Thursday, October 16, 2008

Worlds of Imagined Phenomena

Do imagined phenomena do anything like reside in anything like a world? Casey introduces the idea of a "world-frame" to describe the situatedness of imagined objects of consciousness. I don't fully believe in the world of perception that Casey portrays in contrast to the world-frame. As ever, it seems, I am uncertain as to what exactly constitutes a world. Consequently I am reticent about adopting his terminology. His description of the situatedness of imagined phenomena, however, deserves our attention. I quote at length.

When we attend to the specific content of acts of imagining, we see it to be describable first of all in terms of the entities, events, and states of affairs with which we are already familiar from preceding consideration of the act phase. Such specifiable factors constitute the core of what we imagine–its "noematic nucleus" in Husserl's term. But a closer scrutiny reveals other components of imagined content as well, components on which the imaginer typically does not focus but which are nonetheless nonthematically present to his imagining consciousness. These non-nuclear components of imagined content constitute what we shall call a "world-frame" for particular imagined entities, events, and states of affairs. For none of these latter appear or occur in an experiential vacuum. They present themselves as positioned, however indeterminately, in an immediately surrounding zone of presentation.

In its severely delimited and delimiting character, the world-frame is unlike the continuously unfolding and ultimately unlimited world of perception. The perceived world is a massive, all-inclusive whole–so encompassing in fact that there is finally only one such world. This world persists throughout our many perceivings of it, and can never be exhausted by any finite series of such perceivings. It is a world to which we return again and again as an abiding fons et origo.

No such originative and stable world underlies the specific content of imagining. No single experiential plenum persists from one imaginative presentation to the next, linking such presentations as presentations of one all-encompassing world. Rather, each presentation carries with it its own special situatedness. Such situatedness is so shifting and unstable that it cannot even be regarded as constituting a field, at least insofar as "field" implies a persisting plane that underlies and extends beyond the particular items that appear in it. Unlike, say, a perceptual field, the world-frame of imagination has no enduring extensiveness: it appears always and only as the proximal locale of imagined content, as its immediate context. Thus the world-frame is sketchy and schematic in character, offering to the imaginer patches of space and stretches of time instead of a single coherent spatio-temporal continuum. Because of its noncontinuous and nonlasting nature, the world-frame cannot be considered as presenting the imaginer with a world in any sense comparable to the perceived world.

(Imagining, pp. 50-51, Casey's emphases)

As indicated, I doubt the stability, plenitude, duration, extent, and inexhaustibility of the world of perception, though by no means would I close the book on on these features. If we attend to our imaginations and let that experience guide our descriptions of the worlds of imagination, such as they are, we may in fact be led to question whether or to what extent our ordinary worlds of perception are at root worlds of the imagination. Might it not be the case that a phenomenon like inexhaustibility originates in the imagination rather than in some form of brute perception? Further, is it warranted to claim that perceptual worlds abide while imaginary worlds evanesce? Can consciousness really be so simple?

Let's imagine Pegasus again and keep that experience in the margins of our awareness as we continue reading.

In view of its discontinuity and fragmentariness, we might be tempted to apply to the world-frame Sartre's graphic term "anti-world." But this is to go too far. Although the world-frames of imaginative presentations lack the depth, breadth, and persistence of the perceived world, they do present themselves as evanescent constellations of specific imagined contents, as momentary mini-worlds of imaginative experience. Thus if world-frames do not count as worlds in any strict sense, they are at least worldlike insofar as they provide suitable and fitting frameworks for what we imagine.

Despite their ephemerality (they perish at the end of each act of imagining), world-frames function in a worldlike way by situating imagined content–giving it, if not a name, at least a local habitation. This situating capacity derives from the spatializing and temporalizing powers of world-frames, that is, their ability to establish a specifically imaginal space and imaginal time. Such space and time lack the universality of the a priori space and time that, as Kant endeavored to show, serve to make the perceptual world intuitively present to the senses yet infinite in extent. But this does not mean that imaginal space and time are merely "quasi" in character, as Husserl claims. They are not posited as if they were the space and time of perception–which is to imply that they are nothing in themselves. Nor do they represent a strictly "unreal" sense of time and space. Rather, each of these dimensions of the imaginative presentation has its own distinctive character and plays a special role in implementing and specifying the world-frame. For it is due to this character and this role that the world-frame becomes a genuinely framing factor withing the imaginative presentation, enabling each specific item of imagined content to occupy a certain position within the presentation.

(pp.51-52, Casey's emphases)

I'm picking up on a contradiction between the ephemerality of the image and the habitation of the image that I'd like to explore. In my marginal notes I've called attention to repetition, the recurrence of images, world renewals and habits of imagination. When you imagined Pegasus again did you notice any recurring images? Did you have a sense that Pegasus inhabited any re-cognizable world or worlds? Well, here's a question about experiential multiplicities. Can you re-cognize multiple dimensions of imaginative presentation? If you could describe the chronotope corresponding to the complex genre of our imaginations of Pegasus would you be satisfied that you had covered all manner of the extensivity of imagination? What does habitation do to extensivity? (Perhaps it neither breaks it up nor prolongs it, but constitutes it all at once. I don't know.) Think for a moment of intensivity, and think of habitation as an intensification. What does intensity do? What does it do with respect to the constitution of worlds? Are worlds more or less intense, or does intensity simply not pertain to worlds, in which case a question of the habitation of worlds, since we have proposed to define habitation in light of intensification, would be left hanging? Recall Nancy's intensive re- of re-pre-sent-at-ion. Is there such a thing as a presentation that isn't in some sense already inhabited, already constituted in intensity? If something like a pure perception were to exist, in contradistinction to an imagination, it might resemble an uninhabited presentation, a re-presentation, or a kind of meontic representation. It would have to be startling, I think. Extraordinary. This is one reason I suspect that ordinarily we inhabit imaginary worlds, although I reserve doubts about the possibilities of repetition, strictly speaking.

My definition of the occasion of imagination is looser than Casey's, my sense of the act of imagination more amorphous, more ambiguous. Am I projecting ambiguity onto imaginary phenomena or are they intrinsically ambiguous? Does my sense that imagination, memory, habit and cognition operate together blind me to an appreciation of imagination itself? At bottom perhaps is the issue of how to define an act of consciousness–as if that could be accomplished in a single gesture. Casey speaks of the "multiplicity of the mental," which he defines as "the mind's proclivity for expressing itself polymorphically, resisting reduction to monistic schemes and structures" (p. 60). Do worlds have proclivities? Are they constituted by proclivities, or through proclivities, in such a way as to warrant being called polymorphic? How much distance is there finally between the polymorphic and the discontinuous, between metamorphosis and intensification, between habitation as formative and habitation as resistance to form?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 10:14 AM.


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