TRANS Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 17. Nr.
Februar 2010

Sektion 8.1. Prekäre Lebensbedingungen, unsichere Arbeitsverhältnisse – Expansion sozialer Ungleichheiten. Auf dem Weg von der Peripherie zum Zentrum?
Sektionsleiter | Section Chair: Rolf-Dieter Hepp (Freie Universität Berlin)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

Creativity, Change, and Repetition

Tadeusz Rachwal (Warsaw School of Social Psychology) [BIO]


Entering afterwards upon
the scene of the world,
we arise up and become
another creature.

Thomas Browne, Religio Medici


Gadabout and garrulous, informed.
We are no longer there.
We wander, outside all places.

Michel Serres, The Natural Contract


The anthropological idea of homo faber, of the working and creative man, has been one of the attributes of the concept of man.  In John Locke, for instance, it is through labour that property is not only produced, but also annexed to the human person as a part of nature transformed into a part of that person, with the person itself constituting man’s property (Cf. Locke: 130). This stands in contradiction with the ideals of human origin after which culture has always been longing, the prelapsarian state of humanity in which work and creativity were unknown. In the biblical Paradise there seems to have been no work, and it came only after the transgression as a kind of punishment which God imposed upon Adam and Eve, clearly dividing the tasks. To Adam he said: “Cursed is the ground for thy sake... thou shalt eat th' herb of the field,/ In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread” (Genesis: 10.201-5). Eve’s fall to labour is slightly different: “Thy sorrow will I greatly multiply/ By thy conception; children thou shalt bring/In sorrow forth” (Genesis: 10.193-5). Underneath the civilizational developments and changes, the laborious way of human progress, there lies a desire to do nothing. The biblical fall of man can thus be seen as an entering upon the scene upon the world in which we have become Browne’s “another creature”, a creature bound to create and recreate, to repeat through labour.

This another creature simultaneously longs for what preceded it, for the lost authenticity which looms in the backstage of civilization as a playful homo ludens, a playing rather than a working man whose unproductive activities Johan Huizinga finds before the beginning of civilization (Cf. Huizinga: 11). Civilization is thus posited a post-lapsarian state in which work and creativity of homo faber are the only possibilities of existece and survival, of production and reproduction whose secondary status posits the authenticity of being not only in the past, but also, perhaps more importantly, somewhere else, in another place, in something which might be called a perpetual elsewhere, a “thereness” which, through constructive labour, is perpetually played out as a “hearness” whose simulated nature brings to mind a theatricality of sorts, clearly implied in the idea of the theatrum mundi which tries to hide its always already staged, and thus repeated, status.

In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, behind the stage of the gradual fall, there is the originary Golden Age, yet another beginning of humanity, in which the Earth which was guiltless of the plow and upon which its human inhabitants had a strong tendency to leisurely sleep away their time:

Never yet had any pine tree, cut down from its home on the mountains, been launched on ocean’s waves, to visit foreign lands: men knew only their native shores. (…) The peoples of the world, untroubled by any fears, enjoyed a leisurely and peaceful existence, and had no use for soldiers. The earth itself, without compulsion, untouched by the hoe, unfurrowed by any share, produced all things spontaneously, and men were content with foods that grew without cultivation (Ovid: 31).

What is thus presented as an ideal is, on top of the leisurely peacefulness, a perpetual “hereness”, a place which is not quite a place because it has no idea of the outside, of any other places whose construction became thinkable only through displacement, through travel to a foreignness which turned out to be a travel with no return. Ovid’s subsequent ages, as is well known, were the ages of gradual fall and degeneration of humanity. Labour came to the world in the Age of Silver which was inferior to the Age of Gold, “but superior to the age of tawny bronze” which was then followed by the age of “hard iron” when

(...) sailors spread their canvas to the winds (...) and trees which had once clothed the high mountains were fashioned into ships, and tossed upon ocean waves, far removed from their own element. The land, which had previously been common to all (...) was now divided up far and wide by boundaries, set by cautious surveyors. (Ovid: 32)

