Consciousness States and Literary Creativity

Hermann J. Hendrich

It is for this reason (representing the true character of objects) that I hold the somewhat unusual view that artists are neurologists, studying the brain with techniques that are unique to them and reaching interesting but unspecified conclusions about the organization of the brain. Semir Zeki in ((3), p 80).


Already in the late forties of the last century Andreas Okopenko, an Austrian poet and writer, started to take notes about a certain consciousness state, which he experienced often. Later he began to call this state ‚Fluidum‘, „… At this enthused discourse at an age of 16 I called this phenomenon this reactive feeling upon a selected reality, FLUIDUM, I don’t know why.“ ((2), p 20/21) His first publication about his self observations appeared in an Austrian literary magazine in 1977 (1), much later a version with more examples and some comments by the author himself can be found in the two volumes of his selected writings (2).

Okopenko tried very hard to give us a good description of his ‚fluidum‘ as well as some definitions, a few of those I am presenting in an English translation.

„But the essential cannot be found in these encirclements, which do not sensually exceed thoughts or feelings, but something similar elementary or irreducible as the experience of the five senses.“ ((2), p 28)

„An important component of the fluidum is the affected one. The feeling of a fluidum comes most often as a shock.“ ((2), p 31)

„The fluidum is unique and mirrors subjectively the uniqueness of the moment. It hits like lightning. It is in the moment when it is perceived. During a fluidum the constituents of the moment are being felt as a whole and not as a collection of particular elements. The fluidum is an integral for experience within a time differential.“ ((2), p 53/54)

It should be noted that Okopenko by his heritage and upbringing has been a person from the eastern part of Europe (Moldavia) transferred to Vienna in his early teens and so has had a scholling experience with a number of different languages.

„The experience (of a fluidum) is functional: recognising (perceiving, reflecting), but also always dynamic: as seizure <Anwandlung>, enlightenment, lightning. The whole of the concept ‚fluidum‘ is an indivisible complex of objective content and excitement.“ ((2), p 27)

„The fluidum is not being exhausted in the optical realm on one side, and on the other side much conscious scanning does not lead to any fluidic experiences.“ (2), p 25)

„The fluidum is also one of the phenomena of pre-language thinking which is sometimes put into disgrace by the philosophers. (Thinking in pictures – not anything unclear! And not in icons! – clear perceiving of relations between seen or sensual imagined objects; before the words appear for them. …)“ ((2), p 29)

„The experience of a fluidum has similarities with spontaneous or provoked states of enlightenment or mystical intimacy, without a faith however at the fluidum.“ ((2), p 31)

„The clear sight in its meta-wordly aspect is the ‚direct experience‘3 … and one day the flash of the highest insight, the clear, happens, and with it the sight of the true reality.“ ((2), p 35)

In order to differentiate his fluidum experiences from the Eastern world view Okopenko mentions:

„In my fluidum experience I wander … over the limits of the subject, this tragic bearer of ‚the always opposite one‘ (Rainer Maria Rilke); until the confluence of the subject into the world of objects: into the midst within, at the suspension of contrast…“ ((2), p 38)

In 1963 Andreas states:

„You are recognising that everything you tried to say remains incommunicable. It can not be said with all the painstaking images of reality. It clings to the images but has its own nature.“

If these last two sentences give way to a feeling, which overcomes (I believe) many of us in the writing business sometimes, Okopenko certainly points to the problem of communicating consciously experienced phenomena. Especially states of consciousness apart from any mood may be very difficult to describe in a way accessible for the laywoman or the student.

Noting the additionally provided examples of Okopenko’s own poems or prose lines I suggest that his truthful self-observations fall into two categories, one characterised by this spontaneous enlightenment, and the other by a certain revelation, a heightened awareness, especially in the direction of aesthetic experience, but also of nature poetry.

