In the preface to the first edition of his cycle Monsieur Teste, written in 1925, Paul Valéry recalled writing the first text that he devoted to the figure of Teste thirty years before:
My intention here is basically to start from these sentences, or at least remain in their field of resonance, to circle around the question of a possible critique of creativity. In doing so, as will become evident, there is no easy way past theology: as soon as one speaks of something like the “energy of the creator” – cipher for so many designations of what is presumed to be at work in creativity – a reality is already invoked that rises above all other reality; a reality that surpasses the “natural fruits”, as Valéry says with a certain irony, indeed the results and works in general. It is obvious that Valéry immediately attributes this surpassing to a certain youthful enthusiasm, a youthful presumptuousness, which seeks exertion, but has not yet been overcome by the results of its exertions. Yet exactly this – being overcome by the results of one’s own exertions – describes the situation of an author, who finds himself accompanied throughout his life by a figure (Monsieur Teste) created in his younger years and reflects on this figure thirty years after its creation. And as it initially appears, this also exactly describes the situation and perspective of a critique of creativity, as it is to be treated here.
In comparison with critical investigations of a number of other objects, the peculiarity of a “critique of creativity” is undoubtedly its confidence in a certain critical capability on the part of its object. As a critique of the object “creativity” (“critique of creativity” as genitivus obiectivus), it aims to distinguish the possibilities and limitations of a creativity that is ultimately characterized its own inherent critique or critical capacity (“critique of creativity” as genitivus subiectivus). Hence we are dealing with a critique that aims less to reject its object (as idols, ideologies, false gods, etc.) than to achieve an enlightening understanding of it, which seeks to separate what is idolatrous, ideological, false about this object from what may appear all the more legitimate about it, the more it is purified through critique from all that is idolatrous, etc. In this sense, the task of a critique of creativity could additionally be understood in a certain analogy to the Kantian project of a critique of reason. Just as in Kant’s critique of the various capacities of reason, reason is not only the object of the critique, but is also actualized in some of its capacities at the same time in the course of carrying out this critique, in the same way it could be possible that a certain capacity of creativity is actualized in the procedure of a critique of creativity. Indeed this capacity would then assume an irrevocable difference to that which could ever come into view as the “object” of creativity – and every object named “creativity” would conversely always already be an immanent effect of a certain creative activity.
Let us first consider an argument that must at first glance appear as a possible elaboration of this kind of approach, at least in its initial aspect: the idea that a critique of creativity has to do with a critique and critical capacity inherent to creativity itself also seems to be a principle point of departure in the recently much discussed study The New Spirit of Capitalism by Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello. One of the central motifs of this book is the critique of what the authors call “artist critique”, that is of a critique that one might suspect derives from creativity or at least from a special relationship to creativity. The study suggests that this “artist critique” has turned primarily against the “disenchantment”, the “lack of authenticity”, the “loss of meaning” and the “oppression” proceeding from the hollowness and the standardization of the bourgeois commodity society, raising instead demands for “freedom”, for “autonomy” and “mobility”. However, this form of critique, which entered into history especially in the context of Paris May 1968, inspired (and this is where Boltanski/Chiapello’s “critique of creativity” starts in the form of a critique of the “artist critique”) new strategies of business management and in this way ultimately resulted in effects that were accompanied by new forms of exploitation and precarization and thus, not least of all, forestalled the equality and security demands of the other main strand of the critique, which the authors call “social critique” (and with which the “artist critique” connected in a hitherto unknown way in May ‘68).
