Against Imagination


Does imagination create or distort our experience of the world? Oxford scholar Reidar Due turns to Spinoza, Deleuze and Kant, in order to establish imagination’s relation to philosophy, the arts and science and ask: Does imagination liberate us or alienate us from reality, others and ourselves?

Reidar Due via Four by Three Magazine:

One often thinks that imagination is a good thing, that is, one thinks it is better to have imagination than not. Someone who is said to have no imagination is meant to be dull, erotically numb, politically astute etc. In this sense, to us moderns’, imagination is a placeholder for other positive values. It stands for freedom and receptivity, transcendence and innovation, excitement and inspiration. It is noteworthy that neither Ancient Greek philosophers nor Latin Medieval philosophers spent much time discussing imagination. The value of imagination is tied to the notion that truth and poetic creativity are dependent on novelty. It is against this background that Spinoza formulates a powerful critique of imagination along several axes. On the one hand, the imaginative psychological attitudes of hope and fear are ethically destructive, because they orient themselves towards that, which does not exist. On the other hand, ideas that we have about other people are often caused, not by an appreciation of them in their own right, but by an articulation of the effect that they have upon us. Hence we like and dislike people, because we imagine them, on the basis of our own vulnerable self-esteem, to be such and such, whereas they may be, in fact, very different. Finally, an intellectual grasp of reality, an adequate intellectual appropriation of nature, takes the form of conceptual or intuitive thinking, neither of which involves imagination. From Spinoza we thus get the view that imagination serves to imprison the subject within its own private thought and to bar the way towards an adequate appreciation of reality. The same perceptive is presented by the twentieth century philosopher Gilles Deleuze.

In the work he wrote with Guattari, Anti-Oedipus [1972], he opposes the workings of desire to the effects of imagination.

Continue reading.

Latest posts by four by three magazine (see all)