Sympathy for the Devil – The Creative Transformation of the Evil

  • Rainer Matthias Holm-Hadulla
1. May 2020


Article 1 | pages 414

Issue Copyright © 2020 Tinkr

Article Copyright © 2020 Rainer Matthias Holm-Hadulla

ISSN: 2334-1149 online

DOI: 10.18536/jge.2020.01.01

Sympathy for the Devil –

The Creative Transformation of the Evil

Rainer Matthias Holm-Hadulla

Heidelberg University


Mythologies, religions, philosophies, and ideologies show that all cultures are concerned with human destructivity. The same is readily apparent in many modern creative works of eminence. In their famous song, “Sympathy for the Devil,” Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones refer to Goethe’s Faust, where the Devil is characterized strangely as “a portion of that power/ which always works for the Evil and effects the Good … a part of Darkness which gave birth to Light”. These verses remind one of ancient myth but also of modern ideas of the interplay of creation and destruction. The poetry of Goethe, the scientific psychoanalysis of Freud, and the aesthetic enactments of Madonna Ciccone and Mick Jagger show that the creative transformation of destructiveness provides a chance to cope with evil. Through his poetic and autobiographic self-reflection Goethe described how men are composed of constructive and destructive forces, light and dark, good and evil. This dialectic of drives and activities is also fundamental for the Freudian scientific model of the mind and its interrelation with the body and the social environment. Humans can only survive when they transform their destructive inclinations into constructive activities. The creative transformation of destructiveness is also a central issue in today’s pop culture. Paradigmatically the song ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ describes the atrocities humans are able to commit. The song is exemplary for the transformation of violence into music, dance, and shared aesthetic experience. This is also valid for the provocative enactments of Madonna. Behind her sometimes seemingly shameless enactments one can find a serious working through of depression and aggression. Fundamental elements of aesthetic pleasure in art, science, and social activity stem from the creative transformation of human destructiveness.

Keywords: Holy Bible, Iliad, Upanishads, Hesiod, Confucius, Laotse, Buddha, Plato, Goethe, Freud, Mick Jagger, Madonna Ciccone, Amy Winehouse, Jim Morrison, Creativity, Destructivity, Order, Chaos, Good, Evil, Construction, Destruction, Love, Hate

Rainer Matthias Holm-Hadulla

In nearly all mythologies, religions and philosophies we can find a dialectic of good and evil, order and chaos, constructive and destructive forces (Assmann, 2012; Holm-Hadulla, 2013). One of the fundamental narratives of European culture, Homer’s Iliad, begins with the following: “The hate [Μῆνιν] sing, goddess, of Peleus’s son Achilles, the accursed wrath which brought countless sorrows upon the Achaens, and sent down to Hades many valiant souls of warriors, and made the men themselves to be the spoil for dogs and birds of every kind” (Homer. 1999). “Μῆνιν“ has been translated also as “wrath” “destructive wrath”, “murderous anger”, “deadly wrath”, “destructive anger”, “deadly rage”, and “hatred” (Homer 1999, 2019).

Throughout the Greek epics, “singing” is a pars pro toto for cultural activity that should help to overcome destructivity. Around 700 the eternal struggle between constructive and destructive forces is to be found in Hesiod’s “Theogony” (Most, 2016) which is a compilation of the Greek myth of creation that influences our thinking until today. The first God Uranos kills his children until Gaia gives her youngest child Kronos a sickle to castrate his father. Out of this bloodshed emerges Aphrodite, in Latin Venus, the goddess of beauty and fertility. Kronos, in Latin Saturnus, becomes the god of creation but also of melancholy and destruction. At nearly the same time of Hesiod’s conception, the dialectics of constructive order and destructive chaos is also to be found in other cultures of the so called “Axial Age” (Jaspers, 1953). In this age the interplay of constructive and destructive forces is worked out in religion, philosophy and later in science.