In light of this line of argument, two points are immediately conspicuous: one is the alleged reference of the critique of creativity (gen. obiectivus) to a creativity of critique (or “critique of creativity” as gen. subiectivus) subsumed under the name “artist critique”; the other is the theme of an effect of critique, which becomes the actual object of Boltanski/Chiapello’s “critique of critique”, because it ultimately undermines the (capitalism-critical) concerns and intentions of the critique that engenders it, partly due to a certain blindness that blocks its motives, partly due to the way these motives are appropriated and taken over by capitalistic exploitation interests. In terms of the first point, it is quickly evident that despite expectations of Boltanski/Chiapello’s book, it is not really addressed at all: creativity or the specific experience of creativity play no role whatsoever where the concept of an artist critique is introduced; the artist critique is rooted much more “in the way of living of the Boheme”, shares “individualism” with bourgeois modernity from the start, and finds its “epitome in the figure of the dandy in the mid-19th century”. The only – and certainly significant – indication of something like a question of creativity that Boltanski/Chiapello offer in this context is found in an insertion, which at least acknowledges that the dandyesque stylization of “non-production” involves a specific exception: the “exception of self-production” – in other words a form of self-engendering in the sense of engendering a certain way of living.
In terms of the second point – the question of the effectiveness of critique – it is worth taking a closer look at Boltanski/Chiapello's concept of critique:
As frequently as the link between the concept of critique and the necessity of clarifying a “normative relational system” may be encountered, this link cannot claim to be self-evident. It is based on a fundamental distance between the subject exercising critique and what is being criticized, or more precisely: on a flexible ability to take a distance, which is carried out in the space opened up by the discrepancy between the “actual” and the “desirable” state. However, the idea of taking a distance in this way is not only in danger of misjudging the very involvement in the existing circumstances of power which applies to the criticizing subject her/himself in their activity (and which is by no means covered simply by keeping an eye on the “actual circumstances of power”). In conjunction with the demand to indicate a “normative relational system”, this idea is also in danger of repeating an exclusion, which could virtually be called a leitmotiv in the history of political conceptions, and which was already clearly formulated by Aristotle. I refer here to the separation of a speech that is only capable of expressing “the pleasant and the unpleasant” from a speech that is determined to “clearly proclaim the useful and the damaging and thus also the just and the unjust”. The demand that criticism must clarify a “norm of justice” is thus linked not only with both an implicit and principle privileging of verbal expression, it also establishes a hierarchy among the modes of speaking and hence largely forestalls access to the – even though never consistently expressed – origin of criticism in the affective (experiences of violence, overexertion, displeasure, etc., but also desire, experiences of pleasure, etc.).
At the same time, the aforementioned emphasis on distance does not solely determine Boltanski/Chiapello’s perspective of the subject exercising criticism. It also fixes the question of the effects of critique to a thinking of exteriority, thus missing the second aspect of the implications of a critique of creativity outlined above, which allows the question of effects to appear as a question of immanent effects. This thinking of exteriority is manifested in Boltanski/Chiapello at several levels: exteriority (distance), which determines the relationship of the subject exercising critique in reference to “actual” and “desirable” states; mutual exteriority (fundamental disconnectedness and even incompatibility) of “artist critique” and “social critique”; exteriority of the intentions of critique in reference to its effects (the misery of the artist critique that Boltanski/Chiapello object to is based on a certain blindness with regards to demands for equality, which is inherent to its critical intentions; the actual effects of this critique, however, first become tangible in networked capitalism driven by entirely different interests and legitimation endeavors).
A critique of creativity in the aforementioned sense is thus hardly to be found in the described approach. Nevertheless, I think it is important to avoid two misunderstandings: on the one hand my point is not at all to principally disparage or discredit the analyses presented in the book by Boltanski/Chiapello, which I consider important in many points. On the other, it is even less my intention to defend any kind of “artist critique” – a category that I generally find of dubious use in contexts of social analysis – and thus end up in the waters of overly familiar art emphases. For this reason, in the following the question of the connection between critique and creativity is initially not to be treated from the perspective of any kind of “artist critique”, but rather with a view to what Boltanski/Chiapello call “social critique” and qualify as being “inspired by the socialists and, later, the Marxists”.
