Lack of imagination, how terrible an affliction! Is it contagious? Is it necessary to see a doctor? There is a surge of the disease in my neighborhood these days and I am familiar with the symptoms: sickening vertigo of the blank page; stubborn clinging to old, worn-out dreams; continuous, hopeful search for new models to emulate; desperate certainty that the grass is greener elsewhere; or a combination of these.

Give me an antidote! That is what I would think before coming to a few realizations recently, experiencing a cascade of rather dramatic events through close friends. These have shed a different light on the contamination and prompted a new idea: the symptoms above mentioned do not betray lack of imagination – the latter actually being a defense mechanism of the mind against this creeping evil I am trying to capture in words.

I had never questioned the fact that imagination is this long arm that makes it possible to sometimes caress truth, beauty and freedom. Indeed, aren’t scientists, novelists, people who survive in a prison of any kind, etc., all living in a separate dimension of their own creation, ridiculing the limits of the body and mind. Isn’t imagination amazing? It has no boundaries…

Or maybe it does have one. Giving my belief a little more thought, I cannot ignore that nothing I have ever imagined in my life was, is or will be. The limit of imagination is… reality.

I am sure most of you – my innumerable crowd of enlightened, glamorous and patient readers (right, mummy?) – want to raise your voice now: “Oh so what’s the big plan? Be as literal as possible. See things for what they are? Kill hope? Now, that’s sexy!” Well, that’s the plan indeed, unless you propose otherwise.

Question: what is the difference between a 6 year-old walking around with a magic wand, pretending to be a fairy or an enchanter and an adult entranced with romantic love for someone (s)he believes is just about to uncover treasures of unrealized potential after years and years of unsatisfying relationship?
Answer: there is none. In both situations, the organ they bring into play is their imagination.

What I am trying to say here is not that kids should not be given a magic wand but that imagination is misused by most of us who confuse it with vision. Kids may learn a lot through imagination but for sure adults hijack and enslave her. We put uninspired words in her mouth. We feed her with fake memories or impersonal fantasies and fears. We teach her jealousy and servility.

While writing this, I must admit I am struggling with my presumption that something one cannot imagine cannot ever be. I am scared that a tamed imagination equals “no future”, while that is precisely the solution. As often, the dictionary* knew all about it from the start. Imagination is at the same time “the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality” and its object: “a creation of the mind”. Control is the spark that can fire this wild demiurge and the resulting make-believe can range from catastrophic to ideal but it cannot be more than an illusion.

Let’s not confuse the disease with the organ though. Imagination can also be the “ability to confront and deal with a problem”. This “resourcefulness” does not manifest when one floats in the illusion with closed eyes. Strictly speaking, there is finally no lack of imagination around me at all but a new interest and ability to picture reality as it is.
Imagination is dead. Long live Imagination!

* http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/imagination


  • Antonius

    It’s been a long time since I read your stuff. You have a talent for writing about the abstract; the « absurd » to use your French philosophers’ term.

    Don’t be too harsh on imagination. In fact, I suggest you promote that creativity! It is the only thing keeping you from stagnancy and complacency (a very quiet, boring death). Just, keep in check your emotional bindings to your imagination. The key (a very small, difficult to handle key) is being able to rationalise your emotions into something controllable, whilst at the same time indulging your senses and letting your creative juices flow freely.

  • a*urélie

    Thank you for commenting Anton!

    Well am I that harsh with imagination?

    I feel I have sometimes exploited mine in a very nasty manner, only to travel to a dimension that does not exist (blinding myself in order to escape reality), when it should have been an eye opener on what’s real (or potentially so). I am a terrible boss!
    I fully agree that creativity should flow and transform the world, but very often it just serves as an one-way ticket out of it.

    What do you think is left of emotion when it is controlled and rationalised?

  • Antonius

    It sounded like you wanted to blame your poor imagination for some real-world outcome (hmmm, falling in love perhaps?), so I came to its defence. (Though consider, I write this from Germany, where unimaginative conformity is paramount…)

    Escaping reality is great fun. It’s why movies and novels exist! But if it’s diminishes your experience with the real world, you’re doing something wrong. It should enhance, not detract. Supplement, not replace.

    When emotion is harnessed, I believe it is one of the most powerful things ever to come of the human psyche – stronger than decision, more far-reaching than instinct, more enduring than instinct.

  • a*urélie

    I still cannot help but think that very often what we call « imagination » is actually « illusion » – the latter being an anarchic, dangerous diversion from the available treasures of this world.
    As per emotion, I don’t see it as a beautiful vessel but as the waves that caress or hit its shell. The vessel would be called consciousness. Consciousness is strong, far-reaching and enduring indeed. Emotions try and sink it but when the captain is awake he does not let it happen.

  • Antonius

    Considering we all have subjective experience, you could say EVERYTHING perceived is an illusion, to some extent? Obviously illusion at the expense of a grasp on reality (e.g. schizophrenic delusion) isn’t good. But as said, if it enhances and enriches our reality, then why not? There’s more to life than facts, and humans are not machines.

    Interesting – I used that exact term (consciousness as the vessel) in some spontaneous prose I wrote just last night. And again, like illusion/imagination, I don’t think emotion is inherently negative. And I don’t think it’s beautiful in itself. It’s neutral. HOW we use it can be either a good or a bad thing. Waves can be harnessed too, mind you!