More 1600's picture thoughts
Rosie Jackson celebrates the anima mundi
The Philosophers’ Secret Fire: A History of the Imagination
Penguin Books, UK, 2002, £9.99
The Oonark Eskimos were unimpressed by man’s lunar landing. `That’s nothing,’ said one. `My uncle went to the moon lots of times.’ But in a culture as hostile as ours to the wisdom of vision and enchantment, the authenticity of such metaphorical experience has been denied. With matter defined as the only reality, things as `immaterial’ as the soul, imagination, or less visible worlds are deemed to have no substance and therefore not to matter: even as I write, Professor Stephen Hawking is on air declaring belief in God to be infantile.
In this context, Patrick Harpur’s brilliant new study of the imagination - impassioned, wise, wry, humane, full of dynamic scholarship and inspired argument - is especially welcome. A fascinating, beautifully written history, not only is it intellectually meaty, overflowing with telling insight and detailed example, but on a heart level it reminds us of the deeply healing effects of a more generous and imaginal way of seeing. I found myself reviewing my own life in a new way: decisions driven by promptings from intuitions or dreams no longer seemed crazy, but full of divinest sense; I was left vindicated and reassured, with a renewed trust in the unconscious.
The problem is less one of ignorance than amnesia. In our forgetting of a larger, more sacred vision, our literalism - taking this too solid world as the only truth - has become a kind of curse. For the ancient Greeks, truth was aletheia - `not forgetting’ - and learning less an act of cognition than of recognition: a process of remembering. Since incarnation itself was held to be a falling away from wholeness - the Primary Imagination, out of which we are born and to which we return - the deepest forms of human knowledge and creativity could not be more than partial recoveries of this original state. Hence Plato’s anamnesis, or `recollection’ - the activity of the Secondary, or human, Imagination: `a power of working at a barrier of darkness, recovering verities which we somehow know of, but have in our egoistic fantasy life “forgotten”.’
Harpur’s powerful chronicle of this eclipsed tradition of otherworldly beings - angels, devils, gods, sidhe, the whole prolific realm once known as `faery’ - helps us remember a way of inhabiting the world that is more ambiguous and shape-shifting than the dull secularism which has come to prevail these last three centuries. His `daimonic’ reality – close to Jung’s `psychic’ and Hillman’s `imaginal’ - invokes a world that is inner as much as outer, where the imagination may not come from us so much as contain us: `It’s as likely that gods imagine us as that we imagine them.’ He undermines dogmatic atheism and the arrogance of any human-centred universe which assumes God to be our invention rather than vice versa. And the reductive literalism we inhabit - our culture’s negative default button – becomes little more than another fiction, another myth, hell-bent on denying the soul. `The sin of the ego is to wish to sever itself from its own source; its tragedy is that it sometimes succeeds.’
Some of the contours of his map of the imagination are familiar - the ideas of Heraclitus, Plotinus and Plato, Coleridge, Eliot and Hughes, Boehme, Blake and Yeats, Jung and Hillman – and the notion that from the early 17th century, the falling away of an imaginal reality has gathered momentum. In the process of our increased materialism of value and thought, we have lost vital touch with the anima mundi – the soul of the world – that collective energy which manifests both spiritually and physically and whose neglect has led to our current lack of meaning and beauty. Banished and suppressed, however, otherworldly realities do not die but return in more disturbing form – the daimonic turns into the demonic – what Yeats called those `lethargies and cruelties and timidities’ whose roots lie in a denial of imagination.
But as he traces the mercurial shifts of a neo-Platonic tradition through the centuries, expertly weaving together Norse and Greek myth, Renaissance magi and alchemists, ancient and modern theorists of dream and the unconscious, Harpur does something new. Part of his genius lies in the rich, non-linear way he re-tells the imagination’s history, part in the originality of his contemporary insights. At every turn he draws out the pertinence of a particular idea for our times, re-reading our literal culture in a symbolic way. The World Wide Web becomes an unconscious imitation of the anima mundi, Mediterranean holidays under a scorching sun turn into rituals of initiation, tourism a `secular pilgrimage’, Western medicine an echo of the mysteries of the alchemists, Derrida and post-structuralism a debased version of Kabbalism, anorexia a hunger for meaningful entry into society – all inverted attempts to invent ritual that is otherwise lacking.
Nor is this is simply a book about the imagination: for all his profound and impressive scholarship, Harpur effectively thinks in images. The texture is almost filmic in the movement from scene to imagined scene: Petrarch’s manifesto of the daimonic nature of man after a vision on the summit of Mount Ventoux in 1336; Edward Kelley and John Dee gathering with alchemists in Prague in 1583; or the fatal beginnings of the modern outlawing of the imagination in 1623 when one Marin Mersenne, `the vegan spider’, dressed in black from head to foot, condemns Ficino, Pico, the magic of hermeticism and the anima mundi. Amongst the most graphic is the portrait of Charles Darwin, `doubled up, trembling, vomiting, and dowsing himself in icy water’. Darwin’s recoil from the profusion of the natural world - nauseous at `the sight of a feather in a peacock’s tail’ – leads Harpur into the most incisive yet concise critique of Darwinism I have ever seen, all the more powerful for being focused, as dreams are, around an image. (`Image is psyche’, said Jung.)
It would be hard to overestimate the value of Harpur’s book or to praise it too highly. Packed with fabulous detail at which I can only hint here, it convinces us once again that everything is soul. We’re offered a timely reminder to recall our larger mystical selves, to conceive of possibilities of transformation, to remove the constraints from our limited notion of reality and celebrate life’s infinite and sacred inventiveness.
And without this restoration, how can we move forwards? It is the ability to imagine ourselves in the place of another which is the essential movement behind love: if the imagination is atrophied, so is the heart. A world which fails to foster the imagination fails to foster compassion – and the lethal consequences of that we know only too well.
Rosie Jackson is a novelist and short story writer. Author of Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion and The Eye of the Buddha, she teaches and runs writing workshops in the UK and US.
If all of this Autism picutre thought I push holds water It will fit right in with this post. What we are talking about is nothing more than building blocks of the mind the sublevel thoughts that make the human mind function. Evolution and time have moved man a bit further from these picutre thinking ideals with every generation. *They are both MR/DD and Einstein* In fact, the current day 2009 thought process mans uses and 'knows' as normal thought seems to be nothing more than the long hand version of autism shortcutted (= normal thoughts). Read other posts on this blog to see how we still think in picutres and generally never know it, unless were stuck and forced to say I can picutre "it" but can't put a name to it.
I am seeking a picture I seen years ago in a 1960's National Geographic Magazine of heirogylphics on a cave wall. The caption was "it was a dinner order" in so many words, a carry out order from the pre horistoric times. I seen it has pre historic first grade class room frozen in time. The picutre thinker in me seen the idea of a picture-in-picture thought being explained. P-in-P thought is a key factor in the evolution of man's mind and if we were exclusive picutre thinkers at one time ,this learning experience would have been necessary to evolve. Once I find a copy of that picture I'll post it here.