Imagination can be more delightful than a laughing child or more horrifying than an execution. Its range is a marvel and it comes in different intensities and different sizes according to individuals. It sure is imaginative.
A headline in the arts section of today's local newspaper reads, "Artist's magical realism reveals Nature's hidden identity." The headline writer's imaginative capacities are heaped on the artist's imaginative capacities in order to excite the imaginative capacities of readers, and perhaps the imaginations of those who will see the paintings.
It wasn't a bad headline. Headlines are supposed to draw readers in and as headlines go, this one had a nice, wispy, fairy-tale-like invitation to it. But it also made me think:
"Magical realism?" True, it takes some imagination to see beyond surfaces or below them, but doesn't magic lie in what is not magical at all? What imaginative world is revealed when the onlooker gets 'beyond' or 'below' the appearances? It may take some effort to see beyond the tree's bark, but once having done that, what have you done? Isn't this a failure of imagination?
And "Nature's hidden identity?" What, exactly could be hidden in Nature? If you found what was 'hidden' or had it revealed to you, would that suffice or be true? Sure, it might be satisfying or elevating or horrifying, but after that...?
Imagination is defined by an internet dictionary this way:
▸ noun: the formation of a mental image of something that is not perceived as real and is not present to the senses ("Popular imagination created a world of demons")
▸ noun: the ability to form mental images of things or events ("He could still hear her in his imagination")
▸ noun: the ability to deal resourcefully with unusual problems
I'm not trying to disdain or somehow debunk imagination. Hell, I thrive on it and have done so for much of my life. Imagination has led me to roll around in delight and to find the horrors of hell. I look into a friend's face, listen to his or her words and ... well, I imagine I am nearer the hidden identity of our conversation or connection. It's magical stuff, everyday stuff, ennobling and degrading stuff.
Imaginatively speaking, we might say a (wo)man searches for god or peace or relief and yet if those goals were in hand, what, precisely would s/he hold? Would the magic any longer be magic? Would the hidden any longer be hidden ... or revealed either, for that matter?
Sometimes we use the phrases, "lack of imagination" or "over-active imagination." Both suggest a failure of some kind ... too little or too much of what can be a useful tool. But what ARE the uses of that tool? If we use a tool, something good may result. But if the tool uses us, we are left feeling pretty foolish ... and for good reason.
Outside the house here, my car is parked in the driveway. I can see that the spring birds have crapped on it, so the secret of spring unravels imaginatively before my eyes. I can imagine that car taking me to the supermarket or downtown for a walk, but all the time, whatever my imaginative abilities ... it's just a car. And what is a car -- what is it really -- before I sic my imagination on it?
If you had your heart's desire, what would you have?
If you escaped your worst nightmare, what would you have?
Without applying that old friend imagination ... seriously, for once ... what would it be like?
A couple of days back, I emailed a Christian monastery to ask: If the purpose of monastic life may be roughly described as the search for God, what provision does the monastery make for those who find Him?
But the fact that I asked this question of a monastery is not so important. Everyone lives in their own imaginative monasteries, searching for what might roughly be called God. It's not important what the monastery may say in response to such a question. What is important is what you say or I do.
And it's funny: If you answer such a question, it's too imaginative by half. And if you can't answer, it's too upsetting for words.
Where the good tool called imagination is replaced in the tool box, even for just a nanosecond ... doesn't this allow things to come into what others may call a 'magical' focus, a 'mysterious' understanding, a 'secret' revelation?
It's not a matter of defeat or victory ... it's just birds crapping on the car.
How's that for imaginative crap?