Thursday, December 20, 2007

Goethe's Flower

It's looking like my efforts to imagine and Sartre's depiction of the imaging consciousness will not be reconciled. Sartre writes, "Goethe claimed he could produce a flower as a bud, make it grow, blossom, open, close, shed its petals, etc. But it seems to me that these affirmations that contradict my thesis are not absolutely sincere" (The Imaginary, p. 134). Why would Sartre question Goethe's honesty? When I read that sentence I suddenly became suspicious of Sartre, as if only a dishonest person would accuse Goethe of lying about his own imagination. We're on dubious ground here, but since the topic of the imagination fascinates me, since Sartre has a few things to say on the matter, and since I assume you can put some of these ideas to the test by imagining things for yourself, let's turn to another idea of Sartre's. He emphatically insists that strictly speaking there is no imaginary world (p. 167). He explains this position:

When we speak of the world of irreal objects, we use an inexact expression for greater convenience. A world is a dependent whole, in which each object has its determinate place and maintains relations with the other objects. The very idea of the world implies for its objects the following double condition: they must be strictly individuated; they must be in balance with an environment. This is why there is no irreal world, because no irreal object fulfills this double condition.

(p. 132)

It is very easy for me to imagine a world around Goethe's flower. I imagine many possible worlds, many incarnations of the flower. I can fix in my mind one flower, a tulip, and its world, from the stones in the foundation of the house outside of which the bulb was planted to the lace pattern of the doily under the vase where it spent its final days. And there are feelings, loosely attached, but they too could become fixed. I must conclude then that in the case of imagining Goethe's flower it is possible that the irreal object has a world, and that this world is also irreal or imaginary.

Is Sartre then mistaken about the imagination, or is he mistaken about what it takes to make a world? Is he lying? It must be asked. He might be lying if, for instance, he wanted to say something about being-in-the-world being related to freedom and decision, and he had already decided that the imaginary "world" was the "inverse of freedom" (p. 169), so rather than contradict himself he chose to lie. However, he didn't have to back himself into this corner where insincerity seemed like the least worst option to him; had he let his imagination flow and let this activity suggest what can be said about the image, he might have discovered a capacity for surprise–again this would be hard to reconcile with an idea that consciousness (and only consciousness) is existence while at the same time consciousness must also be an act. Well, have you ever been surprised by your own actions, your own capabalities? Sartre could have imagined action otherwise than he did. He could have imagined the world otherwise, and that of course brings up the other possibility, that Sartre is simply mistaken about what it takes to make a world. I don't have a problem with a world enveloping objects in indeterminate places, with a world of vague objects, or worlds of objects in various states of equilibrium or disequilibrium. It would be fruitless at this point to compare my experiences with mescaline to Sartre's, my dreams to Sartre's, or my psychotic episodes to Sartre's descriptions of psychotic cases. If you can imagine Goethe's flower then you can say whether it is worldless, or, upon reflection, whether it would be possible for it to have a world.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 11:33 AM.


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