The task of creative work is to weave something new and wonderful out of the tattered threads of culture and convention. On the enchanted loom of the mind, our memory and experience, our personal histories and cultural histories, interlace into a particular pattern which only that particular mind can produce — such is the combinatorial nature of creativity.
In describing the machinery of his own mind, Albert Einstein called this interweaving “combinatory play.” It cannot be willed. It cannot be rushed. It can only be welcomed — the work of creativity is the work of bearing witness to the weaving.
The inner workings of that unwillable loom, which we often call inspiration, is what Rainer Maria Rilke (December 4, 1875–December 29, 1926) explores in a beautiful passage from his only novel — the semi-autobiographical The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge (public library), which also gave us Rilke on the essence of art.
Decades before pioneering psycholinguist Vera John-Steiner noted that “in the course of creative endeavors, artists and scientists join fragments of knowledge into a new unity of understanding,” Rilke writes:
For the sake of a few lines one must see many cities, men and things. One must know the animals, one must feel how the birds fly and know the gesture with which…
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