Reading Notebooks of the Mind recalled an incident, a peaceful moment in World War II. During a long voyage on a troopship, a few people who liked poetry somehow met each other and found in the ship's library Edna St. Vincent Millay Conversations at Midnight. We read it aloud, taking turns with the different voices. The long poem presents a fascinating and varied array of people gathered in Millay's mind to reflect upon the great questions of life.
This memory was awakened by Vera John-Steiner's book. For she has assembled a company of "experienced thinkers" (to use her wise and modest phrase) as conversationalists in a quiet and comfortable, yet disciplined reflection on the creative process. Of course, these conversationalists, numbering over fifty, do not ever gather together in the flesh. These are dialogues orchestrated by the author of the book, bringing out certain features of the creative process: the long apprenticeships, the continuous interaction of person and society, the varied languages or modalities of creative thought, and the importance of character in sustaining patient, disciplined hard work.
The author's idea of uniting these reflections differs from anthologies on creativity in which each contributor takes his or her turn and disappears, a rapidly fading memory quickly outshone by the next luminary. In Notebooks of the Mind, speakers appear and reappear, as the author reorganizes their reflections into a serious and many-sided examination of a set of unifying themes. It becomes clear that being creative is a self-reflective process. This is almost self-evident in the case of scientific creativity, because scientific thought must justify itself and