Tuesday 10 February 2009

On the Fires of Creativity...

I frankly have no more inclination to write about politics, occupation, wars, death tolls, and the rest...I am saturated with it, overdosed on it and most of it feels like a rehash of things said before...and repeated ad infinitum.
Yet I cannot settle for the status quo nor for faits accomplis...

This state of limbo can be paralyzing and stifle all energy that can be channelled for other purposes, in other directions...I am aware of this trap and stalemates are not necessarily a good thing precisely because they are STALE. Stale as in stagnation.

Hence redirecting my energies to reading all the books I have been wanting to read has been a most welcomed breakthrough, some fresh air infused into that staleness.

Not just reading but also re-connecting with people, only people that I know will bring an extra something to my life.

Such a person is M. M.is an amazing artist, very talented yet like most highly creative people always unsure of his work. Which is not a bad thing really, because this insecurity drives him to excell even more and his works shine even brighter...yet he does not see it that way.

Got to spend the afternoon with him today and I believe what makes M. so unique is not just his genius in artistic expression or the techniques he uses, but what shines through most in his work is his personality, or should I say his being.

M. is a pleasure to be with. He is not overbearing nor narcissistic as are most artists (unfortunately), but he not subdued either. He is somewhere in the middle, a middle tinged with a natural shyness that comes across as an endearing quality. Yet he is very open. It is this mixture of reserve and openness that is reflected in his works.

We talked for many hours about creativity. I don't have his talent for sure but I understood the blocks, the inner reticence that can hold back any artist.

The first and foremost is the inner censor. The inner censor manifests itself under different forms, even taking on different voices - it may be a cultural tone, a societal rule, a parental injunction and even a personal belief...or a bit of each and sometimes much of each. I suppose it feels like someone (oneself to be more precise) putting a lid on something, like turning a tap of water off, at other times it feels like trying to stop a river from flowing or a fountain from gushing...

I shall give you an example that M. shared with me.

M. when not painting, teaches. He told me of one of his students, who was not really a student since she was an artist herself who had a few exhibitions in her name, in other words she was no beginner. This female "student" was painting horses for over 3years. She said she loved horses and horses inspired her. The problem with her is that she could not paint anything else. She was stuck with horses.

After several private tutorials, she realized thanks to M. that the reason behind her being stuck with horses was because that was the only thing permissible for her to draw or the only thing she allowed herself to draw. She told M. that, that was the closest she could get to drawing nude men. And her being stuck with horses was her way of making it culturally or socially acceptable to draw nude men in her head.

This is one instance of how the inner censor works. I guess it is the same with writing. That is why in my opinion, works of fiction can be more potent than other forms of writing because they allow through character constructs to give voice to what the inner censor wants you to silence.

And that is why works of fiction, if well written, have this amazing ability to transport the reader into a reality which is close to his/hers through an identification process. It is the reader that renders the characters alive by infusing them with his/her own personal experience and by identifying with them. And it is the art of the writer to provide these characters to the reader, by deriving, extracting them from his/her observations of real life personas, in other words from reality.

But at the end of the day it remains fiction, just like the virtual remains virtual and not real, while it confers a sentiment of realness. And it is precisely because a writer in the fictional world creates characters that may be total opposites of what the writer believes in - this in itself is the highest form of art and creativity at its best.

In a way it is a trapping lure for the reader, because even the most intelligent of readers will confuse the fiction with the real. But fiction remains fiction however real it may come across. And blaming the writer for his characters is really another way of censoring him.

One such brilliant writer, a contemporary one, is Ala'a Al-Aswany. This man is in my opinion one of the best contemporary writers in Egypt. He wrote the Yacoubian Building, Chicago and I have been reading his "Niran Sadiqa" - Truthful fires. A book that was banned in Egypt because of its heavy criticisms of Egyptian society.

People turned against him because they made that mistake of taking the fictional characters for the writer. Ala'a Al-Aswany stressed that he loved Egypt but some of his fictional characters did not.

I think the brilliance of Ala'a Al-Aswany comes from the fact that he was able to circumvent his inner censor in the most elegant and compassionate of ways. Reading the Yacoubian Building or Chicago for instance is a real life experience. The characters are so well studied, so well observed and so well lived that they are real or become real. The genius of Ala'a Al-Aswany is his ability to form intimate bonds with his characters, as if they have always existed and were just waiting to be put on paper. His uncanny perception of the psychology of his characters, their hidden desires, their unspoken truths, their inner cultural, religious, political tensions and contradictions, their very survival...are all carefully crafted, not so much in boring details of narration, but in their essence, in their very being.

Why am I writing all of this ? I am not sure myself...

Maybe because allowing the fires of creativity is the best antidote to wars, occupation and death...or maybe because of some other hidden reason that I have not yet uncovered...or maybe because my own fictional characters are dying to get out once and for all, instead of this hide and seek that I play with them and take on a reality of their own however short lived this one may be.