The Meaning of Creativity: An Ode to Coltrane

On Human Creatiivty: An Ode to John Coltrane

In our last post we talked about what might constitute a new vision of humanity, a new relation to self and selfhood that might allow us to transcend the vicious and endless domination of Money.   Yet we left this vision somewhat in the negative. We counterposed it to the false creativity of “innovation” as well as the narcissistic forms of snapchat sociality and we realized that to be truly creative means to go beyond the inhuman workings of a system that may have nonetheless inscribed within it various variations, reshufflings, and innovations.  We declared that to create was to create beyond and outside of the system: “to live without Money.”

But how will we elaborate this in a more positive manner? Let us take as our guide one of our earlier posts, where we attempted to say what art is.  There we discovered that art is infinite and as such it is universal.  On this point, we must say that human creativity and art are related, obviously, but let us now say also that human creativity is the broader notion and art, or actual artworks, are a more specific manifestation within it. Nevertheless artworks and artists are our clearest indicators of the trajectory we must take in regard to human creativity in general.  Art and artists are our guides, and throughout history they have always been such. 

If art is infinite and universal, to become part of an artistic situation, an artistic truth or movement, means also to take part in what is infinite and universal, it is to become an infinite universality.  To become part of this infinite universality is simply to realize what is proper to you: not simply an animal body lost in the flurry of commodities, within an inhuman system that has no need for you, but the transcendence of these very forms of domination. 

The transcendence of forms of domination is itself part of the nature of infinity. No one controls infinity. It is in-finite, beyond the limits and closures that those in power are constantly putting forth in order to sediment their control.  If the transcendence of domination is infinite, this means that infinity is essentially egalitarian.  If an artwork truly is an artwork, it establishes equality there, in the artwork itself.

What else could human creativity be than this capacity for transcendence, than the capacity to become infinite, which is always of necessity beyond the limits of Money? The new vision and the new way to live is the maxim: “become infinite!”

Yet this is rather abstract: in truth what does it mean to “become infinite”? What are these vague spiritualisms? We said that art is our guiding thread, and that it is in the artwork that we can see the process of infinity unfolding. 

There is perhaps no greater paradigm of the process of becoming infinite than the music of John Coltrane.  By examining the Truth he elaborates, a whole region of positive determinations and contrasts will appear before us.  In a previous post, we contrasted a Kirchner painting with the iconic Kim Kardashian “Break the Internet” photo.  In the Kirchner, we discovered art’s capacity to sublimate our animal and perverse desires into the purity of color, form, expression and universality.  In the Kim Kardhashian photo we saw the exact opposite: we saw the annihilation of all forms of expression in the mute and purposeless image of barbaric pornography.  If there we were comparing two ways of seeing, of feeling out our visual relationship to the world, now we will think about what it means to hear, or to listen in a new and positive manner.

The transformation of humanity in the new vision will mean that we will be ready to develop and also recover purer and truer modes of both seeing and listening.  What sort of listening occurs today? How do we hear the world around us? Undoubtedly, we are barraged with texts and social media posts and updates and notifications all the time.  The world is a sort of incessant cacophony with no meaning or direction, caught, at the same time, in the homogenous and unpleasant blur of our own distracted consciousness.  The late works of Coltrane are also in a sense “cacophonous.”   They attain a level of freedom and unboundedness that seems to transcend any coherent structure.  Yet what we will see is that the sound of Coltrane is like a reverse mirror image to the sound of our techno-alienated sociality.  Let us schematize this in advance before going into more detail.


Techno-alienated Sociality                                          John Coltrane

Finite disorder                                                             Disordered to the finite, infinite

External/without autonomy                                      Internal and autonomous

“Collaboration” through individuality                     Individuality through collaboration

Within Money                                                             Beyond Money


Let us move through each of these contrasts.  Each point of the analysis forms an interwoven whole, whereby we will be able to see both what constitutes the negativity of the human spirit today and the positivity offered to us by Coltrane, who allows us to see for ourselves what it means to truly be human, and what being a human will sound like, literally.

Lets begin with the first reversal: finite disorder vs. disordered to the finite, or infinite.  In what sense is techno-alienated sociality a “finite disorder”? We know it is disordered: notifications come at random, so do texts, people sometimes reply, sometimes they do not, we see random statuses from people we don’t know, or random and pointless images from people we do know.  There seems to be no order, from which way it comes or why, to the disconnected cacophony of techno-alienated language.

Why then is it “finite"? To understand this we must already jump to the final contrast, within money vs beyond money, which is the linchpin of the whole, and the original distinction we used in order to begin to elaborate the new vision.  Just like “innovation” in tech, marketing, and business, we must understand the way the spontaneous forms of communication in techno-alienated sociality actually are inscribed deeply within the inhuman mechanism of Money in advance.  We think we are free, but it is really Money that is calling the shots. 

