The Creative Spark Outside All of Us

February 23, 2009

TED.com (which is a fantastic place to learn new things and hear intriguing ideas, if you’ve never visited) has put up a video of Elizabeth Gilbert giving a lecture on creativity. I haven’t read Eat, Pray, Love — I have been petulantly resisting its overwhelming bestselleriness, despite being a sucker for travel memoirs in general — and I’ve heard very conflicting reports on the book, but her talk was a lovely meditation on the nature of genius. I can’t say her proposal — that we remove the locus of genius from the artist and place it instead outside the artist, as the ancient Greeks and Romans did, thus divesting the artist of the excruciating and even destructive responsibility of being a genius — convinced me. Gilbert herself acknowledges that what she is suggesting is “basically fairies who follow people around, like, rubbing fairy juice on their projects.” But the talk itself is still thought-provoking and even beautiful.

At one point Gilbert talks about the poet Ruth Stone, and her experience of writing poetry:

She told me that when she was growing up in rural Virginia, she would be out working in the  fields, and she said she would, like, feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape, and she said it was like a thunderous train of air, and it would come barreling down at her over the landscape. And when she felt it coming — because it would, like, shake the earth under her feet — she knew that she had only one thing to do at that point, and that was to, in her words, “run like hell.” And she would, like,  run like hell, and she’d be getting chased by this poem, and the whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper and a pencil fast enough so that when it thundered through her she could collect it and grab it on the page.

I won’t ruin the ending of the anecdote for anyone who wants to watch the lecture, but I will say it gets even more wonderful.

So, not really translation related — except for her discussion of the Moorish origins of the Spanish word olé — but it is about art and the creative process. I really do recommend listening to the lecture if you have 20 minutes to spare.

-ar

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