Saturday, March 25, 2006
In Praise of Imagination
The April 2006 issue of Harper's Magazine presents "The Spirit of Disobedience: An Invitation to Resistance," by Curtis White. It's a thoughtful piece about America suffering from the interplay between opposing values and assumptions, between unyielding allegiance to "Reason," on the one hand, or "Revelation" on the other. We see this writ large today in the debates between "Christian Republicans" and "Liberal Democrats." Ultimately, both are flawed, leaving American culture brittle and stale.
"As Hegel famously suggested, speaking of phrenologists in particular and empiricism in general, some people are capable of regarding a bone as reality. In the absence of the Imagination, our sense of the real has ossified. It's like a great thighbone on the ends of which are our inevitable bulbous realities-in-opposition, the Christian and the scientific worldviews. What the Imagination seeks is an opportunity. It seeks a moment when the dry bone of the real is just for a moment "out of joint," as Shakespeare's Hamlet put it, so that it can assert its difference. In the fraudulent Manichaeanism of Reason and Revelation, each the light to the other's dark, each more like the other than it knows, the Imagination seeks to be a decisive rupture."
Fostering our imagination, recalling that part of our humanity which inspires us to seek continually what it means to be human, is a way out. It is an antidote to our dangerously ossified culture. The Imagination is the pulse of real living, and I should add, real learning as well. Without it, it's only a matter of time before the bone breaks and we all suffer from that violence.