I would like to add some other descriptions about fluidum by Okopenko. „Fluidum is an emotional state with existential resonance, or before an infinite horizon, basically it could happen always, even to catch up to a given narrow feeling.“ ((2) p 53)

„Maybe a great calm and a feeling of clarity comes over us.“ ((2) p 53)

„The Fluidum is singular and subjectively mirrors the singularity of the moment. It hits. It is complete in the very moment it is experienced. The elements of the moment are being felt as a unit and not as a cluster of individual pieces. The fluidum is an experience integral in a time differential. Despite the uniqueness of a fluidum all of one’s own fluidi are similar to each other, and one’s own and strange fluidi are also similar to each other, since each unique moment is similar to another one, and each psyche resembles another one. Artistic, fluidic communication: one zest for life alarms the other one.“ ((2) p 53/54)

The important thesis by Okopenko regarding poetry can be formulated as follows: The fluidic state of an author (poet) supports the development of new ways to write and to form poems. He cites a number of poets like Ezra Pound, James Joyce and T.S. Eliot, whose poetic works show an influence from the fluidic consciousness states. Especially the imagism from Pound seems to hold much in favour of Okopenko’s thesis. He believes very strongly that in writing poetry one tries to communicate ones own fluidic experiences. I believe an example of one of his poems from 1950 should somewhat clarify his intentions: a partial translation follows.

Now the various depths are being separated
Now you don’t eat in the best way cut up flowers
They do have their own scent, not a good one,
Now you eat bread from last year’s harvest or drill sharply
Into a tin can and cut around
The first slice of a canned piece.
As fast as possible you harness yourself before the rest of the country coaches
Breathe the yellow shaft
Pant the song in the yellow brown stubble field
From pursuing gray under the spread out gray
And then the sky rushes down.
You can only see a few steps ahead
The earth receives an adverse play explosions
Fountains of upwards pelting rain bundles
And sloping downwards, broken
And overlapping circles everywhere all the time.
Soaked man,
Man of the threethousand steps!

(From ‚Zu Herbstbeginn‘ (at the beginning of fall) in Okopenko 1980.

In my view: there is still a story, and the poem is full of surrealist influences, but when we take these away there is a rest, which may correspond to the fluidic experience: a certain hold in individual time, a widened consciousness state, which is able to observe simultaneously many different events on more than one sensual plan.

Let’s take a few lines by T.S. Eliot:

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.
The inner freedom from practical desire,
The release from action and suffering, release from the inner
And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded
By a grace of sence, a white light still and moving, Erhebung without motion, concentration
Without elimination, both a new world
And the old made explicit, understood
In the completion of its partial ecstasy,
The resolution of its partial horror.
Yet the enchainment of past and future
Woven in the weakness of the changing body,
Protects mankind from heaven and damnation
Which flesh cannot endure.
Time past and time future
Allows but a little consciousness,
To be conscious is not to be in time
But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden,
The moment in the arbour where the rain beat,
The moment in the draughty church at smokefall
Be remembered; involved with past and future.
Only through time time is conquered.

(T.S. Eliot 1963)

This part of a longer poem (Burnt Norton) really has the ‚fluidic‘ quality Okopenko tries to demonstrate in his essay. Despite some contents which lead us to later discussion in my paper.

Let me end with a poem in English by Samuel Beckett:

Da Tagte Es

redeem the surrogate goodbyes
the sheet astream in your hand
who have no more for the land
and the glass unmisted above your eyes

There is little to add. (Maybe no thing).
(Samuel Beckett 1961)


Some aspects in Okopenko’s description of his Fluidum lead to the discussion, if this consciousness state has some common elements with Fluidum. Usually synaesthetic experiences are defined as the production of mental sense impression relating to one sense by the stimulation of another sense.

‚A Review of Current Knowledge‘ has been written by Richard E. Cytowic in PSYCHE, 2 (10), July 1995. In his ABSTRACT he summarises very clearly all aspects, which are interesting to neurology and art & consciousness.

