Creation and Destruction
If there is anything truly universal that can be said about man, it is that he is a builder and destroyer, and at both; he is nature's genius. The slightest bit of observation proves the case. We only have to open a history book, or inspect the archaeological record, to see that no other animal has built anything on the same scale as him, and we hardly have to walk further than the length of our street to see that he has destroyed – mainly through tarmac – more of the planet's surface than any other creature.
Yet like anything that has a capacity for genius, once that genius has already accomplished its best works, he is very likely to become complacent. It is all too easy for him to build tall and brash because he feels his work in delicate cottages and maisonettes justifies it. It is almost impossible for him to resist destroying his enemy with heavy artillery because, whether consciously or not, he feels that the gentile rules of pugilism have already proved that it is possible for him to be noble and civilized.
As his body of work in demolition and construction increases, rather than becoming more and more refined in his skill, he is in fact much more likely – as is the trend with most geniuses – to become more and more a bogus buffoon; passing off any scrap of third-rate material as one of his defining epics. He may even, at his most bloated and self-indulgent, start to claim copyright of things that were never his in the first place – land, planets, even abstract sequences of genetic code have fallen victim to these pretensions at various points in time.
From the point of view that most forms of genius are improved by revealing to them their limitations (there is, after all, nothing as effective in encouraging an artist than exposing him to the highest examples of his art) it is quite possible that we could improve man's creative-destructive tenancies in a similar way. In this instance, what appears to consistently throw man's achievements into the background, is the thing he seeks to imitate.
He might, at his most civic and constructive, give birth to skylines and statues and be very impressed with the results. He may, at his most technologically adrift, acquire the capacity to level whole civilisations with the flick or a switch, and be similarly ecstatic with the aftermath.
But if succeeds or fails at either, all his efforts are mitigated by a single fact: that he has no ultimate power to give birth to something as impressive as a living organism from his own body, or deny something its existence before it has even come into being. In other words, from a certain perspective, all man's (and all woman's) artificial creating and undoing is based on the effortless process of childbirth.
Perhaps, for some, to point out this sort of limitation is going too far. It may seem more discouraging than inspirational to find out that all man's efforts are based upon something fundamentally beyond him. Yet the point here is not to encourage man to give up his profession or craft to become a pilgrim of the maternity ward. The end goal is not to see men and women cowering in religious circles around fertile bellies. As with introducing any person to the actual extent of their talents, the actual point of the comparison is to help him strive to accomplish something half-way close to his ideal.
Beginning with man's most obvious creation's, his buildings, it is worth bearing out which ones succeed and which ones fail in their imitation of child-birth. Beyond their basic functionality, it is clear that buildings which grow organically from their foundations are much more 'birth-like' than ones those separated from their roots.
This, however, is not to say that a building must be situated amongst the materials it was built from in order to faithfully reflect the process of the womb. Foregoing the fact that a thing which perpetually clings to its mother is unnatural, it is the process by which a thing comes into existence, not its subsequent relationship with its surroundings that concerns us here. With this qualification in mind, it should be plain to see which buildings succeed and which fail in their imitation. A building which takes years of planning; going through countless stages of redesign, conceived and re-conceived by many different minds is hardly ever 'birth-like' and is almost uniformly ugly.
Like an child born of a dozen mothers, we see in it something even more unnatural and horrific than even the most brutal examples of brutalism: a thing which has been born not out of love, or even lust, but the varied and conflicting interests of a committee meeting. By comparison, buildings that have been born from a single person's vision are hardly ever so displeasing: constructions like these might not always appeal to our personal taste of course, they may deeply offend our aesthetic sensibilities, but no one can doubt that they have come into the world via a person as opposed to a bureaucratic machine. The problem with almost all modern buildings, for the very same reasons we may find, is not that their vision is too forthright too out-of-step with opinion, but because the original vision was never allowed to be fully conceived. A different, though strongly related, misapplication of the womb lies at the heart of man's attempts at destruction. Amongst those who consider war an “art”, it is almost always assumed that killing is the best way to demonstrate might and sheer power, yet this misses the point of what a woman's destructive powers consist in.
A woman who aborts time and time again is feckless, a woman who commits infanticide is deranged, it is the woman who denies the possibility of life from a man who demands it that is properly powerful. She has the ultimate power to deny life outright.
Thus, if the warlord does wish a woman's reproductive agency, in its most potent form, it is in annihilating his desire for annihilation that the highest form of imitation is achieved. True, he could just as well annihilative his desire for peace via the same process, but in do doing he would have to then destroy his enemies outwardly and at odds with the object of his imitation. It is really in destroying the drive for destruction that he mirrors the ultimate powers of womankind; for there is nothing more destructive than cutting destruction off at its roots.