The Hebrew Bible got its final shape around this time and describes the constant struggle between good and evil. In India we find in the Hindu Upanishads a description of an eternal fight between constructive and destructive forces embodied e.g. in the gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Later Buddha offered suggestions on how to overcome destructivity by constructive attitudes toward oneself and the world. In China, Confucius and Laotse created philosophical and political ideas that should help to construct individual and collective order to overcome the pull of destructive chaos. The dialectics of order and chaos, constructive and destructive forces is also prominent in Greek philosophy, especially in Plato. Scientific concepts came to the fore that located the struggle between constructive and destructive forces even in physical nature, as, for example, developed in presocratian philosophy by Democritus and Heraclitus.

The change from depression into aggression has been impressively depicted in the already mentioned Iliad. Achill is deprived from his beloved Briseis by Agamemnon. He is deeply hurt and falls into a state of apathy and taedium vitae. He turns away from the world, feels hopeless and melancholic, and loses all his interests. Only when his beloved friend Patroklos is killed, does Achilles’ black depression turn into deadly rage and destructive wrath. He slaughters his enemies without any restraint and even dishonors their corpses in insensate hatred.

The creative transformation of evil by Jesus Christ is most influential in the Western world. In the biblical narrative, a new form of creation is made possible by his sacrifice: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew, 6:28-29). The fight between light and dark forces is described most drastically in the Revelation: “Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back … The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him” (Revelation, 12:7-9). After this fight a new creation emerges: “…and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the former things have passed away… Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation, 21:4-5). Many Christians celebrate every week the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. They draw hope and creative motivation out of this religious transformation of outmost destructivity: the holy is destroyed in the sake of creating a better world. Without going into details, we can suppose that the dialectics between constructive and destructive forces is a universal principle that has been elaborated in different forms again and again.

This dialectic is elaborated preeminently in Goethe’s tragedy Faust, a part of world literature that, like the works of Shakespeare, resound until today because they bear universal meaning. Goethe projects into the protagonist Faust not only his conflicts with creative striving but also the confrontation with his own destructive impulses and actions. Faust’s antagonist Mephisto, too, is a reflection of good and evil, light and dark, out of which Goethe felt himself composed, as well as human beings in general. Mephisto is introduced by Goethe as „a part of this power/ that always wants the evil and always creates the good”. This sounds at first sight like satanic cult but with a closer look Goethe shows how to overcome human destructiveness through cultural activity. Maybe this is also valid for the song “Sympathy for the Devil”. One can see it as cynical provocation when Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones characterize Lucifer as a man of “wealth and taste”. But this characterization is deeply rooted in cultural memory insofar it recalls the biblical Lucifer, the fallen angel who brings the light. The central message could be that we should get acquainted with him and with destructiveness to be able to creatively overcome the evil. This is also a central issue of the later Sigmund Freud who closes his letter to Albert Einstein, published under the title “Why war?” (1933) that it is perhaps “no utopian hope” that the influence of cultural activity could finally bring wars to an end. This optimistic view is grounded on Freud’s rather pessimistic concept of destructiveness inherent in all natural processes and beings (see below).

Goethe’s creative struggle with constructive and destructive forces

The politician, scientist and poet Johann Wolfgang v. Goethe incorporated ancient myths and religions and connected these narratives with his personal experiences in a unique way (see Holm-Hadulla, 2019). He was inspired not only by Greek mythology and his Christian upbringing but also by the Hebrew Bible, the Koran and later by Persian, Indian and Chinese philosophy. Fascinated by Shakespeare and reading French and Italian literature he coined the term “World-Literature” to emphasize his striving for a cosmopolitan development of culture and politics. One central topic in his life and work was the struggle between constructive and destructive forces.

From the beginning, Goethe’s personal experiences were shaped by the dialectics of “dying and becoming”. He seemed to be stillborn and placed significance on this experience. He returned to the themes of birth and personal growth accompanied by pain and threat of death throughout his life. Besides his sister Cornelia, who was fifteen months younger, his mother lost all five younger siblings. The death of his seven years old brother Hermann Jakob was especially significant for Goethe. The reactions of the ten years old Goethe were described as follows: “It seemed strange to his mother, that at the death of his young brother Jacob, who was his playmate, he did not shed a tear; he rather seemed to feel a sort of irritation at the complaints of his parents, brothers and sisters. When his mother, sometime later asked him if he did not love his brother, he ran into his bedroom, brought out a quantity of papers from under the bed; he told her he had written all that to teach his brother” (Arnim 1861, p. 313). Goethe learned early in his life to cope with sadness and despair, and destructive feelings with creativity. This is more impressive in the run of his severe depressive crises as a student after the rejection by a young lady. He felt deeply hurt, lost all his drive, interests and hopes, and fell into a state of depression which lasted over a year. But, during this time he developed his “household remedy”: creative writing by which he “escaped the claws of death”.

