Today I’m going to share an essay I wrote for an English class; it’s an interesting (at least to me) cross between the study of plays and psychology. Samuel Beckett wrote two plays (Rough for Radio 1 and Rough for Radio 2) that explore creativity. The plays themselves were… strange. It’s pretty obvious that he’s using personification, metaphor, and allusion to explore the concept of creativity. It’ll help if you’re familiar with these two plays, but hopefully the following modified essay will be clear enough for everyone else.
Creativity has been a topic of interest to many different types of people for many years. Researchers, artists, inventors, and the everyday person have all likely pondered the idea of creativity at least once in their life. For those who want to analyze creativity, it is usually divided into four separate aspects; the creative process, the creative person, the creative product, and the creative environment. Within these categories, the study of the creative process is concerned with the motivation and reasons prompting creative work. The study of the creative person is concerned with what personal traits a person may possess that makes them more prone to creativity, as well as whether there are different types of creativity. The study of the creative product consists of assessing the finished work by a group of people considered to be experts in the appropriate field(s). The study of the creative environment is concerned with how location can influence creativity. Throughout his many works, it is evident that Samuel Beckett is aware of such research and is similarly curious. This essay will examine how Beckett used his two works, Rough for Radio 1 and Rough for Radio 2, to explore the various aspects of creativity using personification, metaphor, and allusion.
To examine the creative environment, one must take into consideration many different factors. These factors would include, but are not limited to, the lighting, background noises, temperature, and of course physical location in the world. Beckett quite cleverly plays with the sense of environment in both of his plays. In Rough for Radio 1 the character Macgillycuddy has quite clearly controlled his environment down to the smallest detail. The female visitor asks such things as “is it true the music goes on all the time?…And the words too?” as well as, “may we have a little light?”. Through these exchanges it is clear that Macgillycuddy has imposed strict rules upon his environment; the music and words are persistent, even if they are not played together, and things like the lighting and the heat are strictly controlled. Czikszentimihalyi said that “it is easier to enhance creativity by changing conditions in the environment than by trying to make people think more creatively” (as quoted by Gorny). Clearly Beckett uses this idea to create the particular methodology of Macgillycuddy in his attempt to inspire his own creativity.
In Rough for Radio 2 a similar control of environment can be observed, though it is of a less physical sense than the first play. The character, Animator, remarks early on that he hopes Fox had a “refreshing night and will be better inspired today than heretofore”. In this way it is evident that Beckett is exploring a different type of environment, one that is more determined by the individual than by external cues. This idea becomes even more prominent if one considers the various characters in this play as being the different aspects of an individual’s psyche. Regardless of whether the play is considered to be taking place in a physical location or within an individual’s mind, it can still be seen to be attempting to take control over the environment. Animator tightly controls the situation in an attempt to inspire greater creativity from Fox by alternating between persuasion, directing Dick to beat him, and getting the Stenographer to kiss him. Each of these methods would alter the internal environment of Fox far more than his external one.
The question Beckett seems to be asking between these two plays is which type of environment is more important, the external environment or the internal? One could argue that neither environment is independent of the other and that there is a strong reciprocal relationship. Beckett does not discount this, nor does he directly address the issue. Rough for Radio 1 seems to be more clearly focused on the impact of external stimuli on the creative mind. Though a sense of time is not given, there is an impression that Macgillycuddy has spent a long time attempting to create the perfect environment, controlling light, heat, and the presence or absence of words and music. That the words and music can be understood to be the logical and the emotional aspects of creativity does not diminish the evident control Macgillycuddy exerts over his environment. He even tightly controls both the stimuli, that which is logical and that which is emotional. In Rough for Radio 2 it is clear that the play is more focused on the internal environment. Even if all the characters are not part of a single psyche, all changes in environment are quite clearly applied to Fox himself, and not intended to modify anything external to him.