Whereas Kant’s critical philosophy, as mentioned above, summarizes the theoretical implications of critique as a theoretical procedure (the ex-plication of which forms the project of the post-Kantian idealists in many respects), something similar could be said about Marx when it is a matter of accounting for critique as a practical activity in the sense of changing politics and society. Even the first of Marx’ “Theses on Feuerbach” speaks of the “significance of ‘revolutionary’, of ‘practical-critical’, activity” and locates the problem, to a certain extent, in between idealism and materialism: whereas the former “does not know real, sensuous activity as such” and therefore has an abstract concept of practice, materialism so far (i.e. primarily that of Feuerbach) has not yet come to an understanding of practice at all and thus considers reality “only in the form of the object or of contemplation”. Marx’ central example, explained in his fourth thesis, relates to Feuerbach’s criticism of religion: If religion, as Feuerbach writes, is nothing other than a projection of earthly human condition, then it is not sufficient to unmask this projection at a purely theoretical level for the criticism to take effect; “the secular basis” of this projection must indeed “be both understood in its contradiction [or, to disentwine Marx’s idea from its dialectical grounding, let us say: in its circumstances of power] and revolutionized in practice”. And this revolutionizing cannot be reduced, as noted already in the third thesis, to the general formula of “the changing of circumstances”, but instead implies a “coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-changing”.
What is most remarkable about the concept of critique formulated in the Marxian Feuerbach theses is initially that they sketch an image of a fundamental involvement in an operative structure (“circumstances”) that the notion of external “conditions” only insufficiently covers, and which applies equally to critical and uncritical subjects. In short, it is not enough to fix “objects” worthy of criticism or to strive for their “change”, if an operative structure is reproduced at the same time, which persistently produces precisely these objects in their reality. This form of criticism resembles a race dog chasing a fake rabbit attached to its own neck with a pole: it keeps running, yet it never comes any closer to its goal. For this reason there can be no change without self-change, a self-change that is by no means an individual private matter, but rather starts from the subjective (as Marx calls it: sensuous, practical) mode of reproducing the structure. The concept of self-change thus occupies the intersection between the first named aspect of the Marxian emphasis on involvement in the criticized circumstances and a third characteristic of the concept of criticism articulated in the Feuerbach theses: contrary to a widely held understanding in relation to Marx (and equally in relation to the question of critique in a more general sense, as seen in Boltanski/Chiapello), this concept of critique needs no clarification of its “norm references” and no orientation to a “desirable state”; it needs no purpose orientation at all, with the specific exception perhaps of the destitutive purpose of a “dispossession” of the criticized operative structure, but such a purpose can ultimately only be resolved through a self-changing practice – and is therefore not exterior to this practice.
A clear echo of this practical concept of criticism formulated by Marx is found in Walter Benjamin’s essay “Critique of Violence” from 1921, specifically where Benjamin compares the “political” and the “proletarian general strike”: whereas the first form of the general strike is simply to achieve certain purposes or ends that remain exterior to the action itself and hence only achieve external modifications of the circumstances of action (or work), the second form is like an “overthrow, which does not so much occasion as carry out this type of strike” – in other words, an overthrow that ultimately makes the strike appear not only abstract as a cessation of work, but as a release of a different, self-changing activity (assemblies, processes of exchange beyond the functionality of work, etc.). And in reference to activities of art, a similar direction is also indicated by Benjamin’s shifting of the question “Where does a work stand vis-à-vis the production relations of its time?” in the direction of the question: “Where does it stand within them?”, as is formulated in “The Author as Producer”. Involvement, self-change, the lack of a definition of purpose – these three aspects determine Benjamin’s reflection on a practical critique as well as Marx’s.
Especially the last of these three aspects finally reveals an unmistakable link to the question of creativity. This is not primarily in the sense that the usually vague and indeterminate talk of art as non-purposed or as “an end in itself” suggests – an idea that cannot be regarded outside of any connection with the problem posed here, but one which belongs primarily to the history of the ideas of artistic autonomy from the 19th century. What is more crucial is that the lack of a purpose indicates a certain shift of the question of creation or creativity, in which this question begins to detach itself from the onto-theological schema to which the opening quotation from Paul Valéry alludes, and in which it was held over the course of centuries or even millennia. This schema perpetually tied the “purpose” or “end” (final cause) of a creation to a primary, sovereign primal reality removed from the causal connection of the world and grounding this purpose, to a reality ontologically superior to every possibility, the prototype of which is found in the Aristotelian “unmoved mover”: demiurge, prime cause and creator of the world, which Christian scholastic theology was to adapt as the “actus purus”. Valéry’s allusion to the “energy of the creator” (following a long tradition of translation, the Aristotelian term enérgeia is translated into German as “reality”; the corresponding term in Latin is “actus”) is to be understood against this background particularly as an indication that this construction has been less replaced by modern ideas of creativity relating to “creating art” than it has been assimilated by them – at least in a certain presumptuousness of these ideas that is still in effect today, which insists on the artist subject as a reality of creating that is removed from the world, “drawing from itself”.