The “cautious surveyors” are in fact colonizers, the explorers of the other, who bring with them all the tools of the already fallen humanity as a pattern to be followed, simultaneously perceiving this other as still remaining in the Golden Age, as uncultivated places which must now learn how to work, to construct both their milieu, and themselves. Culture and civilization grew strong due to its sublimation of labour as creative kind of activity which was opposed to idleness and laziness as symptoms of primitivism and inferiority clearly visible in the writings of the preachers of labour and activity, such as Locke, Hegel, Kant, or Carlyle who perceive the so called natives as lazy, unproductive and, in themselves, useless.(1)   

The cautious surveyors are also the bringers of work and order which transforms the forgotten common into a mapped space, into recognizable places which can be in some way made identifiable as certain “heres” reachable upon the laboriously redrawn and named territory which, ideally, can be archived as a map whose exactitude reaches the degree of the exactitude of the territory with itself. Jorge Luis Borges found the art of cartography to be an attempt at duplicating nature, which expresses an imperial desire to possess and control everything. In his imaginary empire, “the craft of Cartography,”

attained such Perfection that the Map of a Single province covered the space of an entire City, and the Map of the Empire itself an entire Province. In the course of Time, these Extensive maps were found somehow wanting, and so the College of Cartographers evolved a Map of the Empire that was of the same Scale as the Empire and that coincided with it point for point.(Borges: 27)

Mapping is a kind of repetition which, in Baudrillard for example, is in fact a repetition of repetition, a projection of a map upon a territory, upon nature which thus gains some kind of identity which now can be stored and archived. Though the repetitive mode of the existence of archives does not seem to be reflecting an original creation, it is archiving that actually calls things, and people, to an official kind of being, simultaneously awakening a nostalgia for the beginning, for the authentic, pre-archived, state of ideal idleness, an place beyond the map which Jacques Derrida calls a “place of absolute commencement”:

The trouble de l’archive stems from a mal d’archive. We are en mal d’archive; in need of archives . . . It is to burn with a passion. It is never to rest, interminably, from searching the archive right when it slips away. It is to run after the archive, even if there’s too much of it, right where something in it anarchives itself. It is to have a compulsive, repetitive, and nostalgic desire to return to the origin, a homesickness, a nostalgia for the return to the most archaic place of absolute commencement. (Derrida 1996: 91)

For John Locke such a place of commencement was an imaginary America which he re-discovered in the seventeenth century as a beginning of the laborious process of acquiring properties through labour: “Thus, in the beginning, all the world was America” (Locke: 140). Locke’s America is a “propertyless” space yet to be created, and its name seems to be only provisional, as what Locke wants to recall is an America from before became archived as America, with her feminine name derived from the masculine name of one of Ovid’s cautious surveyors. Locke’s rediscovered America is only a prospect for the creation which is yet to come and his return to it is as it were hostile to what he projects. His America is a version of the Golden Age marked negatively as yet inhuman, demanding the idea of constructive work because the inhabitants of the territory are in fact a part of wild nature which has no idea of dividing land into places, of mapping and archiving its existence:

The fruit and venison which nourishes the wild Indian, who knows no enclosure, and is still a tenant in common, must be his, and so his – i.e., a part of him, that another can no longer have any right to before it can do him any good for the support of his life. (Locke: 129)

Indians are thus also denied the property of having things via their natural ignorance of constructive labour. They only can have and eat food naturally available in the “common” in which they cannot construct any permanent enclosure of property due to their ignorance of it. Indians are thus posited as pure consumers, persons whose work does not creatively extend their property, but as it were gets absorbed into their bodies which thus become the limits of Indians’ existence (Cf. Rachwal: 8). Like America, they are also only provisionally given a name transported from the Asian subcontinent, otherwise remaining nameless and thus absent from the European archive of being human.