The answer to Beckett’s query is unclear. In both plays the presence of creativity appears to elude the main character, despite all attempts to control the environment. It is unclear if Beckett is saying that the ‘creative environment’ is an unnecessary consideration in the aspects of creativity, or if he is just saying that the methods employed in both plays are not the correct method to use to control one’s environment so as to inspire creativity. Perhaps it is simply a case of the characters in both plays allowing the context to warp them rather than the other way around. It may be a sign of creative genius to design the world to satisfy one’s needs; warping it to their desire instead of being warped by it.
If the environment is not important, or if the characters in both plays allowed it to warp them more than they influenced it, from where then could they hope to derive their creativity? Perhaps it is through the creative person, which according to some, is the personal traits of a person more so than methodology or environment that affects creativity. If that is the case, Beckett leaves much to be desired in Rough for Radio 1. There is very little information given about Macgillycuddy and his personality. All that can be observed of his personal traits is that he is quite neurotic, for he is unable to cope with the sudden change in his world when the words and music are played together. He becomes further agitated when he realizes that they are both ending. Whether this is meant to symbolize the end of his creativity or the end of his life is unclear, yet it still does not give much insight into who he is as a person. Rough for Radio 2 is much more complete and it is much easier to distinguish character traits of each of the various characters.
The researcher Davis created a list of characteristics, some positive and some negative, that creative people have in common (as quoted by Gorny). Of the traits on that list, the characters in Rough for Radio 2 are able to represent most of them. If the Animator is seen to be the impulsive, risk-taking, and absent-minded part of the psyche then Fox is the centre of creativity with his originality, capacity for fantasy, and seemingly neurotic behaviour. Dick and Stenographer would appear to be embodiments of a different quality. Dick quite clearly represents the aggressive tendencies of a person’s psyche while Stenographer is shown to be the compassionate and ethical part. Perhaps then Dick is meant to represent the artist’s id while Stenographer represents the superego. If that is the case, Animator quite clearly is the ego, dictating which of the other two is to be employed and when.
This sort of division of the personality fits remarkably well with the text, especially as evidenced by an exchange between Stenographer and Animator; “I was going to suggest a touch of kindness… perhaps just a hint of kindness/So soon? And then? No, miss…”. Clearly Stenographer is the conscience while it is Animator who controls what the actions actually are taken. As Animator also uses Stenographer as a sexual aspect when he gets her to kiss Fox it becomes a little more ambiguous. Is perhaps the Animator then in actuality an id that is in control of the person? Perhaps, Stenographer is meant to represent the Anima as well –the female aspect of the male psyche– as she is clearly the only female present. Though there is little other evidence to support this.
Beckett would appear to be using these plays to stress the role of the qualities of an individual in creativity. That each character embodies specific traits is clear, and as Animator is the most dominant of the characters it would appear that his traits are the strongest in the individual whose psyche is being portrayed. The list of traits given by Davis does not place emphasis on any of the traits, instead saying that they are all traits of a creative person. Thus it would seem to imply that where there is an appropriate balance of traits, there one will find creativity. The characters in Rough for Radio 2 do not appear to have a balanced relationship and perhaps it is for this reason that they are unable to produce anything that is deemed to be appropriately creative.
The creative product is, arguably, the aspect of creativity that is most likely to be thought about excluding forays into the study of the subject. There have been attempts to establish what attributes, form, and content of a work distinguish it as a great creative work as opposed to an ordinary one. The need for the input of others on the creative product is evident in both of these plays. For Macgillycuddy it does not appear to be the finished work that he is sharing, though the incompleteness of the play makes it difficult to truly discern. Nonetheless, Macgillycuddy shares his process with the woman visitor. At the beginning of the play, the exchange “you asked me to come/I ask no one to come here/You suffered me to come…I have come to listen/When you please” would appear to be an exchange between a reluctant artist and a critic. Little more is given in Rough for Radio 1 as regards the final product. Based on Macgillycuddy’s distress it would appear that his creativity has failed before the final product was finished.