As likely (or implausible) as it is that man's creative-destructive tenancies derive from his 'womb-envy' , what is probably most important of all to consider here, is what man's creative-destructive acts amount to in themselves. We can, after all, align our efforts with organic reproduction to the closest highest possible standard of authenticity, but without knowing what it means to create or what it means to destroy, we will have no possible way to understand the intrinsic nature of the results. The first thing we may notice, by extending our thought in this direction, is that these two opposing activities; “creativity” and “destruction”, are not really separate but one and the same.
This hardly seems logical – like saying day is the same as night, or white the same as black – but their identity is relatively simple to establish. If we were to approach a canvas with a black pencil and draw a single line on that canvas, for instance, there would be two different ways to seeing the situation. From one point of view, we would have destroyed something – we would have obliterated the once pure white surface of the canvas – but from another, we would have created something – a mark where previously there was none at all. In either case however, the result of our activity remains the same: the only thing that has altered is our emotional interpretation of the outcome.
This changes things considerably. It is not only that someone like an architect brings something into being, from a equally valid point of view, he has also taken something out of existence – the portions of a hill, the sedimentary life that used the building site as a habitat, for whatever person preferred the uninterpreted skyline that existed there before; a perfectly good view. The same equally applies to the warlord. Not only has he destroyed human life in firing shells at his enemy, he has created new fertiliser for the ground, several job openings in the local labour market, and altogether; quite a spectacle.
This is not, it should be pointed out, to defend any form of destruction as fundamentally creative; for the people involved, every act of this kind is quite obviously always a tragedy. It is just to say that no genocidal lunatic can fulfil his ambitions of destruction without also sewing the seeds of creation, and that no peace-governed creative can truly bring something into the world without taking away something precious. In all man's artificial imitation of fertile activity, he is both bearing the child and strangling it in the womb, both aborting and proceeding with creation at once. He cannot achieve one without also accomplishing the other.
If it is unnerving to learn we are both creator and the destroyer at once, we should not, in any case, allow such facts to derail us: unless we believe that ignorance is noble and shut pair of eyes is the only possible response to a world very often unpleasant, there is everything to embrace in learning of the true unity of all creative and destructive actions. Yet if there is an underlying unity to these apparently 'opposing' actions, we should also be careful not to overlook an even more fundamental way in which they converge into something indistinct. To illustrate this, it is probably worth returning to the example of the pencil and paper. While, from one point of view, in making a mark on the paper we will have destroyed the blank surface of the paper, and from another, we will have created a pattern upon it, there is in fact an additional way of looking at the situation.
Taking in the total activity at once, we may discover the following: what started out as a group of carbon particles on the pencil tip has now moved from one area of the room to another, and that in pressing the pencil tip onto its surface, we will have released a number of paper particles up into the surrounding atmosphere.
In other words, when we view the whole scene without any particular attachment to either the blank page or the pencil mark, we will discover that all has taken place is that the elements of the room have been subtly reordered. Nothing has been created. Nothing has been destroyed. Returning to the example of the pregnant woman then, It is not difficult to see that what man has sought to imitate with his own capacities, is similarly lacking in genuine creative-destructive power; a woman might give birth to a child, but she does not produce It – ex nihlo – like a rabbit out of a hat; a woman may chose to abort a child, or deny it from the outset, but this is hardly equivalent to making a dove disappear in a theatrical puff of smoke. In both cases, that is to say, nothing is brought into the world that was not already part of it, and nothing is taken from it that does not remain to become something else. Thus if a man does unconsciously imitate woman in her reproductive capacity, it is apparent that he has not copied something very different from himself. Just like his own, woman's creative-destructive powers really consist in the rearrangement of pre-existing parts. If there is anything to be learnt from her at all then, it is just how to rearrange in a way that is organic rather than abrupt.
Learning that all humankind's artificial efforts carry no genuine creative-destructive agency, we may, in the final analysis, feel somewhat hopeless and frustrated. It seems that in whatever way we act, we cannot do much more than play around with the elements already given to us; we are left 'stirring the broth' as opposed to 'formulating the recipe'. It would be a mistake, however, to assume to that because all our actions are restricted to rearranging, this makes all our actions futile.
We are quite free to reassemble the elements around us in genuinely novel ways, just as we are to cultivate our inventions in line with the object of our imitation. It is only the type of creativity and destruction that introduces some new energy or removes some existing energy that we are disbarred from.
Perhaps this in itself is a cause for distress for some. Though if we do find the idea of genuine creation and destruction too alluring to let go, we may, in the last instance, find consolation in this: when the universe came into existence as a total field of activity, we came into existence from nothing, and when (if certain cosmologists are to be believed) the universe ends, it will disappear into nothing.
Thus in the beginning moments and the final moments of existence, we will have achieved the authentic form of creativity and destruction that so many of us long for. It is just that, like giving birth to a culture or ending the rein of an empire, the personal ego cannot be entrusted with these tasks alone. The cosmos has seen to it that we must accomplish these acts together.