Tuesday, July 29, 2014

God: 'I Am the Imaginator'

While we're on the subject of imagination, I thought I'd consult some of the elders, beginning with Webster. There is a very long entry for imagination, even longer if we include its many cognates, e.g., imago, imaginal, imaginator, and others. Interestingly, right before image is ilysiidae, a genus of burrowing snakes. After imago comes imam, and it's all downhill from there.

The first definition of imagination is the most useful: an act or process of forming a conscious idea or mental image of something never before wholly perceived in reality by the imaginer; or the ability or gift of forming such conscious ideas or mental images for the purposes of artistic or intellectual creation.

Mr. W. adds that it is "freer of derogatory connotations" than similar words such as fantasy, and also more "comprehensive," going as it does to "the power of creating." In contrast, fantasy "suggests the power of unrestrained, often extravagant or delusive, fancy." Thus it is not so much a power as a weakness.

In my view, "creation from nothing" is something of a pleonasm, since creation -- if it is truly creative -- is always from nothing, even if it is just a little bit of nothing.

You might say that the more creative the person, the greater the nothing. Thus, when we say of God that he creates ex nihilo, it is a matter of degree, not kind. Nor do I think for one moment that this detracts from the divine majesty of the Big Nothing, since everything ultimately arises from this ancient groundmother.

Speaking of whom, imagination is "the power to conceive." You parents out there will relate, because I couldn't possibly have conceived or imagined my son. An individual person never existed before and will never exist again.

The imagination is the fertile ground (or womb) into which religious imagery falls and takes root. If it fails to do so, either there is something deficient in the imagery or in your imagination. But I'd check the latter first.

As we have said before, only because of God is anything and everything intelligible; but only because of God is nothing totally intelligible, except to the creative intelligence of God. Follow anything back up or down (it doesn't matter which) to its end, and you reach the threshold of nothing. Thus man understands, but he can never understand even the simplest thing completely. Everything is inexhaustibly intelligible because it partakes of the Divine Nothing.

Imagination goes not only to things nonexistent or never seen, but to "things perfected or idealized"; and if the things do exist and are seen, there is still "the genuine artist's gift of perceiving more deeply or essentially and creating the interestingly and the significantly new and vital."

Thus, imagination isn't only central to creation but to the magic of renewal; it is why we do not die of boredom, or why some people aren't compelled to become political activists, conceptual artists, or community organizers.

It is also bound up with childhood, or rooted in a quintessentially childlike mode of cognition. The entry has a passage from H.G. Wells, who observed that "all youth lives much in reverie; thereby the stronger minds anticipate and rehearse themselves for life in a thousand imaginations."

There is another useful crack by F.A. Pottle, that imagination "gets at relationships that are true at the deepest level of experience," and one by Roy Pascal that it is "a means of deepest insight and sympathy." It allows us to grasp "a deeper, more organic reality" (G.D. Brown).

Yes, yes, and yes: imagination gets at deep experiential truth, which is experienced in the body as in-sight and sym-pathy. Insights are sights inseen, while sympathy is feeling infelt. Each relies upon a kind of intersubjective resonance from person to person; it is what allows you to think what I'm thinking and for me to feel what that patient or baby o' mine is feeling. And both operate vertically and horizontally (or horizontally because vertically), or with God and man.

The adjectival form, imaginative, means "created, inspired, guided, or drawn from the imagination and not from known facts or sources." And an Imaginator is A Person Who Creates.

Well, I hope that wasn't too beastly pedantic. But I wouldn't have gone on anon if I hadn't found it helpful; or, I would have stopped if it had ceased being provocative and informative. For what immediately occurs to me -- and I imagine you as well -- is that God must be imagined as Imaginator in Chief.

Over the centuries, God has acquired a lot of useless and misleading baggage. All of this baggage, of course, comes from man. It originates in fantasy, or fancy, or thought, or feelings, and is then projected onto God, who may or may not comport with the mental product. Some of it sticks while some of it falls away, but it seems that even the best of it may be contaminated with a bit too much from the human side.

This, I imagine, is part of what God has in mind with the Incarnation: no, no, no, you've got it all wrong again. Here, let me come down and show how it's done. Thus, Jesus is God's imaginative icon of man and man's imaginative icon of God, so we may meet in the middle.

The next elder I would like to consult is Don Colacho, whose pithy aphorisms are the quintessence of imaginative resonance (≈). Here, this one goes to the antiseptic and soul-killing ideals of secular fundamentalism: "When things appear to us to be just what they seem, they soon seem to be even less." And "History exceeds what merely happened." How much more does it exceed what liberals think happened!

"The devil comprehends everything, but is not able to create anything." With which you could have a Butterfield day with the following headline: Smartest President Ever Hasn't Created a Damn Thing.