Under 2.8 he writes „…The spatial location of objects is also strikingly remembered, such as the precise location of kitchen utensils, furniture arrangements and floor plan, books on shelves, or text blocks in a specific book…“

A descriptive passage from Andreas Okopenko ((2), p 23): „Suddenly – be it spontaneously or provoked, a watercock becomes of enormous importance to us, which has been indifferently looked at before. Or a room appears in a moving-perspective to us and becomes exciting for us. Particularly the alienation (‚Verfremdung‘) does much for a fluidic movement in the presence.“

„A whole landscape including the smallish human beings, little houses, vehicles, their perspectives, flowers, closenesses, distances, their weather, fragments of conversation, manifest values and no values, their tragedy, their humour, youth, age, water, heat, wind, single movements constantly everywhere, embedded in the nearest and the farthest surrounding, sucking in prehistory until world future, in addition superpositioning with my own small and large history, my appetite, clothe status, health status, working plan, with hopes, resentments, sexual life, this fitted into the world and this observing one self that all may become enchanting in the simultaneous experience (and not in remembering it).“

This poetic recall of a fluidic experience seems to me to be the only overlap between Okopenko’s concept and the general acceptance of synaesthetic ones. In this regard I would like to point to Cytowic’s paragraph 3. ‚History Of Synaesthesia‘ as well as to Braddock’s paragraph ‚Synaesthesia: A Case Study in Phenomenology through Vicarious Experience‘ in (5) and to the section ‚Artists, Poets and Synaesthesia‘ by Ramachandran and Hubbard in (6).

Besides the point, that Okopenko mentions a number of poets, whom he suspects of having had ‚fluidic‘ experiences, and whose names we find again in the articles mentioned above there is little evidence, that ‚fluidum‘ could be really listed within the synaesthetic experiences.

The discussion about synaesthesia lead to very interesting speculations, which should be noted by writers and literary reviewers, as „Second, we propose the existence of a kind of sensory to motor synaesthesia, which may have played a pivotal role in the evolution of language.“ (Ramachandran and Hubbard in ‚Synaesthesia – A Window into Perception, Thought and Language‘ in (6)). A similar view on the evolution of language is expressed by Harry van der Hulst in Hulst 1999.

Reviewing the above mentioned sources I am declined to think, that the ‚fluidum‘ of Okopenko has very little connections with anything being discussed within the realm of synaesthesia. There is one point which should be mentioned, however. The literature points to a fact, that synaesthets within the group of poets, writers and artists in the wider sense of the word are unproportionally existing compared with a more general group.

I am no synaesthet: music recalls emotions in my mind, but no colours, and paintings are just paintings for me. Understanding the main feelings of a synaesthet I still do find a phenomenological problem within this area.

Maybe the sentence by G. Braddock in his ‚Beyond Reflection in Naturalized Phenomenology‘ (5) on page 13: „In short, our phenomenological verdict about synaesthesia and its role in normal perception will be directed by all of the above information, and, in fact by any other information that might push our account of the phenomena in one direction or another.“ Serves well to my ideas at this time in writing that ‚account‘.

It may be interesting to note, that the German term ‚Doppelbegabung‘, intended to describe artists creating original works in at least two different art provinces, like poetry and music, or painting and theatrical propositions, may only try to group persons as synaesthetics together.

To own this heightened awareness in perception in form and intensity of sound, colour, bodily movement or rhapsodic prose may have been sometimes an advantage for the individual, leaving it to achieve a carrier as shamane, sorceress, cave painter, rock scratcher, and later into the roles of bards and clowns. It can be summed up by two sentences of Robert Allott:

„The process of art production as a biological reality presents problems for a number of aspects of evolutionary theory (e.g. fitness, altruism, gene determination of behaviour, gene selection) which may best be solved by defining or amending the theories rather than by ejecting the art process from the realm of biology. If the arts are correctly treated as biological in origin and in the process of artistic creation, the issue that matters, on the the analysis in the preceding section, is not the node of transmission of cultural pattern (via hypothetical memes, culturgens, etc.) but the origination of the cultural patterns, artistic or cultural ‚creation‘.“ (Allott 2002)


(An associative description)

After a short while travelling in the tram during the onsetting twilight the view from my wide open eyes remains sharply focussed in the direction of the fast passing building walls with windows, entrances, shops, and in between lying billboards. The passengers are perceived as precisely outlined shapes throughout the field of vision, especially, if one moves. Familiar faces are resolved into strange features. (The way of viewing, the representation of the surrounding objects must have been widened.) The written signs on the shop portals are being perceived as such, but the meaning of the agglomeration of letters cannot be recognised.