In the twentieth century the theme of going beyond archives and back to a natural state will be embraced, among others, by Gary Snyder who critically looked at America from the perspective of a state fully archived through the complex network of changes and developments which took place in the wake of Locke’s theorization of property and labour.   Snyder begins with Americanness, with “killing” the American, which project he reveals in the poem titled   A Curse on the Men in Washington Pentagon (1968): “I won’t let him live. The ‘American’ I’ll destroy” (Snyder 1968:3). In order to commit this “Americancide,” rather than throwing hand grenades into archives,(2) he chose to be a Buddhist, live in Japan, and then become an environmentalist.  His later book of poems, Turtle Island (1974), is an attempt at de-archiving the American by way of an imaginary return to the allegedly aboriginal name of the continent figurin in the title. Perhaps following the footprints of Henry David Thoreau, Snyder suggests there being an elsewhere not only of America, but also an elsewhere of culture and history which can be inhabited without the necessity of taking a trip back in time, without the necessity of reversing America’s colonial history. We can learn about this elsewhere, writes Snyder in The Practice of the Wild,

by revivifying culture, which is like reinhabitation: moving back into a terrain that has been abused and half forgotten – and then replanting trees, dechannelizing streambeds, breaking up asphalt. What – some would say – if there’s no “culture” left? There always is – just as much as there’s always (no matter where) place and language. (Snyder 1990: 90)

The “reinhabitation” takes place in the same places in which the culture to be revived is, in a way, dead. In order to revivify it, we should also re-archive the already archived world through bringing together place and language and thus reduce the division into the archive and the archived, into the archons (Derrida 1996:3), the superior magistrates who keep an eye on the official order and history of the world, and those who have no control over that order and blindly and passively follow the archons’ declarations. Once internalized, those declarations are statements of fact, the statements which, drawing from the past of what has been archived and memorized is constitutive of the present identities of states, nations, institutions, individuals.

The paradox involved in the thinking of the archive is the paradox which Jean Starobinsky sees in the complexity of autobiography, in its exigency of completeness which can be realized only through a “thanatological” writing after one’s death (Starobinsky 1980: 78). The archive is in fact organized on the principle of the inscription of the beginning to what is archived, the beginning which harbors death, and in which death is the completion of the archived, its end, which is the task of archivisation. This beginning, silently present in the Greek arkhe, is also the order, or command, to begin, the demand for there being the already mentioned beginning of the beginning, the “nomological” (Derrida1996:4) commandment of order which legitimizes the order of the world, simultaneously being the first document kept in the archive. The archive gives shelter to the beginning and it is the place in which the contemporary becomes historical, the place in which a “now” becomes a “then”, and, equally importantly, a “there” through which the objective distance to/from the place is introduced. This distance also opens the space of the archive as one which is governed by the desire to have, to appropriate, to include things as persons within its territory, perhaps driven by what Freud saw as object cathexis, which he opposed to identification with another (Freud 1977:135). What is gained through this appropriation is a certain simplicity of property, a permanence which endows things with having properties at the cost of having their been appropriated.

Filtered through the archive, the world seems to be permanent and stands in the line of the philosophy which, according to Snyder, “was a profound rejection of the organic world” which substituted a reproductive universe with “a model of sterile mechanism and an economy of ‘production’” (Snyder 1990:19). The literacy of the archive made us “nature-illiterate,” unable to read wilderness as part and parcel of living. We can read places only through the maps which name them, while forgetfulness of that place is also “a part of what we are” (Snyder 1990: 27). Though we know places, we do not live with them and treat them as finished, as already executed and archived. If there is a wilderness, it is the wilderness to be archived, the wilderness awaiting transformation into a place, which transformation, more generally, is a significant mechanism which puts modernity in motion.

Modernity demands places, it is the culture of the archive, and it needs wilderness only in order to expand, the expansion itself carrying the name of development. Zygmunt Bauman sees modernity as the post-Reformation construct in which

[t]he Protestants ... invented the way of embarking on pilgrimage without leaving home. This they could do, however, because the desert stretched and reached deep into their towns, right to their doorsteps. ... Like the desert, the world became placeless; the familiar had been obliterated, but the new ones that were meant to replace them were given the kind of permanence once thought unique to sand dunes. In the new post-Reformation city of modernity, the desert began on the other side of the door. (Bauman 1995: 85)

In this way modernity has become a “frontier civilization” for which the difference from the surrounding wilderness is constitutive of its identity, which identity is constantly projected across the frontier and into the future. The Protestant wilderness is “virgin land yet to be ploughed and tilled, ... the land of perpetual beginning ... a place-no-place whose name and identity is not yet” (Bauman 1995:85).