In this kind of construction the world always appears as a secondary reality, and yet at the same time it finds itself fixed on being “reality”, which is always posited in a more or less distinctive opposition to possibility (the “results in general”, the “natural fruits” or even the “innate abilities” in Valéry’s words). Exactly at this point, however, a shift becomes recognizable in the movement leading to modernism and, not least of all, to the ideas of Karl Marx and others. In a text entitled “On Creation”, Jean-Luc Nancy sees this shift expressed primarily in the works of Descartes, Spinoza and especially Leibniz: according to this shift the world is “something possible, before it is something real”. In other words, it is real precisely in that it is possible, at stake, “capable of being perfected” (Leibniz) or “capable of being revolutionized” (according to Marxian logic). And this real possibility, in which the field of possibilities is limited neither to an existing nor to a presupposed reality, always refers at the same time to an inalienable involvement in the world (another world is only possible by virtue of changing this world and not as a castle in the clouds) and to the necessity of a self-change, which opens up new fields of possibility (the former “creatures” become themselves potential “creators”, specifically and not least of all – and not only among dandies – as creators of themselves).
“That there is in the world or even as the world (under the name ‘human’ or ‘history’, ‘technology’, ‘art’, ‘existence’) a putting at stake of its origin and its end, its being-possible and hence its being and being in general” – in this, according to Nancy, a “hitherto unknown problem of ‘creation’” becomes evident, which can neither be broken down to the register of “production”, nor refers to one prior subject of creation, but rather to a “multiplicity of existences” that are involved in this problem. Nancy’s list of the various names under which this problem can be recognized should be taken seriously, not only because “art” is only one element of a series in it; we should also append the name “critique” to this list, especially in the sense of the practical critique articulated by Marx or Benjamin, for example. In this sense, critique is a manner (but not the only one) of carrying out an activity, which I would like to call cre-activity here – to refrain from continuing the problematic and charged name of “creativity”. The effects of critique are accordingly to be regarded as immanent effects of this cre-activity, which means that the “cause” of these effects is not exterior to them, but is instead actualized in them, especially through the modes of subjectivation, which the cre-active activity (or the cre-active critique as one of its forms) engenders.
Consequently, Walter Benjamin’s point could be taken up again, this time in reference to the question of critique: the question is not where one stands vis-à-vis the effects of critique, but where one stands within them.
In reference to the question of critique, against this background art has no special privileges at all. Nevertheless, it is one of its modern names, one of the forms under which cre-activity is carried out. At the same time, to recall Valéry’s allusion again, the history of modern forms of accounting for “art” is not free from continuations, in a sense secularized adaptations of the onto-theological construction of creation mentioned above. The reservation of “secular” crea(c)tivity for art issues usually corresponds to an isolated and isolating view of the artistic subject, which does justice to its situation amongst a multiplicity of cre-active existences at best in certain styles of biography, which are then again concerned with detaching a special subject from its surrounding reality. Robert Walser’s text “Poetenleben” (“Poet’s Life”) might perhaps be read as a kind of counter-sketch to this. Its humorous concise prose speaks of nothing but contingencies and also of the many “prosaic” historical-social localizations of the poet’s life, seeing the poet’s work as no more ennobled than any other “work carried out with determination”; this prose text fades out in the end in sentences that lay the question of the poet’s secret to rest with gentle irony, because they have begun to speak of one life – and that means whatever life in the midst of a multiplicity of lives:
Walser’s text takes its place among countless documents that work towards a de-theologization of “creativity” in the modern history of the arts themselves, thus articulating, to a certain extent, a cre-active critique of creativity. Antonin Artaud’s protest against the “European ideal of art”, which aims to “constrain the spirit to a stance divorced from energy, watching its fervor”, is as much a part of this history as, for example, the anarchisms of Dada, the Situationist intervention practices, the techniques of a “Theater of the Oppressed” initiated by Augusto Boal, and many more. At a theoretical level, the use of these cre-active critiques can be comprehended, not least of all, in Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of the novel, which contends that conventional stylistics of genre overlook “the social life of the word outside the artist workshop, in the squares and streets, in cities and villages, in groups, generations and eras”, in turn defining the novel drawing from this manifold life as “artistically organized diversity of speech”: all these critiques, as well as Robert Walser’s “Poetenleben”, are concerned with making the “crucial social tone” (Bakhtin) heard, which makes the question of “creativity” understandable as the problem of cre-activity in a multiplicity of existences (instead of attributing and subordinating it to the individualism of a Boheme, as Boltanski/Chiapello do, the final effect of which – indeed, the effect of this critique – only ends up burying the history of the cre-active critique of “creativity” once again).