In his practical life Goethe realized the interrelation between creativity, social activity and generativity. Since his appointment as a minister at the court of Sachsen-Weimar when he was 26 years old he engaged himself more in social-political activities than in poetry and later in science. Especially the situation of poor people suffering from the dysfunctional industrial capability of the duchy touched his heart and led to three decades of activities to improve their situation. Criticized that his social activities would diminish his poetic work, he noted in 1779: “The pressures of business are very pleasant to the soul; once it has been discharged, the soul plays more feely and enjoys life. There is nothing more miserable than the comfortable person without work; the most wonderful of gifts become loathsome to him” (Goethe, FA 29, p. 156: DS). Until old age Goethe cared passionately for his family. Especially his daughter in law and his three grandchildren were “really like sunny weather; wherever they go it is bright”. As an old man, the 79 years old Goethe had to take over the duty of the family head, because his son died in 1828.

Many of Goethe’s own moods, ideas and biographical experiences are reflected in his “inner fairy tale” Faust. Like in other works which contain autobiographical aspects – e.g. Werther, Wilhelm Meister, Torquato Tasso – he projects aspects of his personality and his relational experiences into the protagonist as well as into the different antagonists. This reflects the dialectics of his own creative striving. His works resound and inspire us until today because they are not only biographical reflections but bear universal meaning. Goethe himself connected personal experiences throughout his life not only with Greek myth Christian, Jewish and Islamic religion but also Persian, Indian and Chinese concepts of creativity. The central issue of his own creative development as a politician, scientist and poet was the interplay of construction and destruction, good and evil, order and chaos, light and dark.

In the tragedy Faust I, Goethe combines his personal myth of creativity with the biblical conception. He lets God say: “Man’s activity is easily exhausted,/ he too much likes to repose./ I’m therefore giving him a companion/ Who must goad and prod and creates as devil” (Faust I, verse 340-344). Like in many ancient myths a destructive force is seen as a creative principle. This resounds until today in scientific concepts of the dialectics between order and chaos (Holm-Hadulla, 2013). Goethe describes Mephisto as the “fantastic son of Chaos” (Faust I, verse 1384) and a “part of that power, which always works for the Evil and effects the Good (Faust I, verse 1334-1335). Mephisto claims his fundamental role in the process of creation: “I am a portion of that part which once was everything,/ A part of darkness which gave birth to Light,/ that haughty Light which now disputes the rank/ and ancient sway of Mother Night …” (Faust I, verse 1349-1352).

As Mephisto is not only evil, Faust is not only good. Goethe portrays his protagonist not only as striving for the good, the true and the beautiful but as a destructive character at the same time (see Holm-Hadulla 2019). Faust seduces Gretchen and leaves her pregnant behind. He is responsible for her insanity and finally her execution. He kills Gretchen’s brother with the help of Mephisto and poisons her mother.

In the second part of the Tragedy Faust invents non-funded money and produces uproar among the courtiers. His necromancy of Paris and Helen leads to turmoil as well. His son Euphorion kills himself. He fights for the Emperor with the help of the reckless Roughneck, Have Soon, Hold Tight. They kill Philemon und Baucis who are incarnations of traditional values. In the end he becomes blind but cannot stop his ruthless expansionism. Nevertheless he is eventually redeemed in a magical elevation: In the end the angels sing: “This noble member of the spiritual world/ Is rescued from the evil,/ Whoever strives and lives to strive/ Can earn redemption still” (Faust II, verse 11934-11937). For Goethe it is the artistic, scientific and political engagement that can overcome human destructiveness: “Formation, transformation/ the eternal minds eternal re-creation” (Faust II, verse 11934-11937). But art, science and politics can only serve to cope with destructiveness if humans have “some sympathy and some taste” for the evil. In respect to the project of a Faust-Opera, the late Goethe said that it would need a genius like Mozart to creatively transform the repulsive, disgusting and terrible sides of the Faust into music (conversations with Eckermann, February 12, 1829).

