in the name of imagination
October 20, 2011, 9:12 pm
Filed under: brave new world, unseen world | Tags: , , , ,

i’m me!
September 22, 2008, 4:00 am
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Here are the novelist Ian McEwan’s thoughts on the imagination from an interview with Ramona Koval on Radio National.  They are talking about his book Atonement which was made into a picture last year.  Although I haven’t read the book, I have a sneaking suspicion it’s miles better than the film.

I remember when I was studying literary criticism, we read an apologetic piece that claimed that literature’s use is to humanize us.  It was late in my undergrad and I was pleasantly surprised by this new idea that, beside beauty and delight, literature was useful.  It seemed to bring it all crashing down to the level of function as if literature were a machine, designed to meet some base social operation.  Some people don’t trust beauty and want everything to be understood at its basest level.  I do trust it, and somehow, the idea that literature, and by extension art, is beautiful and useful adds to its complexity – and desirability.

McEwan talks about this same idea in the quotation below.  He says imagination helps us to have empathy with other people.  Which is the same thing as saying literature humanizes.  Helpfully, he tells us what we are like when not properly humanized:  cruel and fearful.

Here is the quotation.  Read the entire article here.

My mother dropped me at the beach on her way to work. I was in North Africa. It was early in the morning. It was the Mediterranean spring and I had the day to myself. No friends—I don’t know why, that day—and I had one of those little epiphanies of ‘I’m me,’ and at the same time thinking, well, everyone must feel this. Everyone must think, ‘I’m me.’ It’s a terrifying idea, I think, for a child, and yet that sense that other people exist is the basis of our morality. You cannot be cruel to someone, I think, if you are fully aware of what it’s like to be them. In other words, you could see cruelty as a failure of the imagination, as a failure of empathy. And to come back to the novel as a form, I think that’s where it is supreme in giving us that sense of other minds.

~from Books and Writing, Radio National with Ramona KovalSunday 22/9/2002

simultaneously and substantially dual


This is from an article by Arjun Appadurai.  In it, he describes how the world we accept as empirical, the spaces we see and touch and know can only be properly negotiated when we add in an intangible dimension, what we remember and imagine from other places – ones we’ve inhabited, dreamed about, seen at the movies.  By adding the new dimension, which by the way is very real, we see that we live in a much different place than commonly described.

“Because of the degree of media penetration and saturation – which frequently also means media of many kinds and media from many places, particularly television, where it’s available – people live, as it were, in layered places, which in themselves have a variety of levels of attachment, engagement and, if you like, reality … In a world of migration and mass mediation, everybody is living in a world of image flows, such that it’s not simply and straightforwardly possible to separate their everyday life from this other set of spaces that they engage with through the media, either as receivers, or as workers in call centers, or on interactive websites.  The work of the imagination allows people to inhabit either multiple localities or a kind of single and complex sense of locality, in which many different empirical spaces coexist.  So one of these call center people is simultaneously living a little bit in the United States and also living substantially in Bombay.  But Bombay itself, because of films and so on, is not merely empirical Bombay.

In this sense you have a kind of creative, spatial form which isn’t reducible to its empirical facts.  Now those empirical facts – for example, that the trains in Bombay are incredibly crowded  – must be faced at the end of the day.  Even if you’re inhabiting many localities, this one will always be present to you.  But because I do believe in the work of the imagination, I believe your engagement with this empirical world can be somewhat different depending on what translocalities you inhabit mentally, in and through the imagination.  So the train isn’t the same for everyone, not only because there’s a better part and a less good part of the train, but simply because the train is only one element of people’s localized existence.  Again I would say, remembering the urban poor, that the relationship of their experienced spaces to their imagined spaces is always at a disadvantage.  And this must be changed.  But the poor, too, negotiate a relationship between experienced spaces and imagined spaces.  They’re not only living in sheer experience while the rest of us live in the imagination.  That’s my sense of the political economy of these spaces.”

~Arjun Appadurai, The Right to Participate in the Work of the Imagination, Trans Urbanism, V2_Publishing/NAi Publishers