Stories and cosmogonies: Imagining creativity beyond "Nature" and "Culture"

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What does it mean to create? Who or what could be said to create? God? Artists? Evolution? Markets? The Dialectic? Do things "just happen" and if so is that a kind of creativity? Taking storytelling as its point of reference, this essay considers the notion of creativity as it applies both to the productions of the human imagination, especially stories, and to the self-making of the material universe. I define creativity broadly as the bringing forth of new material, linguistic, or conceptual formations or the transformation of existing ones and as calling, not for a "cultural poetics," but for a more broadly conceived poetics of making (poesis, in its most inclusive sense), encompassing both the natural and cultural realms as conventionally designated, a poetics capable of articulating the stories human beings tell with cosmogonies detailing the coming-to-being of the physical universe. Extending the purview of creativity beyond the human realm to include the processes shaping the material universe allows us to envision creativity itself in terms of a generative multiplicity that resists articulation in binary oppositional terms and that demands therefore to be thought as ontologically prior to any possible differentiation between the domains of nature and culture, or between reality and its cultural-linguistic representations, challenging us to reimagine not only the relationship between nature and culture but also the problematic of representation that continues to inform much work in the humanities and social sciences. Such a reimagining might proceed precisely from an enlarged understanding of creativity- and in particular of storytelling-and I consider some of the epistemic and writerly implications of this claim for anthropology as a discipline concerned preeminently with exploring and documenting the varieties of human being-in-the-world.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)213-245
Number of pages33
JournalCultural Anthropology
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2009


  • Anthropological theory
  • Comparative studies
  • Creativity
  • Critical theory
  • Literature
  • Nature and culture
  • Philosophy
  • Science studies


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