Under these perspectives we will later understand the enactments of Madonna and Mick Jagger as artistic and erotic transformations of depression and aggression. (This does not mean that their enactments are always tasteful and peaceful). Both seem to regard life as a process of creative enhancement. This gives them the discipline to transform chaotic emotions and cognitions into art and lifestyle. On the contrary, Amy Winehouse and Jim Morrison seem to have burned themselves in their creative struggle (see below).

Freud’s Biological, Psychological and Cultural Concept of the Interplay of Constructive and Destructive Forces

How human beings can find solutions for the everlasting conflict between constructive and destructive drives and actions is a central issue of Sigmund Freud’s work. He started as a neurologist and created a neuro-scientific model of the psyche that is still up-to-date (Carhart-Harris, R. L. & Friston, K. J. 2010). His model of the interaction of Id, Ego and Super-Ego is compatible with modern connectivity-theories of the interaction between limbic system, hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. Freud had the hypothesis that a certain coherence of these neuronal networks is necessary to bind free-floating energy. Later he combined his neurologic concept with psychological experiences and cultural studies. From his neuro-scientific “Project of Psychology” (1895) until his late cultural studies, e.g. “Moses and the monotheistic world religion” (1938) he takes a firm interdisciplinary stand, combining biological and psychological sciences with cultural investigations. This is especially prominent in his discussion of human destructivity.

In his seminal work “Beyond the Pleasure Principle” (1920) Freud condenses his theory of an interplay of constructive and destructive forces in the development of individuals and societies. His concept of Eros- and Death-Drive draws on ancient mythologies and appears somewhat mythological in itself. But his starting point is a strictly biological one. Until today life science finds in living systems an interplay of construction and destruction of structures. This can already be found on a molecular and cellular level (Krammer, 2017) and can also be seen in neuronal networks (Kandel 2012). Without the interplay of construction and destruction biological life is not possible. Freud combines these elementary characteristics of biological systems with his psychological experiences. Deeply influenced by Goethe, who is the most cited author in his work, Freud concludes that human beings are made up of good and bad parts which dynamically interact with each other. Like Goethe who inspired him from early youth until old age (see e.g. Freud 1930) Freud concludes that we have to acknowledge destructive forces in ourselves in order to overcome destructiveness.

Without reducing it to biological or psychological causes, Freud sees the interplay of constructive and destructive forces also at work in societies. His background is the classical interplay between order and chaos, but Freud could also refer to modern cultural studies, which show the dialectics between constructive and destructive forces in nearly all myths, religions and cultures (see Assmann 2012, Holm-Hadulla 2011). He quotes Plato’s Symposion when he sums up the forces who produce the Good, True and Beautiful under „Eros“. By assuming “erotic drives” that tame and bind the “death drive”, Freud bridges cultural and biological experiences. In his dialectical theory of constructive and destructive drives Freud elaborates two existential principles that are biological and social at the same time.

The interplay of construction and destruction became a central issue in Freud’s writings after the First World War. In “Civilization and its Discontents“ (1930) he poses the existential question of humankind whether cultural development will be able to master the human drives of aggression and self-destruction. In his article “Why War?“ (1933) that derives from a discussion with Albert Einstein, initiated by the League of Nations, Freud gives a profound outline of constructive and destructive forces in natural evolution and social development. After a brief sociological and historical analysis Freud states that the interplay of construction and destruction is fundamental in physical nature and produces the phenomena of life. This is why it would be futile to try to abolish human aggressiveness. The only possibility is to enforce Eros, the opponent of the death drive: “All what establishes emotional relationships between humans, must oppose war. These bindings can be of two kinds. First, relationships similar to a loving partner, albeit without sexual interests […] The other kind of emotional bonding stems from identification. All what produces meaningfulness and mutuality among humans causes common feelings, identifications. This is the basis of the construction of human society“ (Freud, 1933, S. 23). Freud concludes that the prevention of wars could only be possible if men would unify to establish a central power and world order that could restrain the human potential for destruction and save the world from chaos.

