On the creative impulse

Marilynne Robinson reflects on the discoveries we make about ourselves.



Marilynne Robinson reflects on the discoveries we make about ourselves.


I think the further our archaeology develops, you know, we keep finding evidence that people that we would consider anatomically pre-human were already ornamenting themselves, ornamenting the settings that they lived in, carrying out ritual behaviour toward their dead, and so on. So there’s something extremely profound in this impulse. I think it’s – you know, I doubt that 19th-century Europeans were the first who preferred composing to eating, you know [laughter].

For my purposes, if you create something that is beautiful, and you think that it is beautiful, this is a discovery of a capacity that you would not have known in yourself before that. The way you live with yourself when you live a creative life is of a continuous pushing against what you are and what you think you can do.

And so …  I often think when people are dreaming, and they have incredible feelings of guilt, or incredible terrors, you know, they’re learning a capacity in themselves that they might never ever have any need to encounter in its authentic form. But you’re finding out about yourself as a human being – ah, this is terror, you know. And I think many things that we do that carry us outside habitual conventional behaviour are these kinds of revelations, really, of the actual richness, the actual dimensions of human experience.