For this reason, there would also be little use in starting from the aforementioned and other names of the existing canonizations to append yet another one denoting a certain “tendency” in art history (histories). It would be far more propitious to develop the perspective of a necessarily incompletable genealogy of cre-activity, not as a new art-specific discipline, but instead equally in reference to the history of forms of social protest, the emergence and various uses of technologies, etc.
Two elements that this kind of genealogy of cre-activity must inevitably take into consideration are outlined here in conclusion:
1) The history of what is here called cre-activity cannot be considered independent from the institutional and governmentality forms in which it takes place and which it engenders. In terms of art, this applies not only to obviously institutional structures such as museums, but also, for example, to ideas of artistic autonomy, which from a historical perspective – far removed from expressing an actual “self-regulation” – basically reflect little other than the battle over a certain cultural policies model in the formational phase of something generally like cultural policies as a separate field of political administration. And this applies not only to the forms of government and self-government, in which “art”, “culture” and other areas of social life are situated, but naturally also to how they have been re-formed in times of neoliberalism and the corresponding individual and collective self-practices in project-based contexts. These re-formulations have also generated a new type of institution, namely the project institution, which has no stable institutional structure at its disposal at all, which allows it a certain flexibility, but is on the other hand also linked with new forms of instrumental purpose-orientation and with the fact that this type of institution has little to counter the current spread of individual and social precarity.
2) This last point brings us back to Paul Valéry’s words quoted at the beginning: the “effort” that Valéry speaks of and the “sensation” of it that his youthful theological caprice sought, is still found in Valéry’s distancing gesture as the effort of an isolated artist subject able to “autonomously” decide on its creation techniques. Yet this subject is as little neutral and general, or conversely: it is as presupposed and predetermined as its predecessors from the theological tradition and their secular counterparts. We need only place a brief statement from a different voice, the voice of Virginia Woolf, next to Valéry’s words to see this, a statement that was made only three years after Valéry’s preface was written, namely in 1928: “[…] a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” It is not a coincidence that this statement appears again in a central position in one of the programmatic texts emerging from the struggles and solidarity movements of the French Intermittents. It refers to a discriminating policy and social practice, which continues to attribute certain activities (particularly symbolically valued ones such as “creativity”) to a certain preferred type of presupposed (gendered, racified, etc.) subjects, and which should not be lost sight of in the perspective of a genealogy of cre-activity or in any contemporary cre-active critique. For cre-activity in the sense developed here has nothing to do with an ordering of subjects, but rather with the multiplicity of existences and the subjectivation processes that take place in them.
 P. Valéry, Monsieur Teste, Frankfurt/M., Suhrkamp 1995, S. 7.
 Cf. Luc Boltanski / Eve Chiapello, Le nouvel esprit du capitalisme, Paris, Gallimard 1999, p. 83 f..
 Cf. ibid., p. 83, 86 and 84.
 Cf. ibid., p. 84.
Cf. ibid., p. 69 f.