Coping with destructiveness was also an issue in Freud’s personal life (Roudinesco 2016). Mostly, he could transform aggressive impulses into social activity as a medical doctor and psychotherapist, and into eminent creative scientific achievements. In respect to everyday creativity as a family father he showed a remarkable generativity in the sense of Erikson (1980). As for Goethe his grandchildren were a source of joie de vivre and inspiration. But, despite oral and maxillofacial carcinoma and despite heavy surgery for more than 15 years he could not stop smoking addictively.

Overcoming Melancholy and Destructiveness by Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones

Depression and Aggression are central issues for the Rolling Stones. From “Paint it Black” to “Sympathy for the Devil” they are occupied with sadness and exaltation, melancholic blues and aggressive Rock ’n’ Roll. Behind their loud and aggressive façade there is always a silent and melancholic undertone to be heard. From their first chords, riffs and lyrics as adolescents until their last album “Blue and Lonesome” (2016), recorded more than fifty years later they transform sadness and destructivity into music, lyrics and enchanting performances.

“Sympathy for the Devil” is one of the greatest pop-songs in history which fascinated millions during the last half century. As in Goethe‘s tragedy „Faust“ to which the Stones indirectly refer, the devil is described as very old figure, which “stole many a man’s soul and faith”. At first sight surprisingly the Devil is introduced as a “man of wealth and taste” who was present in the course of human atrocities. The Stones start with the torture of Jesus Christ, they describe the killing of the “Czar and his ministers” after the Russian October-Revolution. They go on with the Blitzkrieg of the Nazi-Regime “when the bodies stank” and his influence on the Hundred Years War between England and France “while your kings and queens fought for ten decades for the Gods they made”. The lyrical I, or better said the “poetic self” (Holm-Hadulla, 2019), “shouted out ‘Who killed the Kennedys?’ when after all it was you and me”. Here, the poetic self refers to the ambiguous nature of human beings which has been elaborated most profoundly by Goethe and Freud.

The song goes on with the description of ritual murder of troubadours in India and sings about the ambiguous human nature with the following verses: “Just as every cop is a criminal/and all the sinners saints”. The poetic self urges the audience to call him “Lucifer” and interestingly mentions that Lucifer needs “some restraint”. To restrain the evil it has to be recognized. This is expressed by the verse: „So if you meet me have some sympathy and some taste”. The listeners and spectators should use their “well learned politesse” to overcome destructivity otherwise they will perish. In summary, the song aesthetically enacts human destructivity and transforms it into art. This is a model of how we should recognize evil and overcome it by creative activity.

The creative transformation of destructiveness is driven by erotic enactments. For example, in the broadly acclaimed concert “Havana Moon” (2016) a phallic stage penetrates the audience and Mick Jagger makes direct sexual allusions by body language. The audience participates in the flow of vital energy and joins joyfully into the rhythm. These shared enactments seem to be necessary for the creative transformation of aggressiveness. Under a Freudian perspective we can see a fusion of sexual and aggressive drives that leads to a certain form of aesthetic integration. But, as we have seen e.g. in the famous Altamont Concert, where one spectator was stabbed to dead, the aesthetic enactment of aggressiveness can also incite destructiveness. In this respect it seems to be an unending question which enactments of aggression and destruction lead to creative transformation and which forms of these enactments lead to violence.

The Stones’ reference to the biblical Lucifer is a hint to the universal meaning of their song. In the Holy Bible, Lucifer is at first the prince of the angels and the “son of beautiful dawn” (Isaiah 14.) His transformation into the prince of darkness is described in the prophecy of Ezekiel: “You were the seal of perfection,/ full of wisdom and perfect in beauty./ You were in Eden,/ the garden of God …/ till wickedness was found in you” (Ezekiel 28,12-15). The King of Tyrus and Lucifer respectively are violent and become the incarnation of evil: “Through your widespread trade/ you were filled with violence,/ and you sinned./ So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, …/ Your heart became proud on account of your beauty,/ and you corrupted your wisdom/ because of your splendor …” (Ezekiel 28,16-17). Perhaps Mick Jagger would smile in confronting this characterization of Lucifer that fits his performances wonderfully. But, in contrast to biblical evil he transforms evil into a song and into performances on stage. He survives because he plays creatively with arrogance and destructivity.