"Genuine atheism is to the reason of man what the ten-thousand-sided polygon is to his imagination." For as we have said before, it is impossible to imagine atheism (it is more a passive fantasy); and with a fully functioning imagination one is unlikely to be an atheist.

"Creation is the nexus between eternity and history." Oh My Yes. Or between vertical and horizontal. It is irreducible to anything else, for it is where the cosmic arteries of nothing and everything converge in the heart of the imagination.

That's about it for today. I got nothing.


Blogger Van Harvey said...

"I got nothing"

Or so you imagine.

7/29/2014 09:51:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Mrs. G. reminds me of the story of an argument between God and a scientist. The scientist claims that he too can create life. He reaches down for a handful of clay, and God says, "Get your own dirt!"

7/29/2014 09:52:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

UF likes this post
Echoes of The Empress card
Two-thirds an haiku

7/29/2014 10:00:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Imagination treading the line between the snake and the fake. I like it.

7/29/2014 10:51:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

...but only because of God is nothing totally intelligible, except to the creative intelligence of God

I think I read somewhere the other day -- maybe here at OC, that like 97% of the universe can't be seen. It's somewhat the opposite of Wittgenstein's net. They are out in the ocean with one of those little landing nets used to catch minnows, saying, "There's no white whale in here."

7/29/2014 10:59:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Re. Mrs. G's joke, I'm reminded of all the times I've seen a headline making essentially the same claim, that scientists have "created life," one way or another. And yet always, they have failed to actually "create life." Never once have they taken a bunch of chemicals, stuck them in a petri dish, added a dash of reactions, and had "life" spontaneously form. Rather, they've shuffled some DNA around and placed it in a cell membrane, or arranged some components and assigned repetitive programming to see how they change over time; admittedly, very impressive feats but still orders of magnitude away from creating life.

And again, even if they ever managed it, still they cannot account for the existence of all the chemicals and circumstances that made it possible for them to be playing around with such things in the first place.

and if the things do exist and are seen, there is still "the genuine artist's gift of perceiving more deeply or essentially and creating the interestingly and the significantly new and vital."

I'm reminded of all the times I've seen artists do portraits that appear to be "technically correct," even "photorealistic," and yet there is something missing or just slightly off about it that creates an uncanny valley effect, as though the artist managed to see less deeply, not more. Then there are others who, though not technically as proficient, manage to convey layers of meaning that a simple photograph cannot help but to obliterate.

7/29/2014 11:26:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

God said "Get your own dirt!"


That's a dirty deal!

7/29/2014 11:41:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

""Creation is the nexus between eternity and history." Oh My Yes. Or between vertical and horizontal. It is irreducible to anything else, for it is where the cosmic arteries of nothing and everything converge in the heart of the imagination."

Leftists have their own version of the nexus called a hexus, powered by their loonycorn fantasies.

7/29/2014 04:14:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Good joke! :)

7/29/2014 04:57:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"Yes, yes, and yes: imagination gets at deep experiential truth, which is experienced in the body as in-sight and sym-pathy. Insights are sights inseen, while sympathy is feeling infelt."

Just hadta read that again.

7/29/2014 07:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems to me that when the truth is staring man in the face he looks the other way and imagines another scenario to put in its stead. The most obvious example of this must surely be reincarnation. When it's as plain to see as the nose on your face or on your mothers face or on your fathers face or on your grandmothers face etc. etc. that your previous lives have been spent as part of your ancestors. This part was not immaterial but completely the opposite. Science naming it a gene. When that gene that's in you now was part of an ancestors body did it have access to that ancestors consciousness or subconscious. The biblical concept of the sins of the father being visited on the children would suggest that whoever made that statement believed it to be so. Is it because they (or should I say we) in those times believed in the concept that the genealogy of Jesus is included in the gospels. Could it be the case that we're wired for a belief in God because of our genetic memory of old testament times. While watching an episode of the BBC TV series 'Who do you think you are' that featured the actor Jeremy Irons, towards the end of the documentary he discovered that the area in Ireland he had come to live in after having an affinity with the area, was a location a great grandfather of his had lived in a couple of hundred years ago. This TV episode is now up on YouTube.

7/29/2014 07:27:00 PM  
Anonymous I'll Bite said...

Hm. While I might buy that there's some genetic component to memory - though if so, it would take more than some famous guy liking a place that turned out to have distant familial relevance to convince me - I doubt you could call it reincarnation as such, for the simple reason that there are more people alive today than ever at any previous point in history. Assuming that souls are regularly recycled, how to account for all the extra bodies walking around?

Whether or not reincarnation happens - and I suspect it is possible, but how would I ever know - it still doesn't change the fact that *this* life is the only one we can be sure of, and that *this* life is the one that matters. If Christ spoke the Truth, *this* life has the power to raise me to heaven or condemn me to hell. Focusing on possible past lives is a recipe for wasting the limited time you have here and now.

