Saturday, April 25, 2015

Eric Hoffer: product of dissatisfaction

No. 17

There is perhaps no better way of measuring the natural endowment of a soul than by its ability to transmute dissatisfaction into a creative impulse.  The genuine artist is as much a dissatisfied person as the revolutionary, yet how diametrically opposed are the products each distills from his dissatisfaction.

--  Eric Hoffer --
from The Passionate State of Mind

While I can see how dissatisfaction can move a revolutionary to act, I'm not sure how dissatisfaction can move an artist to create.

Do you think Hoffer is neutral here--showing no preference for either the products of a genuine artist or that of a revolutionary?

Does "creative impulse" refer only to the product of a genuine artist or to the products of both the artist and the revolutionary?

I lean towards the position that Hoffer prefers the products of the genuine artist, but I have nothing to support that "lean."  Perhaps it's my own rather distrustful attitude towards revolutionaries and the results of their actions:  that revolutionaries seldom produce real change--that only the names of the rulers are changed and little else. 


  1. Creators, dissatisfied with realities, must change the status quo through additions to the world . . . That is the blessing and curse of creativity.

    1. RT.

      That could be. I got to meditate on this a bit. That might be one of the differences Hoffer spoke of. The creative impulse brings about something new, while revolutionaries frequently just destroy things.

  2. I think dissatisfaction can move an artist to create. It can be dissatisfaction with realities, as R.T. wrote above, with some experience (e.g. Invisible Man was created out of dissatisfaction with the communist party), with some other works (e.g. Notes from Underground is a response to What Is to Be Done), with the artist's own works (to improve themselves, in terms of techniques), etc.
    The phrase "creative impulse" refers to the revolutionary too, methinks. Let's see... imagining other systems, other kinds of society, thinking of creative ways to protest, etc.- do these count?
    Eric Hoffer is perhaps not neutral. Guess it's hard to say, judging the quote alone. I feel the same distrust as you do, for the same reason, and also because of an idea I had while reading Invisible Man, which I felt even stronger after reading an essay comparing Turgenev and Marx, that the artist's mind focuses on the individual, on complexities, nuances... whereas the politician's/ activist's mind focuses more on the society or the group/ the organisation, on the general good, on generalisations, statistics, etc.

  3. Di,

    I have _What is to be Done?_ in my TBR bookcase. I wasn't aware of the connection between it and _Notes from Underground_. Thanks for pointing it out--I shall have to move it up in the queue.

    I think Hoffer is referring to someone other than a politician in this case. I suspect revolutionaries, in :Hoffer's sense, are those who have temporarily given up on politics in the ordinary sense and has moved out into the streets for violent overthrows since they can't get the majority or the powers-that-be to agree to changes voluntarily.

    1. So you have Chernyshevsky's book? It's a response to Turgenev's Fathers and Sons, and then Notes from Underground is a response to it. There are several others too. Tom at Wuthering Expectations once wrote about that chain of novels.
      Russians were nuts. They debated through novels!
      I was being unclear, or I should say, inaccurate, up there. But I was thinking of revolutionaries as well as politicians and activists, who in general stressed the society or the group above the individual, as opposed to the artist's way of thinking. The Brotherhood members in Ralph Ellison's book are of course revolutionaries.

    2. Di,

      And Dostoyevsky's _The Demons_ (aka The Possessed, The Devils) is also a response to _Fathers and Sons_.

      I should check out Wuthering Expectations for that post.


    4. Di,

      I have read this one as I followed up on your earlier comment about Tom and Wuthering Expectations. It certainly added a lot to think about as I have already read every work he mentioned, except for Chernyshevsky's work. I can see that it seems to be the linchpin which I shall have to get into very soon. Thanks for the comments and link.

    5. Ah, okay.
      I've heard it's crazy, in many ways, and badly written. And it's Lenin's favourite book! *silent scream*

    6. Di,

      I have heard it's not consistent--some very interesting chapters and others are so bad that some recommend skipping them.

      A favorite of Lenin? This should be interesting to get a glimpse of his literary taste.

      Well, I shall soon find out.

    7. Hahahhaaa. I'm looking forward to reading your thoughts on it. Sounds like a crazy book to me, really.

    8. Di,

      I also am interested to reading my thoughts on it.

    9. Oh did you just read the Chernyshevsky book? I saw it in your recent readings list.

    10. Di,

      My computer crashed. Will respond when I get it back.

    11. Di,

      As a literary work, I would rate Chernyshevsky's book as a 2 on a 5 point scale. The first part is the classic 18th and 19th century cliche of the young woman being pressured by family into marrying someone she doesn't care for, but the wedding will greatly benefit the family.

      The second part is an idyllic presentation of a woman's workers cooperative (seamstresses of course) and how happy it will make all the employees and how wonderfully they will all work together to bring about a paradise on earth.