We use the word ‘to imagine’ and to ‘image’ frequently and without much thought in our everyday lives. I wonder what we really mean by this word?
If we begin to go deep into this problem, I think that we also begin to see something quite radical and even uncomfortable. I think that imagining is a mental act that ‘takes us out of ourselves’. Or to put it another way, to imagine is to loosen the usual boundaries of our identities and to become more open to other possibilities. So imagining is also a deeply disruptive action. If we seriously engage in imagining something we begin lose ourselves.
Plato seemed to know this when we wrote about the creative process of poets and artists:
“For the poet is a light and winged and holy thing, and there is no invention in him until he has been inspired and is out of his senses, and the mind is no longer in him; when he has not attained to this state, he is powerless and is unable to utter his oracles.” (Plato, Ion)
Today terms like ‘imagination’ and ‘creativity’ are used very easily to motivate people in schools and business and art. Whenever I hear these terms I always try to ‘smell’ if the words retain some of the meaning that Plato talked about.
Another way that we can explore this is to think about ‘surrendering’, as the English music producer and thinker Brian Eno has done. Most of our lives is tightly bound to a sense of control so that we can manage and organize. However, human beings have, since prehistory, also always been drawn to a sense of disintegration and losing of oneself. We also seem to possess a deep desire for a ‘surrender mode’. Humans have done this through music, dance, intoxication, religious practices, revelry and sex. I would say that art has also been closely associated with surrender.
To imagine is also to lose control. It is also, at a profound level, about losing a fixed ‘Being’ and regaining a fluid sense of ‘Becoming’. Through imagining, we begin to re-discover new, mutant subjectivities. It is from this place of vulnerability that art speaks. To paraphrase the French philosophers Deleuze & Guattari, works of art are an activity of rupture and un-framing, that leads to a reinvention of self. And in this reinvention we also fundamentally challenge the power of control as manifested in the nation state, political ideologies and capital.