be irrelevant in equal measure to obscurity, or perhaps more horrifying. Short of the miracle of being understood by someone, which rarely happens but delights me when it does, I suppose the only thing that matters greatly is my understanding and experience of what I’m creating at present; surely it is also creating me.

How odd, really, sloughing off these skins. That’s how art works, it seems. (Otherwise, you’re in marketing! Clinging to old things…) Even stranger if strangers try your old skins on. They’ll never know what they felt like when you were living in them.

No, that doesn’t matter, either way. The creator has already lost something, and must make another skin.

One of Nietzsche’s loveliest passages comes to mind:

Alas, what are you after all, my written and painted thoughts! It was not long ago that you were still so colorful, young, and malicious, full of thorns and secret spices—you made me sneeze and laugh—and now? You have already taken off your novelty, and some of you are ready, I fear, to become truths: they already look so immortal, so pathetically decent, so dull! And has it ever been different? What things do we copy, writing and painting, we mandarins with Chinese brushes, we immortalizers of things that can be written—what are the only things we are able to paint? Alas, always only what is on the verge of withering and losing its fragrance! Alas, always only storms that are passing, exhausted, and feelings that are autumnal and yellow! Alas, always only birds that grew weary of flying and flew astray and now can be caught by hand—by our hand! We immortalize what cannot live and fly much longer—only weary and mellow things! And it is only your afternoon, you, my written and painted thoughts, for which alone I have colors, many colors perhaps, many motley caresses and fifty yellows and browns and greens and reds: but nobody will guess from that how you looked in your morning, you sudden sparks and wonders of my solitude, you my old beloved— wicked thoughts!

A fallowing time…

Here is an update for those who follow my work, and possibly wonder what I’ve been up to since I finished my novel manuscript, especially if they haven’t read my posts from earlier this year under the category of Philosophy.

In terms of writing, this autumn has been less productive than I tend to expect from my favorite season. So for me, November is all about getting back on track with the dual books of philosophy which were my focus for the first half of 2012 (and sporadically in 2010–2011).

Call them Gnosis and Praxeology for those who are familiar with those terms, and because I’m not going to go into their actual titles, back stories, or present aims right now. I will offer more information in time, and actually, I already have in previous posts you can find from the category link above.

In short, these two interconnected projects comprise by far the most ambitious attempt at a synthesis of thought & magnum opus I have made so far. I already know they will not be finished this year, but I think a reasonable goal is to have decided on the organization and division of their material into parts by the year’s end, and to have as much filled out as possible.

The organization of Gnosis is mostly finalized, which goes to show that one is far along. The precise organization of Praxeology remains a bit more up in the air, although the amount of quality material for it hasn’t lagged too far behind.

I am able to draw on notes and previous work collected over fifteen years, so there’s no shortage of material. The challenge is raising the standard in every way, and bringing disparate material together elegantly.

Those troubling junctions between the creative process, and anticipation

I realize that I would be a happy man if I could concentrate on putting excellence and importance into what I make and not also have to worry about where it’s all going when I’m done. The first challenge I love, but the other I have grown to dislike.

Thinking ahead to vectors and reception and such could drive anyone crazy. I love what I do as a writer of outsider-philosophy (whether fiction or nonfiction), but I occasionally envy creative people who experience the luxurious feeling of being able to let what they are doing stand on its own, because they don’t need or want it to achieve anything. Are they naive? Unambitious? Self-indulgent? Perhaps, in some cases, but they must experience a great deal less stress.

It’s more well-known that thinking about a creative endeavor as a product can strangle the process, but no doubt I have joined a long line of creators who feel driven to put intentions to make a difference behind their ideas, writing, art, social movements, etc. in my particular lament—especially if it is accompanied by the foresight to know that whatever they accomplish, or in whatever way they carefully do it to achieve certain ends, it may very well not make the mark they hope.