Enclosing land, transforming it into places, is tantamount to identity building, whose completion is the dream of the eventual elimination of the “desert” without which, however, this building cannot go on. The site of the possibility of this “place-no-place” is the archive, the past held in reserve so as to grant the new constructions the status of repetition, to preserve the continuity with the archived past which will posit the changes as permanence, as the impossibility of changing anything. Modernity “makes permanence into a task, into an urgent task, into a paramount task – a fount and a measure of all tasks – and so it makes culture, that huge and never stopping factory of permanence” (Bauman 1992:4).

Gary Snyder finds the permanence and the fixity of culture as the space with no freedom. “To be truly free,” he writes,

... one must take the basic conditions as they are – painful, impermanent, open, imperfect – and then be grateful for the impermanence and the freedom it grants us. For in a fixed universe there would be no freedom. ... The world is nature, and in the long run inevitably wild, because the wild, as the process and essence of nature, is also and ordering of impermanence. (Snyder 1990:5)

This somehow oxymoronic ordering of impermanence is thinkable only within a culture which does not see permanence as the ontological and epistemological condition of being. Such a culture can only be local rather than global, attached to a space whose identity and identification are away from the postal reality of a simple address. The ordering of impermanence must thus embrace both nature and wildness without simultaneous positing them at the other side of the frontier. For Snyder, New York or Tokyo, for example, are natural, though not wild as they “are habitat so exclusive in the matter of who and what they give shelter to, and so intolerant of other cultures, as to be truly odd” (Snyder 1990:12). This exclusion follows the mode which Bauman ascribes to “anthropoemic” cultures which, like ours, “vomit” the Other, the cultures whose “dealing with the Other (and thus, obliquely, of producing and re-producing our own identity) is to segregate, separate, dump onto the rubbish tip, flush down into the sewer of oblivion” (Bauman 1992:131). This sewer of oblivion is a non-space of the globally institutionalized forgetfulness which, for Gary Snyder, is the forgetfulness of the wild and the local.

For Bruno Schulz, the Polish-Jewish writer who wrote short stories in the 1930s, the sewer of oblivion was not fully unrecoverable. He was looking for it in gaps and marginal spaces of the dominion of the dogma of the world’s oneness which was controlled and dominated by the figure of Franz Joseph I. Interestingly, Schulz uses past tense describing the domination as if it had been done away with:

The world at that time was circumscribed by Franz Joseph I. On each stamp, on every coin, and on every postmark his likeness confirmed its stability and the dogma of its oneness. This was the world, and there were no other worlds besides, the effigies of the imperial-and-royal old man proclaimed. Everything else was make-believe, wild pretense, and usurpation. Franz Joseph I rested on top of everything and checked the world in its growth. (Schulz 1980:33)

Schulz treats the reality allowed for by the figure of the emperor as an official reality which is confined to official archives, finding more attractive “the prelegal (przedustawny) age”, the age which “did not ever occur with any precision” (Schulz 1980:12). His invitation to visit this age is the invitation to supplement history with what it has forgotten, with the events “vomited” by Bauman’s anthropoemic culture; “events that have been left in the cold, unregistered, hanging in the air, homeless” (Schulz 1980:14). What he thus wants to endow with a historical voice are things from the outside of the monologue of the archive, the “supernumerary events” which have somehow escaped the seemingly global set of established facts:

Have you ever heard of parallel streams of time within a two-track (dwutorowym) time? Yes, there are such branch lines of time, somewhat illegal and suspect, but when, like us, one is burdened with contraband of supernumerary events that cannot be registered, one cannot be too fussy. Let us try to find at some point of history such a branch line, a blind track onto which to shunt these illegal events. (Schulz  1980:14)

The supernumerary events are brought to existence by an economy of what might be termed “smuggling”. They do not blow up the archive, put constitute a parallel “market” functioning in the shadow of the official history, in places and spaces which, from the perspective of the orderly logic of the archive are not only invisible, but also nonexistent. It is exactly this epistemological nonexistence which grants both the smugglers and the smuggled some epistemological security of position thanks to this position’s marginality.