 Cf. e.g. Habermas’ criticism of Foucault in J. Habermas, Der Diskurs der philosophischen Moderne, Frankfurt/M., Suhrkamp 1988, especially p. 333 (including a reference to a similar criticism by Nancy Fraser).
 Cf. Aristotle, Politics, 1253a.
 Mention of “sources of indignation” or “motives of indignation” with Boltanski/Chiapello forms only a weak reflection of this origin, for their validity as critique remains constantly tied to the presence of “norm references”.
 Op.cit., p. 84.
 Cf. (also for the following quotations) MEW 3, p. 5; http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/theses/theses.htm
 Cf. Walter Benjamin, “Zur Kritik der Gewalt”, in: Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. II.1, Frankfurt/M., Suhrkamp 1991, p. 179–203, here p. 194.
 Cf. Walter Benjamin, “Der Autor als Produzent”, in: Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. II.2, Frankfurt/M., Suhrkamp 1991, p. 683–701, here p. 686.
 Cf. Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book XII.
 J.-L. Nancy, “De la création”, in: La creation du monde ou la mondialisation, Paris, Galilée 2002, p. 65–101.
 Ibid., p. 81.
 In Leibniz’ “monadological” thinking, which ultimately remains framed in theology, the three aspects of the Marxian concept of critique developed above are already very clearly presaged: involvement – every monad is embedded in a monad universe and thus a “reflection of the world” (for which reason it also needs no “window”, because it is perceptio per se of this embeddedness); self-change – change is unthinkable without an “inner principle of change”, in other words without the monad’s self-changing; lack of a defined purpose – the world is not the “best of all worlds” because it is perfect (final cause), but because it is perfectible.
 Cf. (also for the following quotations) J.-L. Nancy, “De la création”, op.cit., p. 83.
 Robert Walser, “Poetenleben”, in: Poetenleben (original 1918), Frankfurt/M., Suhrkamp 1986, p. 120-130, here p. 121.
 Ibid., p. 130.
 Antonin Artaud, Das Theater und sein Double (French original: 1938), Munich, Matthes & Seitz 1996, p. 13.
 Mikhail Bakhtin, “Das Wort im Roman”, in: Die Ästhetik des Wortes, Frankfurt/M., Suhrkamp 1979, p. 154-300, here p. 154 and 157.
 On this, cf. Georg Bollenbeck’s relevant remark about the “class [meaning the German Bildungsbürgertum of the 19th century] that barred any intervention in culture on the part of the authoritarian state by invoking the ‘state of culture’, assigning to this authoritarian state at the same time the responsibility for supporting ‘culture’ (G. Bollenbeck, Tradition, Avantgarde, Reaktion. Deutsche Kontroversen um die kulturelle Moderne. 1880-1945, Frankfurt/M., Fischer 1999, p. 16).
 It is one of the unfortunate curtailments of some more recent discourses in the cultural field that “govermentalization” appears to have begun with neoliberalism; it is sufficient, and not only in more recent times, to go into any museum and analyze one’s own self-restraint, in order to grasp the governmentality – embedded in specific historical political formations – that has been inscribed in “culture” and the cultural field from the beginning. That political economy, as Foucault says, is governmentality’s “most important form of knowledge” (cf. Geschichte der Gouvernmentalität I. Sicherheit, Territorium, Bevölkerung, Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp 2004, p. 162) does not mean that it is its only form of knowledge or that the forms of symbolic socialization historically circulating under the term “culture” are not in need of separate attention. On this, cf. especially a series of works by Tony Bennett, e.g. The Birth of the Museum. History, Theory, Politics, London / New York, Routledge 1995. On the differentiation of liberal and neoliberal governmentality at the economic level, also see Isabell Lorey’s essay: http://transform.eipcp.net/transversal/1106/lorey/en.
 Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (original 1928), London: Penguin Books 2004, p. 4
 Cf. Précaires Associés de Paris, “Elements de propositions pour un régime solidaire de l'assurance chômage des salaries à l'emploi discontinu”, http://eipcp.net/transversal/0704/precaires/fr (viewed on 6 March 2007); on the Intermittents movement, see also the essay by Maurizio Lazzarato in this issue.