The colours and shapes on each poster appear extremely clear, but cannot be combined together into a picture. Mirrorlike glass surfaces surrounded by dark brown frame wood, the phenomena themselves start to win significance, and those concepts which regulate the representation of objects are not involved.

In a way Jennifer Church gives us some explanation wen she writes in her article ‚Seeing A’s and the Double Bind of Consciousness‘ (4) on page 99: „Central to aesthetic experience, but also to experience in general, is the phenomenon of ’seeing as‘. We see a painting as a landscape, we hear sequence of sounds as a melody, we see a wooden contraption as a boat, and we hear a comment as an insult.“

Back to my ‚inside‘ report:

No effort can be felt by keeping the look forward even throughout many minutes. After these minutes the visual attention widens itself over the total field of view, no difference between foreground and background can be made anymore, the movement of single elements against each other, the shifts and overpositions can be observed, without moving the direction of the view, all things happening simultaneously. During this time acoustic phenomena can be perceived as well, and in contrast to the visual experience the meaning of utterances, even when more then one persons speaks at the same time, can be understood.

Thinking in a certain respect has actually ceased, since stimuli or analogue chains are no more followed at all. The capacity of conscious perception is just large enough to accept the immensely large abundance of visual and auditory details. The progressive loss of significance leads one to indulge in a strong feeling of strangeness. The normal atmosphere of feelings and emotions vanishes. The self is no longer included in the reality around it.

Another citation from Church’s above mentioned article, page 103, following Kant’s insight: „although seeing seems to be a twoplace relation between the seer and the seen, and thinking appears to be a twoplace relation between the thinker, the object of thought, and what is thought about that object, conscious thinking also requires one to merge an object with the way it is presented. “ And later on page 105: „This is not to say, that all thinking must be accompanied by images; sometimes thinking amounts to little more than the syntactical manipulation of symbols.“

Without being able to compare my ‚freeze‘ experience with those of others I can only speculate, that there are certain ways to loosen the ‚double binding‘ in consciousness space.

Since introspection does not give me any hints, how I really manage to click on freeze, I must leave this consciousness state to further investigations.

It seems also, that Eastern meditative practices lead to a similar state.

Zazen, Zen

‚zen‘ is a translation of the Indian Sanskrit word for meditation. Meditation has been passed down as one of the three facets of Buddhist practice (i.e. morality, meditation and wisdom). It is the most essential of the practices taught by Sakyamuni Buddha who himself attained supreme enlightenment by single-mindedly penetrating zazen.

In his Fukan Zazengi (The Universal Promotion of the principles of Zazen). Dögen says, that the crux of zazen is „non-thinking; that is the essential of zazen.“ This non-thinking is impossible to explain. If it could be explained, then it would not be non-thinking. Non-thinking is just non-thinking and there is no other way for you to experience for yourself in zazen.

You can’t understand with your brain. If you practice zazen, on the other hand, you can experience satori unconsciously. The posture of zazen itself is satori. Satori is the return to the normal, original condition. It is the consciousness of the new-born baby. Unlike what many people think, satori is not some special state, but simply a return to the original condition. Through the practice of Zazen one becomes peacefully. Through one’s body one can discover the consciousness of satori. So posture is very important. You can’t discover satori with your head in your hands like Rodin’s thinker. That is why people in the East respect the posture of the Buddha. It is the highest posture of the human body. Chimpanzees and babies cannot experience satori. Babies are in their original condition, but then karma obscures it, and we must regain that condition. Chimpanzees don’t nee to; they are always in their original condition. Only human beings have lost it and become complicated and so they must regain it.