Schulz’s practice of illegal history is reminiscent of what Jurgen Pieters calls the heterological branch of postmodern historicism. Heterologists’ goal, according Pieters, is “to get in touch with” or “lay bare” the “other” of history. “Heterologists believe,” he writes,

that the other of the past can be felt and seen in that which it is not: it can be made present in its absence, as it were, provided that we read the past by means of the appropriate method that focuses upon the margins of historical mechanisms of representation. As the work of Michel de Certeau makes clear, this method is basically psychoanalytical: it is a method by means of which the historian attempts to find the repressed of the past, the repressed which, according to the logic of the "retour du refoule," returns in our descriptions of it. The repressed – that which can never be present – is there in its absence, as a negative of the very mechanisms by which it was excluded. (Pieters 2000:24)

The other of the past cannot be archived, it cannot be objectively stored somewhere away from the lived reality. It can only be dialogically misread with the new historian being aware “that the past for which he or she yearns will never be encountered immediately”, that the dead with whom Stephen Greenblatt desires to speak in the opening passage of his Shakespearean Negotiations “can no longer be heard directly” (Pieters 2000:27).

The other of the past is readable through the gaps in the archive, in unregistered events, perhaps anecdotes, insignificant details which diminish the dictatorial position of the archive as the only storage place of reality. The archive stores reality as ordered, as harmoniously whole and in a way beautiful, thus institutionalizing a seemingly unbridgeable gap between the welcome beauty and the unwelcome ugliness which, according to Slavoj Žižek, is “the very gap that separates reality from the Real: what constitutes reality is the minimum of idealization the subject needs in order to be able to sustain the horror of the Real” (Žižek 1997:66). The Real is inevitably monstrous due to its disobedient unnameability. Yet, the existence of reality is thinkable only in the context of the Real which is continually subjected to idealisation, to naming which, in different configurations, seems to be depriving the monstrous Real of its monstrosity, though in fact relocates it elsewhere, to various spheres of unreadability which keep reality as it were alive. Hence the complexity of the seemingly obvious and simple idea of “fact”, of a historical event which, in traditional history, can only be constructed by way of supressing the Real, by way of offering a vision which is blind to the elesewhere, a vision which Stephen Greenblatt sees as universalizing and thus, inevitably, political.  “The earlier historicism,” he writes,

tends to be monological; that is, it is concerned with discovering a single political vision, usually identical to that said to be held by the entire literate class or indeed the entire population.... This vision, most often presumed to be internally coherent and consistent, though occasionally analyzed as the fusion of two or more elements, has the status of an historical fact. (Greenblatt 1982:5)

The elsewhere of the archive is a space hospitable to the Real, to Snyder’s wildness or Schulz’s “supernumerary” events. If, as Theodore Modis has it, complexity is a term intrinsically correlated with change, if it “increases both when the rate of change increases and when the amount of things that are changing around us increases”(Modis 2003:30), then attempts at noticing the other of history open up complexity as something desirable, they embrace change against the permanence favored by the ideology of the archive. This latter ideology also underlies the functioning of what Zygmunt Bauman reads as the “the bureaucratic culture which prompts us to view society as an object of administration.” The beureaucratic culture created the “very atmosphere in which the idea of the Holocaust could be conceived, slowly, yet consistently developed, and brought to its conclusion” (Bauman 1989:18). With permanence as its ideal, the culture of bureaucracy has managed to silence morality by making this silencing the fundamental condition of its success (Bauman 1989:29).

