Friday, November 14, 2008

The Craze

Imagination as metaphysics. More specifically I'd like to think for a second about imaginative possibilities, about a conceptual distinction between metaphysical possibility and actual possibility one could (possibly?) make, and about whether thinking about imagination together with the possible doesn't lift the veil on a metaphysical quality of imagination, whether indeed imagination isn't the quintessential engagement in metaphysics. The case is not as easy as it may appear. We might be justified in doubting whether to imagine is already to engage in metaphysics, and asking instead how imagination comes into metaphysics, if only we could reasonably see either its physical or actual manifestations. After all, imagination might also and primarily be a physics. The possibility can't be ruled out. The athlete Michael Phelps said, on winning his eighth gold medal in the 2008 Summer Olympics, "The biggest thing is nothing is impossible. With so many people saying it couldn't be done–all it takes is an imagination. That's something I learned that helped me." Should we doubt that his imagination helped him achieve his goals? Well, is this then a simple case of a metaphysical faculty or activity being subordinated to a physical goal? What if, on the other hand, metaphysical possibility has its origins in actual possibilities, in actual faculties and exercises of powers. The propositions need not be mutually exclusive–but we risk being led astray. Shouldn't we directly confront the question of whether imagination is a metaphysics?

Who wouldn't want to dwell in possibility? Perhaps we should be cautious of letting our thought be seduced by metaphysics, a realm that, seen for itself, may be just as enchanting as poetry. Before proceeding here allow me to state the obvious. Although I'm reading Casey's Imagining critically, I must say that in many regards he describes imagining quite well and in some instances precisely. He has undoubtedly contributed greatly to our understanding of the imagination and not incidentally of what it means to be human. That said, Casey disagrees with Collingwood's idea that "[t]he conceptions of past, future, the possible, the hypothetical are as meaningless for imagination as they are for feeling itself" (Principles of Art, p.224, in Imagining, p. 112). Well, I can't accept the reason Casey provides for his objection, namely that Collingwood overlooks the self-contained nature of imagination, a nature which is not at all obvious to me though I have read these passages six ways to Sunday. I rather suspect there may be good reason for distinguishing the making of an image, or letting an image be made, from something like metaphysical possibility, which, perhaps, could be more akin to a thought one has about thinking than a raw activity of thought, if that distinction makes any sense. If (the iffiest of ifs of course) pure possibility may characterize how the imagined object is posited by consciousness, then does it follow that "pure possibility is the distinctive thetic character of what we imagine and as such it serves to distinguish imaginative experience from other kinds of experience" (p. 116, my emphasis)? Perhaps at this point Phelps and Casey both agree that to imagine something is to posit an imaginary object and somehow make it appear. However, if Casey has succeeded in calling into question Sartre's idea of the irrealizing function of the imagination, he has not fully convinced me of either the thetic character of all imagination, or that there couldn't possibly be a deactivating gesture, or some other inactivity at the heart of imaginative activity–and here again is the problem of metaphysical possibility, which seems to appear whenever we move from action to what the action of the imagination requires in order to be an action, or, perhaps, whenever we attempt to think about action as action.

Let's look again at the former objection to Casey's conclusion, that is, the question of the thetic character of the image. It is decidedly not simply the case that everything that happens under the umbrella of the imagination can be characterized as a conscious act that posits something called an image. Think of possibility for a moment as a mood, the subjunctive. Imagination is hypotactic, hypotaxis par excellence. It whispers, always just shy of brushing up against the real–yet didn't Phelps really win his medals, and didn't Dickinson concretize the Gambrels of the Sky? The abiding image recurs, the recurrent image abides as a metaphysical problem–is it only because we have removed the act of finishing from the equation, because we are attempting to inhabit a terrain that could never be inhabited, to endure what could never be endured, these "moments of never"? I could be seduced right now by a ligature between the subjunctive and the question, lured into exploring how the road "about" the physical, necessarily beyond it and of it at once, leads to crossroads, and every crossroad is a question, or becomes an elaboration of the question of the road, aporias and metaphors–you would be right to wonder whether I hadn't gone astray. So I let Pegasus get the better of me. Isn't this also the way of imagination? Is there any imagination without enthusiasm, without craze. Crazy thought, the subjunctive–as if we could name it, rein it in, say that it, the craze, posits and we posit in one and the same sense, when it could be otherwise. As always, I leave these thoughts unfinished.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 10:30 AM.


Blogger Andrew Louis said...

Is metaphysics nothing more then art perhaps?

November 15, 2008 2:07 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Note to Self: to think "actual possibility" requires thinking, somehow if not directly, an actual that could be otherwise. The "could be otherwise" is not a mode of thinking inferior to or even posterior to the "as" or the "as such." It is not mere second-guessing. It is in a sense already contained in the "as," perhaps even as a condition of the "as". Nothing about the "actual" is settled. It remains open to the "could be otherwise." What is an action? Not a closing of possibilities, but the expression of a new transcendence. You could actualize tesseractually, for example, hyperactually. Nothing about the nature of action rules that out (nor specifies an ideal relation. Vagueness is allowed, an expressive possibility.) "Actual possibility" circumscribed though not determined by habit, cultivation. Need a better word for co-arising. Systasis. Synairetic verition of actual possibility, or, leaving it up in the air, systatic cultivation of actual possibilities, and more broadly, systatic cultivation of hyperactual possibilities. "Letting the imagination go" means the systatic cultivation of hyperactual possibilities. Metaphysics. Methactual. Metapragmatic. A synairtic grasp of the thing. Of physis. Diaphany. Test the boundaries of the metaphysical at the things themselves. What are the things of the imagination–do we need a metapragmatics even to grasp what those are, or an actual systatic metaphysics?

November 16, 2008 10:15 AM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Andrew, at first blush I'm going to say no, and it has to do with the way the question is formulated as a "nothing more than" which implies a devaluation of art, which I don't think is necessary to pursue things we are curious about. Conversely, are the verbal arts metaphysical, or does saying "metaphysical" devalue them already? Could they be both exercises in metaphysics and patterned after the plastic arts? What is the statue for philosophy? Should we admire the busts of philosophers? What purpose do such reminders serve? Oh, this is a tangent, sure. Your question deserves serious study. I think you should pursue it further.

November 16, 2008 10:24 AM  

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