Zazen clears up the human being mind immediately and lets him dwell in his true essence. Zazen transcends both the unenlightened and the sage, rises above the dualism of delusion and enlightenment. Through zazen we break free from all things, forsake myriad relations, do nothing and stop the working of the six sense organs.

Awareness is the ontological ground of phenomenal appearance, which only have reality as manifestations of Nature.

From these diverse statements (Maybe one wants to look up ‚Lecture on Zen‘ by Alan Watts) it seems plausible, to compare ‚freeze‘ with Zen When we lose the name of an object do we lose the object too? Patches of colour, sounds without meaning remain.

Andreas Okopenko writes about ‚direktes Erkennen‘ and Satori and believes, that Haiku or Zenrin are very close to a fluidic kind of poetry.


Literary creativity is a wide area, where new imagery, new forms for poetry or prose or new philosophical thoughts or recombinations are tried out and performed. Throughout our writing history stimulations have been sought by poets and writers in general to wake up creativity. Heavy smoking seems to be the one most often used ancillary, but alcoholic fluids from beer to whisky served some as well. In the modern literary history the use of many kinds of substances with mind expanding or mind changing abilities have been in use.

So it lies near that specific consciousness states, reached without the intake of any chemical substance at all, could serve this purpose as well.

From the various descriptions of poets, especially in ‚Fluidum‘ by Andreas Okopenko, one receives the impression, however, that the fluidum or synaesthetic experiences serve indirect means for literary creativity. It is the impact of these experiences which the poet tries to describe or bring into a communicable form, using language. Okopenko points to the theory of writing zenrin and haiku.

The role of ‚fluidum‘ may be described by using some words of explanation, Okopenko has written (2) about a request, to explain one of his own poems:

Strange Night

Blue cold wind of May
Gasdischarged from moon brown clouds,
Bushy tree tops driving
Avenue chestnuts wood
No rain will arrive until now

Seltsame Nacht

Blaukalter Maiwind
aus mondbraunen Wolken gasend,
Buschende Baumspitzen treibende
Allee Kastanien Wald
Es will bis jetzt nicht Regen einlangen

(partial presentation)

„Fluidum is a feeling with existential resonance, in front of a unending horizon, basically always possible, to be catched up with a given narrow emotion……About a great silence and a feeling of clarity overcomes us.“

It seems to me, that writing in this sense means reliving those episodes of unusual consciousness states. Okopenko has, however, scanned modern literature for remains and suggestions about fluidic experiences, brought forward in writing. For details see (2).

Synaesthetic experiences lead to somewhat different examples, many of those cited in the mentioned literature. A large number of poets used metaphors including colour references, as well as painters like Wassilij Kandinsky (The yellow sound) worked from the synaesthetic experience of music and colour. We can state that synaesthetic poets and writers have an internal source for creativity in their poetic work.

‚Freeze‘ and Zen – may I combine my intentions here? – can also not be used for writing while you are in a freeze or enlightened. Remembering those consciousness states, however, should spur the strife of writing. Using my freeze experiences I tried to get into what I repeatedly described as an ‚hot point‘ within myself, finding there the opening lines of some of my emotional moving poems. Let me end with one of it:

Heart Your Shaking
As by asked for I had
Only one hand – gratified touch
Ask never what aggravated me
Entrusted to clarity


(1) protokolle No 2 (1977), Wien, Jugend und Volk
(2) Okopenko, Andreas 2000/2001, Gesammelte Aufsätze Vol I & II, Klagenfurt, Ritter
(3) JCS Vol 6 (1999) June/July
(4) JCS Vol 7 No 8-9 (2000)
(5) JCS Vol 8 No 11 (2001)
(6) JCS Vol 8 No 12 (2001)


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