In contrary, after a short time of creative transformation, Jim Morrison loses his capacity to play. He does not play with destructiveness but enacts it by body and mind. He embodies the hero who sacrifices himself and is sacrificed by the others. Mythological, religious, social and biographical roots of his decay become apparent in his poetry, songs and enactments on stage (see Holm-Hadulla & Bertolino 2014).

Dance for life:
Madonna Ciccone

Throughout her artistic performances Madonna struggles with her strictly Catholic upbringing. In blasphemous performances e.g. during her Confessions Tour in 2005 she enacts herself as a kind of Antichrist. Her provocations hurt religious feelings and led to judicial charges and claims for excommunication. Her last appearance in the European Song Contest 2019 where she enacts herself as a damaged star in an apocalyptic world leads to furious protests also of her fans. We suppose that behind her deconstruction of traditional values, norms and expectations stands a constructive striving for survival and peace through creativity.

Madonna lost her mother when she was five. The family was poor and her father cared for his six children with rigor and severity. The little Madonna Louise did not despair but began to struggle for her life creatively. She began with dancing and found relief in listening to music. At school she was very diligent and remained disciplined even in adolescence when her schoolmates began to consume alcohol and drugs. As a reaction to these seductions Madonna intensified her dance training, immersed in reading books and deepened her musical knowledge autodidactically.

Emotionally, Madonna remained connected with her mother. Like a Prayer, one of her first songs, that made her famous, she expresses impressively the internal relation with her mother: “Life is a mystery, everybody must stand alone/ I here you call my name/ And it feels like home … Just like a prayer you know, I’ll take you there/ I hear your voice, it’s like angle sighing …“(Madonna, 1989). The song starts with the experience of existential loneliness and loss. In this situation the creative recollection of her mother helps the singer to overcome destructive feelings. The music reinforces the dreamlike connection with the mother and transform despair into beauty. Until today Madonna works with this song over many decades until the provocative enactment in the ESC 2019. We are reminded of Goethe with his “inner fairy tale” Faust and Mick Jagger with Sympathy for the Devil.

Madonna also transforms her difficult relationship with her father creatively. In her Songs Oh Father and Papa Don’t Preach she complains that her father could not understand her sufferings. In singing, dancing and relating to other people she emancipates herself from the stifling bonding with her father. Thereby she transforms the relationship with him and finds some kind of reconciliation. From these perspectives, sexual aggressiveness on stage also can be understood as struggle to transform destructive experiences creatively. Her biographers report a manifest sexual traumatization in adolescence. Her provocative confrontation with the Catholic church and Christianity in general can also be seen as a struggle to transform destructive personal and general experiences into constructive artistic forms – not for everyone’s taste. But her many fans sense a profound inspiration. They joyfully feel encouraged to transform the dialectics of their own constructive and destructive experiences by music, dance, sex and relationships. Songs like Everybody and Respect Yourself denote Madonna’s constructive impact on her audience.

Madonna shows in her performances and songs not only her extroverted, sexualized and provocative sides but also introverted, sentimental and caring aspects. The older she gets, the more she becomes socially active. She donates a lot of money for the poor, fights against racism and adopts African children. She cares for her daughter and her artistic family. Since 2003 she became politically active – e.g. arguing against going to war in Iraq. She sponsors organization to help poor children in Africa, engages herself for climate protection and assists anti-aids projects. Simultaneously she enjoys all the glamour – and economic success – pop-culture can offer. In 2007 she was elected by Forbes Magazine as the third most influential person of the world.

A counterexample to Madonna’s successful striving to cope with destructivity is Amy Winehouse. After a short time of creative transformation, this gifted singer lost her capacity to creatively transform depression and aggression. She enacted her emotional turmoil with heavy drinking, drugs and a toxic relationship (see Amy 2015). In the end, similar to Jim Morrison, she lost her capacity to transform destructiveness creatively and died like Jim Morrison a sacrificial death in flashlight of the media. In contrary, Madonna succeeded in transforming depression and aggression into creativity, social activity and generativity.


