"A phrase like 'wave on shrieking wave,'" Scarry says, "requires that we picture a wave, let it for a split second disappear, then bring the picture back: in effect, we make the wave image pulse" (Dreaming by the Book, p. 102). If the process we use to imagine moving images differs from the process we use to put still images into motion then we should question how it is in both cases we're talking about the same imaginative faculty rather than, at most, a constellation of various imaginative activities and skills, activities touching on or drawing from the imagination without themselves being the imagination. I'd like to explore this question from another angle.
Close your eyes. Remember being at the coast. Remember the sound of the waves. Picture the night. Your eyes are closed. In your memory your eyes are closed. You hear the pulse of the ocean. It's the sound of intimacy. It draws you in, the sound. Wave upon wave, the sound of the ocean.
Now think about what you are doing. Are you imagining a memory or an episode of imagination? Perhaps you're experiencing a moment akin to a dream. Are there several moments wrapped into one? More than one memory? More than one sound in your mind? Is the sound of the ocean one sound or many? Does the word "pulse" make it easier to imagine the sound of the ocean? Does it distract by introducing other images? Does it entail any process beyond imagination, or is it best understood as a refinement of imagination? Is flirting with metaphor one of things imagination does, or does such flirtation belong to languageas if the imaginative exercise of language could be rigorously separated from the imaginative play of fantasy; well, it's a theory that can't be totally ignored in the critique of imagination. We shape our images, give them to be shaped, we give our plasticity over to words, which theoretically means other people's words and to large measure other people's meanings and other people's images. We surrender our imaginations, even our imaginative faculties, for a time at least. We lapse into language, its powers to stir images, or steer them. This lapse, this surrender, is entirely distinct from the giving of the imagination over to fantasy, so much so that one should question whether the same faculty is involved in both instances. This doesn't seem altogether likely to me, but perhaps it helps us appreciate what Scarry is doing in demonstrating how literary techniques help us imagine more vividly than we might were we left to our own devices. Language can juice the imagination or something awfully similar to the imagination because it is itself an activity of the imagination.
I surrender to dark images, unsure of whether they belong in the same category as light images. I am enthralled by the sound of the word "pulse," its explosion of liquid sibilance, its pulse.
Language in the dark, like the imagination, becomes oceanic. From one perspective imagination begins in the moment when memory is cast adriftthe transition between waves abruptcrashes woven into a single moment, an oceanic moment, a pulse.