Also- dude, try paragraphs, appropriate punctuation, and cutting back on the weed. You sound like a zombie.

7/29/2014 08:39:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

You might say that the more creative the person, the greater the nothing.

I'm suddenly reminded again of a seed that was planted a couple of years back, by Sertillanges:

"To be long multiple is the condition for being richly one."

Or as it was later rewordgitated, "to be long multiple is to be deeply one."

Not sure how exactly it ties in today, but when the gong rings...

7/29/2014 09:09:00 PM  
Blogger Magister said...

Von Balthasar:

“In a world that no longer has enough confidence in itself to affirm the beautiful, the proofs of the truth have lost their cogency. In other words, syllogisms may still dutifully clatter away like rotary presses or computers which infallibly spew out an exact number of answers by the minute. But the logic of these answers is itself a mechanism which no longer captivates anyone. ... And if this is how the transcendentals fare because one of them has been banished, what will happen with Being itself?”

7/30/2014 06:06:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

There's a line in Terrence O. Moore's "The Story-Killers", someone who very much gets the importance of the imaginative quality of Western Civilization, and its repression in our schools,

"The simple answer would be to invoke Plato's lesson again: he who controls the stories of a society holds the reins of power."

Look at matters from another direction: We teach our students about 'what they need to know' from the most bland, lifeless, unimaginative means possible - textbooks. Combine that with the utterly random, unimaginative, 10-30 page scholastic story-lets that 'teach a lesson' to students - the 'skills of the 21st century'.

What we are today is a people who have been deprived of their common imagination, the stories of Western Civilization, and excepting those few instances of imaginative story telling that persist in gaming and entertainment, the Nothing has taken their place.

7/30/2014 07:56:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

The more I read about textbooks, the more I think the industry is one gigantic scam - and that's even setting aside the issues with Common Core, although by the sounds of it Common Core has made textbooks an order of magnitude worse.

When I was young, I always thought it mysterious that I could read for leisure for hours at a time, but just getting through a single textbook page, no matter how interesting the subject, was nearly impossible. If I didn't doze off after a paragraph or so, I'd find myself reading a section over and over again, getting to the end only to discover that I literally had no idea what I had just read.

On the plus side, it didn't take too long for me to realize that textbooks were almost never helpful for passing tests, anyway...

7/30/2014 08:02:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

Julie said "I'd find myself reading a section over and over again, getting to the end only to discover that I literally had no idea what I had just read."

Yep. Although the various excuses and purposes given for them since they were first introduced in their modern form, in the early 1800's, have changed, they were designed to extract and convey the useful data of the central works of Western Civilization and science, so that students wouldn't have to bother with them.

You'd think that would have raised a ref flag.

But they were taken by the scientistic enthusiasm in their day, as are the technology crazed today, to remake education in a quantifiable and more efficient manner, one that can be easily tested & tweaked to produce useful members of the workforce. Noah Webster & many others decided that those works were not interesting to children, so therefore we needed,

"A selection of essays, respecting the settlement and geography of America; the history of the late revolution and of the most remarkable characters and events that distinguished it, and a compendium of the principles of the federal and provincial governments, should be the principal school book in the United States."

The problem is that a 'compendium of principles' can only be utterly uninteresting and entirely meaningless, unless they are preceded by and drawn from stories and events that do compel your interest. What he proposed, a selection of factoid based essays, does not convey understanding, it repels it.

Webster himself did publish some extremely popular textbooks, 'blue books', but each newer version, as with their imitators, came closer and closer to the essentials of his ideal, completely devoid of imagination and interest.

Textbooks, in every meaningful sense, are repellent, and no Education can be had through them, only in spite of them.

I'm going to a meeting tonight to discuss what 'education standards' should replace 'Common Core' in Missouri... we're in the situation of the dog who catches a car... now what? My first question will be "What is it that you want to set Standards for? What do you mean by 'Education'?" If they still see it as only a means of training students in useful skills, sorry, Common Core was that ideal we just succeeded in rejecting.

I suspect my input will be shot-put, but I'll give it a shot.

7/30/2014 08:42:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

I hope it goes well tonight, Van. Who knows - if you Missourians can come up with a better alternative, maybe other states will follow. We can hope, anyway...

7/30/2014 09:26:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

RE textbooks, I always liked this by David McCullough who was speaking about how we teach history now by this example:

"The king died. Then the queen died."

And how we should teach history:

"The king died, and then the queen died of grief."

History is best understood as the story of people.

7/30/2014 09:42:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

I think there is a such thing as an anti-teacher.
Not intentionally of course. Not necessarily.

7/30/2014 09:45:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Ironic that the guy who wrote dictionary's would come up with a form of education so devoid of meaning.

Good luck, Van!

Julie n' Rick, aye. History without the context of the humans that lived it is not history. And without the stories it's just a pile of textbook crap no on wants to read.

7/30/2014 10:01:00 AM  

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