Interdisciplinary research shows that the dialectics of construction and destruction can be found in nature and culture (Holm-Hadulla 2013). Goethe’s personal, poetic, scientific and political struggle is documented in the 150 volumes of the Weimar edition. These documents show in a unique way that biological, psychological and social life is characterised by an interplay of constructive and destructive forces, a continuous “dying and becoming”. Since Freud’s beginnings when neuroanatomy was flourishing we can describe this interplay in neuroscientific terms. Freud’s neuroscientific model of the mind presupposes that the brain has an organizing function to integrate affects, mental representations and external sensations. This function is elementary for being able to act coherently. We can show today that neuronal networks enable the synthesis of affect, representation and external sensations by temporal synchronicity and spatial connectivity. The coherence of neuronal networks is as Freud supposed a dynamic one and depends on the quantity and quality of affects and sensations. Neuronal networks must be constantly recalibrated to order chaotic affects and sensations.

Coherent neuronal networks enable the emergence of psychic representation that can be described in psychological terms. On the psychological level we also find the dialectics of order e. g. in the interplay of convergent and divergent thinking. In the creative process fixed knowledge is in part deconstructed and associatively combined with new experiences and ideas. The interplay of construction, deconstruction and the new creation of usable forms is not always accompanied with good feelings e.g. flow but often stressful. Also on the emotional level creativity is accompanied by the interplay of bliss and despair.

This becomes apparent in cultural studies. They refer to complex cultural figurations which cannot be reduced to neuroscientific and psychological explanations without losing their qualities. To understand cultural narratives other epistemologies like hermeneutics are necessary for understanding. But interdisciplinary communication can enable one to find general concepts, which show the interdependence and complementary of neuroscientific and psychological findings with cultural experiences. The dialectics of order and chaos, construction and destruction seem to be one of those concepts that contains corresponding knowledge and can lead to practical implications.

Practical conclusions can be exemplified by the analysis of how pop stars succeed and fail to cope with destructiveness creatively. They show the necessity that the transformation destructiveness is an elementary task and that we all need to transform depressive moods and aggressive anger creatively. Creative Eros, generativity and social activity are the elementary forces to cope with existential melancholy and destructivity. This is also relevant for everyday creativity where we have to accept that we not only should strive for flow but apply techniques and rituals to overcome inhibitions and meaningless entertainment.

In summary, there is no “creative destruction” but only creative transformation. Creativity always works with existing materials, ideas and forms. Starting with children’s playful activity we can see that thinking is always new and dynamic and can be experienced as “beautiful”. All that destroys the capacity for thinking and acting constructively is destructive like heavy drinking and drugs. Toxic incoherence can lead in certain cases and circumstances to new and unusual ideas, but the capacity to work out such ideas creatively is usually impaired. This is why some eminent creative persons who consume high doses of alcohol or other drugs are not creative because of using substances but in spite of using them.

In case that special talents are combined with certain personality traits and find supportive surroundings that reinforce creative discipline and motivation extraordinary creativity can emerge. Also everyday creativity like thinking authentically, moving around, listening to music, contemplating works of art, experiencing beauty, working and loving helps to cope with destructiveness.

Thus, the recognition of the dialectics of construction and destruction can extend the definition of creativity as the production of something new and usable with the ancient idea that the novel and useful should also be good, true and beautiful.

Practical consequences can be summarized as follows:

Everyday and extraordinary creativity are fundamental to cope with depressive moods and aggressive impulses.

Innovation is not a positive value in itself. Every innovation must respect its destructive consequences. This becomes apparent in a time where powerful innovations lead to the destruction of natural and human resources and potentially to the extinction of the planet earth.

Creativity serves for peace in very different realms but remains fundamentally ambivalent. Good, true and beautiful communication is the main human capacity to cope with violence and destructiveness. Coming back to the first verse of the Iliad we can conclude: It’s not hatred that is creative, it’s singing.


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