Sunday, November 28, 2010

Going Beyond Fragmentation 7 - The Journey to Wholeness

Winter Tree, today, Santry Wood.
Mental Life is Imaginal

If there is one thing I have learned from Professor Levine's short book it is that Freud, in contrast to Descartes believed that the internal life of the mind is esssentially imaginal, not rational.  We think in images, not words.  This, in itself, is an exceptionally interesting notion indeed.  Melanie Klein went on to take this insight and use it in her development of play therapy with children. Then Winnicott followed Klein in acknowledging the importance of children's play and fantasy life, but he situated this discovery in a radically new framework through his notion of transitional space.  We spoke about this phenomenon in the last post, and we shall not delay on this any further here.

Imagination Versus Fancy and Fantasy

It is important here to draw a distinction between these three words which, while often used in common parlance as synonymous, certainly are not so by rigorous definition.  Therefore, on checking in a free on-line dictionary, I find that while the words are presented as synonymous, they change with the nuances given them by the various authors quoted. As we read the quotations from these authors, fancy and fantasy take on a lesser function than imagination in our mental functioning.  I will herewith give you that definition:

(See this link here: Imagination  or The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.)


1.  a. The formation of a mental image of something that is neither perceived as real nor present to the senses.


     b. The mental image so formed.


     c. The ability or tendency to form such images.


2. The ability to confront and deal with reality by using the creative power of the mind; resourcefulness: handled the problems with great imagination.


3. A traditional or widely held belief or opinion.


4. Archaic


a. An unrealistic idea or notion; a fancy.


b. A plan or scheme.
i·magi·nation·al adj.


Synonyms: imagination, fancy, fantasy


These nouns refer to the power of the mind to form images, especially of what is not present to the senses. Imagination is the most broadly applicable: "In the world of words, the imagination is one of the forces of nature" (Wallace Stevens).


Fancy especially suggests mental invention that is whimsical, capricious, or playful and that is characteristically well removed from reality: "All power of fancy over reason is a degree of insanity" (Samuel Johnson).


Fantasy is applied principally to elaborate or extravagant fancy as a product of the imagination given free rein: "The poet is in command of his fantasy, while it is exactly the mark of the neurotic that he is possessed by his fantasy" (Lionel Trilling).


Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Esemplastic Power of the Imagination:

Winter tree, Santry Woods, today!
At this juncture I should like to make a few comments about the contribution of S.T. Coleridge to the subject of the imagination.  This author was at once a brilliant poet and the quintessential philosopher of the English Romantic movement in poetry in the final decades of the eighteenth century and the first half of the eighteenth.  Perhaps his greatest and most profound prose work was his very sui generis and exceedingly eccentric Biographia Literaria wherein he lays forth his theories of criticism and, of course, his philosophy of the imagination where he distinguishes between the imagination and fancy:


"Imagination" and "Fancy"



Rejecting the empiricist assumption that the mind was a tabula rasa on which external experiences and sense impressions were imprinted, stored, recalled, and combined through a process of association, Coleridge divided the "mind" into two distinct faculties. He labelled these the "Imagination" and "Fancy."


The IMAGINATION then, I consider either as primary, or secondary. The primary IMAGINATION I hold to be the living Power and prime Agent of all human Perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM. The secondary Imagination I consider as an echo of the former, co-existing with the conscious will, yet still as identical with the primary in the kind of its agency, and differing only in degree, and in the mode of operation. It dissolves, diffuses, dissipates, in order to recreate; or where this process is rendered impossible, yet still at all events it struggles to idealise and unify. It is essentially vital, even as all objects (as objects) are essentially fixed and dead.


FANCY, on the contrary, has no other counters to play with, but fixities and definites. The Fancy is indeed no other than a mode of Memory emancipated from the order of time and space; while it is blended with, and modified by that empirical phenomenon of the will, which we express by the word CHOICE. But equally with the ordinary memory the Fancy must receive all its materials ready made from the law of association.  (See this link here: Imagination and Fancy )
Further on from this in his Biographia Literaria Coleridge goes on to describe the esemplastic power of the imagination thus: "Esemplastic" means to "shape into one" and to "convey a new sense." Noting that esemplastic was a word he borrowed from the Greek "to shape," Coleridge explains that it refers to the imagination's ability to "shape into one, having to convey a new sense." He feels such a term is necessary as "it would aid the recollection of my meaning and prevent it being confounded with the usual import of the word imagination."


So fancy is very much a lesser power than that of the imagination.  What I want to infer from all the above information about the history of our understanding of the imagination is that it is a powerful tool that enables its user literally "to shape into one" his/her perceptions and indeed intuitions in a most dynamic fashion.  In this respect, I am inferring from the above a similar power for the role of the imagination in therapyIn my own life I may use my imagination productively in all my creative actions to fashion and refashion my identity as I grow ever more confident as an individual among others. It is at this timely juncture that I wish to return to both Winnicott and to Professor Levine who quotes him quite extensively in the current chapter.
Winnicott makes a clear distinction between "fantasy" and "imagination."  Fantasy is imagination manqué; it refers to a kind of day-dreaming that walls a person up in his or her own personal world and leads to no form of doing, of efficacy.  Imagination, on the other hand, is the means by which we reach out and connect with otherness.  Play, then, is the operation of imagination not of fantasy.  In a certain sense, we can say that the goal of therapy is to replace fantasy with imagination...  Therapy, then, can be understood to be a re-vitalization of the imagination, a turning-back to the original connection between self and world." (Poiesis, p. 33)

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