Rather than being a matter of local negotiations, morality has become as objective as historical past, an archived space of ethical codes and laws which also operates on the principle of exclusion, of Franz Joseph’s dogma of unchangeability and oneness. The social space, ideally, was to be one, place, a place without an unarchived “there,” a place without difference. “The key to an orderly society,” writes Bauman,

was to be found in the organization of space. Social totality was to be a hierarchy of ever larger and more inclusive localities, with the supra-local authority of the state perched on the top and surveilling the whole, while itself protected from day-to-day invigilation. (Bauman 1998:17)

The figure of Schulz’s Franz Joseph I looms large in this description, and though Bauman does not make a reference to Foucault’s reading of the Panopticon here, the visibility of the site of power, for which archivisation is essential, seems to be the organizing principle of the system. With the private and the public still occupying the same space, a locality was still thinkable even though the archive was a space reserved for the functioning of power. It still could be, say, targeted and attacked thus making a change thinkable. A change, and thus also complexity, was brought about with the coming of the cyberspace and the deterritorialization of the archive, its relocation to the global web of information in which the territorial distances between places, and the places themselves, do not matter. Bill Clinton’s declaration that there is no difference between domestic and foreign policies testifies, Bauman notices, to the “end of geography” in which “space and spatial markers cease to matter, at least to those whose actions can move with the speed of the electronic message” (Bauman 1998:13). If the archive of modernity confined the social space to the “here” of the locally public and private and tried to eliminate the “thereness” of the other, the removal of the public to the “cyber” does not so much obliterate the difference between “here” and “there”, as it deconstructs the very idea of “hereness.” Perhaps globalization means “no-placeness,” an ideal “here, there, and everywhere” which promises a detachment from the territorial immobilization which the Panoptical modernity imposed. Referring to Thomas Mathiesen’s notion of “Synopticon” Bauman notices:

It does not matter any more if the targets of the Synopticon, transformed now from the watched into watchers, move around or stay in place. ... The Panopticon forced people into the position where they could be watched. The Synopticon needs no coercion – it  seduces people into watching. (Bauman 1998:52)

The replacement of coercion with seduction makes watching an instinctive, natural activity of following ones desires and posits choices we make as free and unlimited, and, moreover, posits the watchers as active participants in the interactive new kind of world. In the virtual world, now without here and there, the world of a perpetual elsewhere there is no place either for the same, or for the other. There is no space either for Snyder’s wildness, or for Schulz’s supernumerary events. Yet, the seemingly obliterated difference between the suppliers and watchers exists only within the cyberspace, within its mobility and the flows of information and capital which it offers only to those who can and wish to transmit it. Beyond that perpetual elsewhere, there remain those whom the reality of elsewhere sees as unreal, the locals, the spatially segregated. Those unreal are perhaps the Real of Žižek’s distinction, those who have been deprived of the gap of idealization through having been de-realized by the all encompassing reality of elsewhere. “Neo-tribal and fundamentalist tendencies, which reflect and articulate the experience of people on the receiving end of globalization,” writes Bauman,

are as much legitimate offspring of globalization as the widely acclaimed ‘hybridization” of top culture – the culture at the globalized top. A particular cause of worry is the progressive breakdown in communication between the increasingly global and extraterritorial elites and the ever more localized rest. (Bauman 1998:3)

Perhaps this divergence results from the mutual inability to embrace complexity and difference. The perpetual elsewhere of the global is a hybrid of “here” and “there,” and it cannot communicate with the local “here” which it ignores and excludes. Yet, the “here” desiring to re-establish itself, say, autonomically, can only be a fundament without another. 




1 I discuss the problem of the colonial identification of labour with being human in my: Labours of the Mind. Labour in the Culture of Production. Frankfurt/M: Peter Lang, 2001.
2 In the winter of 1992 in the war between Georgia and Abkhazia, members of the Georgian National Guard drew up outside the Abkhazia State Archives threw in incendiary grenades and reduced the archives to ashes.

8.1. Prekäre Lebensbedingungen, unsichere Arbeitsverhältnisse – Expansion sozialer Ungleichheiten. Auf dem Weg von der Peripherie zum Zentrum?

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Tadeusz Rachwal: Creativity, Change, and Repetition - In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 17/2008. WWW:

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