Wednesday, 16 September 2015

If Imagination is the next step - how can Imagination be developed?

If, as I have been arguing, Imagination is the next step for Man - the step towards a future that include the best of both the participation in life of the pre-modern past and the self-awareness and freedom of the 'modern period - the situation of living in relationship with a living, sentient, conscious world including the divine.

If so, then what could or should be done about it? How, in particular, can we set about developing our Imagination towards such a goal.

It seems obvious that the necessary Imagination needs to be active and purposive, needs to originate in us and to be direct-able by us - and therefore that developing imagination is not going to be a business of more or better passive or guided imaginative experience; not even when that experience is provided by first rate Art.

In general, and taking into account some lessons from cultures of the past, it seems that Imagination can be increased and improved, and that is by experience. In particular by that kind of experience sometimes termed 'initiation' - which might be defined (very generally) as sequential experience leading to incremental development of mental capacities.

I do not mean here a specific mode of initiation into a specific institution, since I don't think there are any suitable institutions - at least not in The West - which provide this type of initiation leading to Imagination. It is something we need to manage for ourselves, as best we may.

It is very difficult in a mass media and hyper-inputted world, but I think we need to restore (or allow ourselves again to experience) that sense of the sacredness and power of representations. It used to be thought, for instance, that a name, a written word, a picture, a small statue... any representation was also (to a greater or lesser extent) infused with life, purpose, personality and therefore powerful and effective. Speaking a name gave power, a picture was a window onto another world, to write something was somehow to will it and make it happen.

This was the ancient and spontaneous way of thinking - and it was of course set aside under modernity so that we made the world a neutral thing which we could understand, predict and manipulate without having any lived relationship to it.

But there seems to be a sense that we now need to move on from that 'objectivity' yet not simply to return to pre-modern subjectivity - indeed, I think that the need has been increasingly obvious for 200 years.

This can be seen in a partial and perverted form in the way that in the past couple of decades Political Correctness has given exaggerated significance to the utterance, writing or depiction of certain taboos, the increasing rigour of speech codes, the continual reinvention of language in line with and in pursuit of ideology. I think this is tapping into a widespread desire to re-sacralise the whole world; but twisting this desire to an anti-spiritual and destructive socio-political agenda.

So, the politically correct are right (but for wrong reasons) that words matter, depictions matter, in a sense everything matters down to the smallest level of interpretation and interaction (even including micro-aggressions!) - but the reason that these things matter is that in a world made and permeated by the divine (and only in such a world) everything does matter; everything matters because we live in a universe of purpose, meaning and universal relationships.

This implies that in order to enhance Imagination, we need to develop (or allow to re-emerge in us) a far greater sensitivity to the depictions and representations and implicit communications around us - nothing being regarded as too small or insignificant.

Yet, if we accept this, we find ourselves almost-intolerably bombarded almost-all-of-the-time by subversive, dishonest, evil-intended communications - mostly emanating from the same advocates of political correctness who have developed such hyper-sensitivity to representations which go against their own ideologies.

For example, the use of sexual images, words, personal displays has been taken to quite extraordinary levels - what would happen if we allowed ourselves to become sensitive to these? Given our innate sensitivity, the typical situation of modern life would be overwhelming from this cause alone - and then add-in the deliberate depictions of disgust and horror; the sympathy-grabbing manipulations, the hate generating manipulations; the scale and brutalism of architecture, the overpowering noise, smells, tastes, drugs... all these together in a perfectly statistically-normal life would seem likely to stimulate a sensitive soul into some kind of rapid sensory overload and functional breakdown.

The natural tendency is to allow ourselves to become blunted, unresponsive, unreactive - to crush our own imagination as an act of self-defence.

How to escape this dilemma?

Obviously we can and should do as much as possible to protect ourselves from this onslaught - to cure our addiction to stimulation, to provide safe havens from the mass media, to avoid the deadliest powers... but that which we can do may be little, may be too little - it may well be insufficient. What then?

Perhaps we can learn in this from the ancients - from their use of spiritual protections? From words, prayers, gestures, objects, rituals of warding. We would usually regard the deployment of such things as primitive superstition, as magic, perhaps (for example, to the iconoclastic or puritan mind) as anti-Christian; yet I think the consensus of devout and Holy persons of the past would here be strongly against us.

So, in living through the multiple, near-continuous, sensory and psychological and spiritual assaults of everyday life - in a condition of high imaginative sensitivity to these stimuli - I think we can, and perhaps must, avail ourselves of whatever devices we find to be an effective ward and protection against their malign influence.

Then, within the bubble of such protection (whether provided by short prayers or other inner verbal formulae, or gestures, or artefacts, clothing... whatever works, within reason) - it may be possible to move through a hostile world while yet warm-hearted, open and sympathetic to what is going on around us.