Towards the end of his magnum opus Saving the Appearances (1957), Owen Barfield makes a vital, but chilling, point about the future of human imagination and how it was (and is, much more than in 1957) being poisoned and inverted by artists, writers, musicians and other creative contributors to the mass media (including especially the avant garde, high-brow, elite, academically-validated and critically-approved media).
[Edited from pages 145-6]
Imagination is not, as some poets thought, simply synonymous with good. It may be either good or evil. But so long as art remained primarily mimetic [i.e. 'realistic'], the evil which imagination could do was limited by nature.
[But now that the artist has become self-conscious of his ability to create non-natural phenomena; he can create aberrations].
In so far as these aberrations are genuine, they are genuine because the artist has personally experienced the world he represents. In insofar as they are appreciated, they are appreciated by those who are themselves willing to make a move towards seeing the world that way - and ultimately, therefore, seeing that kind of world.
Barfield is saying that imaginings of evil will tend, more and more as they become more popular, to become realised in the actual world as we experience it.
In short, popular and powerful evil imaginings become social reality.
As modern Man comes to recognise that his imagination is an inextricable and necessary part of his perception of reality, and as he becomes more free to use his imagination; so there is a new possibility of corruption by imagination.
Barfield gives the example of the kind of surreal-hideous fantasy pioneered by Salvador Dali - but nowadays (and increasingly over the past fifty years) this kind of thing is the average content of majority, mainstream' officially-endorsed 'art' of all kinds. We live in a world in which 'subversive' is a term of artistic approbation.
In terms of the destined and desirable consciousness state of Final Participation (in which we become aware of the ways in which our minds, our thinking, participates in the making of the world as we experience it); it is therefore vital to become aware of the effects of our personal choices in the creation of perceived-reality - that is, the effects of our choices on the nature of the world, as we know it.
Since we cannot, in the end, resist Final Participation (it is our destiny), we have a stark choice as to whether it will be deployed for Good or evil.
Barfield hopes that our choices will be 'exercised with the profoundest sense of responsibility, and with the deepest thankfulness and piety towards the world as it was originally [unconsciously] given to us in original participation'.
In short, Final Participation will be positive and valuable only in a Christian context; even more shortly - it is our task and responsibility to return to the essential values and realities of childhood and early tribalism, but this time in a willed and conscious fashion.
This, I believe, relates to the hundreds of years of lack of success and retreat by traditionalism in the face of Leftism/ Liberalism/ Progressivism. Yes, we do need to return to the traditional values which were once natural spontaneous, unselfconscious; but no, this cannot be done by a restoration of the unconscious traditional situation; by instinct, by simply perceiving and accepting the traditional values in the world around us. That possibility is past (and was, anyway, pagan in its purest form).
Instead, we need to move forwards to an aware, thinking version of traditional values - which are not identical with, but which will retain the heart and soul and motivations of tradition; which will, however, not be identical-with traditional values, as if the traditions were a recipe for good living.
My understanding is that we cannot, and should not try to, recreate the past (not least because the fullest and most natural spontaneous past consciousness was pagan; hence only partially and distortedly true); but must move forwards into an unknown future that will, however, be in its essence deeply akin to the conditions and natural practices of early childhood or early tribal living; the difference being an inner, imaginative, free and agent, consciously-knowing and directly-experienced Christianity.
I like this notion of aberrant imagination, and think the adjective aberrant nearly perfect. As you say, human imagination is not static, but there is a proper "path" of its development, and to stray from the path is the literal meaning of aberration. The metaphor of a path also fits the definition of tradition that we find in, say, T.S, Eliot or Alasdair Macintyre.
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