Realism and Twain

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According to Irving Babbitt, the imagination plays an "all-important role in both literature and life." For Babbitt, society and politics are shaped by the imagination, because it is within the context of the imagination that one’s reason and will inevitably must function. He explains that

man is cut off from immediate contact with anything abiding and therefore worthy to be called real, and condemned to live in an element of fiction or illusion, but he may . . . lay hold with the aid of the imagination on the element of oneness that is inextricably blended with the manifoldness and change and to just that extent may build up a sound model for imitation. One tends to be an individualist with true standards . . . only in so far as one understands the relation between appearance and reality—what the philosophers call the epistemological problem.1 For Babbitt, the development of a sound ethical center involves a degree of imitation and adherence to standards. What Babbitt has in mind is not slavish imitation of artificial external models but the careful building up of sound models for imitation. To accomplish this, one must be solidly anchored in reality and able to glimpse what Babbitt calls "the one in the many." Claes Ryn has said that Babbitt’s solution to the epistemological problem is "to move closer to the truth above all by training the imagination, which is intimately related to the will. This is done negatively by unmasking perversions, . . . positively by discovering and absorbing the visions of the imaginative master-minds."2 For Babbitt and Ryn, the work of artists and writers helps to shape one’s imagination and, hence, one’s will, which in turn further shapes the imagination. The shaping of the imagination may help one move closer to, or further from, truth. Works which move one toward truth are those which are anchored in reality. This does not mean that they flatly and indiscriminately portray a shallow empirical ‘reality,’ but that they possess...
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