Inspiration, Innovation and Invention: Three Impossible Paradigms

Published: 2021-09-13 16:35:09
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Inspiration, Innovation & Invention: Three Impossible Paradigms

by Anton Krueger (1998)


Introductions cannot be avoided. If something is to be said, it is impossible not to start- something inevitably comes first. Beginnings may not necessarily be causal, and their primacy may not necessarily be primary, but the fact remains that- for better or worse- beginnings exist. And yet, what can one possibly say of beginnings, of introductions? How can one introduce a beginning? What comes before the introduction? What is the title of the title?

In his essay, "Psyche", Derrida refers to this selfsame complication in addressing the demanding construction of the invention, which must arrive "without the patience of a preface", since it is itself "a new preface" (1992: 316). And this highlights one of the chief difficulties in attempting to construe paradigms for processes which almost certainly whither amidst the strictures of structure. Paradigms of inspiration, innovation and invention are impossible to delineate, if one is seeking clear solutions, de-finite definitions, a measure of certainty. The language of this essay, being necessarily constrained by the exigencies of construction, is here employed as an analogous agency- a metaphor for the truth- which indicates (and indicts) that which hopes to be new, that which is allegedly different from all that has gone before, whilst not in itself making claims to newness. Derrida's ideas on invention, which hereby preface this discussion, will be returned to at the very end of this paper, an end hereby foretold as inevitable. And now that both beginning and ending have been explicated, and now that one knows what to expect, and to which sorts of inconclusive conclusions this paper is heading, now there's nothing for it but to depict whatever it is happening in the middle of this frame. As mentioned in the abstract, I will remain unable to answer this paper's most pertinent question, which is namely "how do ideas originate?".*

* I say "ideas", and not "new ideas", since what is an idea if not new? When someone says "I have an idea", they are generally not referring to tried and tested ideas of posterity. This is an indication of the extent to which modernity is already assumed to be preferable to the traditional. i.e. Breathes there still a creature such as an old idea?

I. Inspiration

The platonic notion of inspiration, as described in "Ion", alludes to a divine force which inhabits an artist who subsequently becomes an instrument of a transcendental power. Evidence of the workings of this force can be seen, as one might see the effect of wind on trees, and yet its source rests in the invisible, in the intangible. The ability to create inspired art does thus not involve a process of reasoning, or of skill and cannot be acquired via study. Inspiration is rather a case of manipulation, whereby an energy- an enthusiasm- directs a human instrument, in much the same way as the wind plays the Aeolian harp. A favoured individual, then, provides a link between the transcendental, and the incidental. The transcendent descends via a particular person to others, some of whom become equally inspired; that is to say- after initially inspiring an acolyte of a particular muse, this inspiration can be transferred. The true artist is thus not merely an empty vassal of the muses, but a lodestone. For example, Homer is filled with inspiration by a muse and thus has the ability to inspire Ion, who in turn inspires the crowds at the amphitheatre with his oration. This energy is not depleted, but seems to be renewed with each inspiration, so the go between becomes a source themselves. To use a contemporary example: were one to say that Joseph Conrad received intimate advice from Melpomene, the muse of tragedy, and received gifts unknown to other men, one might then observe that he became a lodestone, who in turn still energises the ever burgeoning field of Conradiana, which currently busies some hundreds of academics fulltime worldwide and who, in turn, annually inspire thousands of undergraduates with gruelling interpretations of Heart of Darkness etc. Thus clear evidence is supplied of Conrad's authentic standing as one blessed by a Muse, linked to the divine, to the metaphysical, to one of the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne (memory). Quotations from his books may thus be supplied in much the same way as Biblical quotations would preface chapters during the rise of Protestantism- as a form of proof.

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