In Rough for Radio 2 the creative product is much more directly addressed. Animator introduces the subject when he asks for the report on the previous day’s efforts. What Stenographer recites provides evidence that their efforts are being evaluated every day; “these dicta, like all those communicated to date and by reason of the same deficiencies, are totally inacceptable”. Thus it is clearly evident that the characters in that play are acutely aware of their creative product and the process of assessment by an external group. That this aspect of creativity is the least controllable by the artist is also implied in Rough for Radio 2. Animator even remarks that “you might prattle away to your last breath and still the one… thing remain unsaid” that would set all of them free of their endless attempts at creating a great work of art. This lack of knowledge of “what exactly it is we are after” experienced by the characters may be Beckett’s way of expressing distaste of the process. It could also represent the futility of creative striving because despite the greatest efforts, the final product may be deemed to be just not good enough.
What then can be controlled by the creative person? The creative process by which an individual expresses their creativity would be one such controllable factor. According to Freud, creativity is driven by two processes –the archaic and illogical function and then the awake mind that relies on common logic. These two processes are distinctly depicted in Rough for Radio 1 in the presence of the words and the music. The words are the logical and the music is the illogical or emotional. Thus Macgillycuddy keeps them separated and alternates between listening to the two in an attempt to stimulate his creativity. That Freud also considered creativity to be the result of reducing tension between biological and social drives is evident in Rough for Radio 2. Animator uses both the aggressive tendencies as well as the sexual ones to try and stimulate Fox into producing something for them. In both plays there is little other evidence given about the creative process through which the characters are working. It is unclear what motivates each character to strive for creativity. In Rough for Radio 1 that may simply be a side effect of the brevity of the play, but that Rough for Radio 2 is also missing distinct clues as to why this creative endeavour is being done suggests that it is an intentional omission on Beckett’s part. Leading one to assume that Beckett did not feel motivation was an important aspect of creativity.
The way in which Beckett treats the four aspects of creativity in these two plays is quite suggestive. Based on the way the characters in both plays strive to control their external and internal environments suggest that to Beckett, the creative environment is the most important aspect of creativity. Indeed, it seems that the biggest concern for the characters, outside of producing something, is the control of the environment. That the creative product, or at least the process by which it is judged, is displayed in an unfavourable way implies that this is an aspect which Beckett holds little regard. Both Macgillycuddy and Animator do not seem at all pleased with the process or its results. The creative aspect found in the qualities of the person appears to be of some importance to Beckett. Primarily in Rough for Radio 2, the characters so closely represent the personality traits of a creative person, and quite easily lend themselves to a Freudian interpretation. The ease with which such inferences may be drawn make it clear that the creative person was of great interest to Beckett. As evidenced by the lack of evidence in the plays, Beckett appears to not care as deeply about the creative process. In both plays the lack of motive seems to imply that the characters are compelled through internal means to create a great work. Perhaps it is such that Beckett feels external motivation is not a true factor in creativity.
It becomes quite evident that Beckett used both of these plays to explore the realm of creativity. Through Rough for Radio 1 and Rough for Radio 2 he was able to explore what it is that creates creativity. The easily interpreted aspects and the lack of evidence for other aspects would appear to suggest that Beckett has some clearly defined views on the aspects of creativity. By exploring the aspects in the two plays Beckett is able to present an argument of sorts for the relative merits of each aspect of creativity. In his plays it would appear that there is a distinct order of value among the four aspects, and that some may not even be entirely necessary. Thus Beckett’s study of the aspects of creativity becomes evident to those who are exposed to the plays, and the findings which he worked into both.
Beckett, Samuel. Rough for Radio 1. The Complete Dramatic Works. London: Faber and Faber Limited, 2006. 265.
Beckett, Samuel. Rough for Radio 2. The Complete Dramatic Works. London: Faber and Faber Limited, 2006. 273.
Gorny, Eugene. Dictionary of Creativity: Terms, Concepts, Theories & Findings in Creativity Research. June 10, 2007. July 15, 2011. <http://creativity.netsolva.ru>