Why have we gotten to this space of disordered and constant communication? To start, capitalism drives forward the development of technology incessantly.  This is a historical, empirical fact, if we observe how the rate of growth of technology since the beginning of capitalism dwarfs practically ten-fold any other period in history.  But there is a structural reason for this incessant growth.  The need to produce more capital, to maximize profit (which is ultimately the defining character of the capitalist system) requires constantly more efficient forms of commodity-production, to sell more, and thus to make more.  At the same time, new technologies create new sorts of commodities, conveniences, and thus produce new demands and more markets.  Again, selling more. 

But obviously we do not mean to say that simply using technology means living within Money, for that would be absurd.  We must understand how technology relates to communications.  Why is the world today incessantly “communicating” and trading information?  First off, because this rapid-fire matrix of circulation and media is enormously profitable.  Yet, it is not just the selling-point of each click or post that makes communication amenable to capitalism, it is also the sense in which the circulation of media itself, of imagetic, simulated life drives forward capitalism’s own self-reproduction. Media enhances capitalism’s own power to maintain itself.  Today not only do we buy an object and so grant the capitalist his return, but rather our buying things (which is now our own sociality in “connectivity”) becomes the granting of permission to have that very sociality controlled and maintained by advertising and marketing mechanisms.  I do not just buy a piece of bread from the supermarket: I buy my piece of bread, but only on the condition that the supermarket watch over me and make me continually stare at all the other products on sale, never to leave.  As a poignant Clash song once put it “we’re all lost in the supermarket.”   

The disorder of techno-alienating sociality is like one massive supermarket with a million consumers all buying random products, while also being forced to stare at every other consumer also buying a random product, and every consumer doing the same to everyone else: an endlessly disorienting and alienating anarchy.  But where does all this anarchy occur? It occurs in the supermarket. The supermarket, Money, is the limit and the closure, the finitude from which we are not allowed to escape. And the more products we buy, the more they force us to stay within the supermarket. 

How is it with John Coltrane?  Why does Coltrane sound random and disordered? And where is Coltrane’s music? Is it in the supermarket? The truth is that Coltrane’s music is nowhere. Why? Because it is infinite. It is not in the supermarket. Let us explain.

We will take the album “Expression” by Coltrane as our example.  It is one of his latest albums, soon before the artistic hero and genius died.  For the past fifteen or so years before this album, Coltrane had been progressively transforming, defining his own style, and experimenting with various harmonic innovations.  Coltrane continued to develop these formal innovations within the warmth, romanticism, and expressionism that is proper to jazz.  As Coltrane developed, he continued to purify and purify jazz.  He took improvisation to the absolute limit while never losing the immediate and romantic depth of voice, patience, and discipline that makes real jazz sublimely beautiful.

It’s the purification of all these elements that lead to John Coltrane activating and maintaining a pure form of infinity.  We must understand that jazz explicitly rose out of and expresses the African-American experience.  Practically no other culture has been so excluded and dominated by the reign of Money and forced to live under its yoke.  Yet it is exactly at this point that the African-American experience develops the rebellious human possibilities that can rupture Money itself.  Whereas Money demands standardization and commodification, jazz - on the skeletons of old broadway tunes - invents free and unbounded lyricism and communication.  While Money demands that we are see ourselves “connecting” - when we are really only putting forth images of our selves - jazz sees the individual find complete self-expression only through immediately responding to every other member of the group, also in their individuality, and as a whole. 

 “Expression” is an example of this purification of the truth of jazz beyond Money.  In each minute instance, John Coltrane is inventing and re-inventing what is musically possible.  Each phrase is like a fragment of a new language, turning and re-turning, orienting itself into an impossible fabric whose pure form is its own incessantly romantic decomposition.  At every instance, what is required is to catch on to the pure grooves of time where an unbounded infinity exists beyond all capture.  And yet, in each second, at the very same time as we are being released into new possibilities, the work is developing and creating its own sense of order, its own sense of discipline and harmony. It is creating its own world.  It truly is an order, but it is an infinite one. It is only to the standpoint of Money that is cacophonous.  While to Money itself, its own horrid cacophony is smooth functioning.

This pure form of creation, embedded within the purification of jazz, also activates the second and third of our criteria: internal and autonomous, and individuality through collaboration. The former, for Coltrane must draw these possibilities from his own soul; no standardized “platform” provides them for him. He is beyond Money. At the same time, this autonomy is only possible by constantly responding to the autonomy of others in collective improvisation. We become individuals through respecting and interacting with the pure individuality and creativity of others, together.  We are both equal and astounding, together.  And yet capitalism claims it "respects the individual." In truth, there is no greater disrespect for the individual when he is forced to believe he is expressing himself while ultimately pointlessly staring at himself and staring at others pointlessly staring back at themselves, all lost, buying pointless commodities (themselves). 

John Coltrane is what the new vision sounds like. It is what it sounds like and what it feels like to live beyond Money, to live in the infinite, to feel authentic community, and to be an individual: this is human creativity itself. In the soaring spirituality of John Coltrane, we find a guide for the revolution.