The Romantic Imagination in Action

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The human imagination has been a concept or characteristic which has invoked various speculations, theories, ideologies and philosophies throughout history. It would seem to be the one main characteristic which separates humans –homo-sapiens, from all other species in the world. ‘Imagination', seems to be the source and foundation of human evolution, and the founder of humans as the master species.

Technically speaking ‘imagination' is in general, the power or process of producing mental images and ideas. The term is technically used in psychology for the process of reviving mind percepts of objects formerly given in sense perception.

Although this explanation, reveals that it is basically the recollection of images of previously perceived objects, the term ‘imagination' is mainly used for the process of forming new images in our mind, which have not been previously experienced, or at least the formation of something new, by using a combination of previous experiences.

Thus, it is this ability to form these new ideas, images and thoughts which have raised such interest, and theory in the understanding of the imagination. As stated earlier, the concept of imagination has been a topic of discussion, throughout history and has certainly had a distinctive and pivotal place among the Romantics.

Romanticism which originated in Western Europe during the 18th and early 19th centuries, was an intellectual movement which followed the Enlightenment. This period emphasized the self, creativity, imagination and the value of art. It was a movement that strongly emphasized emotion. It also legitimized ‘individual imagination' as a major authority. Which in turn gave rise to ‘free expression' in art.

With such an emphasis on feelings and imagination many thinkers of this period introduced philosophies and theologies of their own on this topic. Richard Kearney in The Wake of the Imagination, explores the various concepts of imagining from the classical to the modern. Kearney, states that the concept of "imagination" was released from its imprisoned status by thinkers such as Kant, Fichte, and Schelling.

Accordingly Kearney establishes that this was accomplished by demonstrating that the imagination was not a reproductive act, but a ‘production' of human consciousness, that the image was a creative act, and that it was an inner transcendental unity which combined body and soul. Thus, this human power of imagination resulting in autonomy.

Kearney suggests that the modern era marks a dramatic change in the views on imagination. "What most distinguishes the modern philosophies of imagination from their various antecedents is a marked affirmation of the creative power of man." Thus from this it can be deduced that meaning is no longer viewed as a property of some transcendent ‘being' or ‘truth' but rather as a product of the human mind.

Immanuel Kant was one of the first thinkers to rescue imagination from its previous stronghold. Kant stated that "imagination was the primary and indispensable precondition of all knowledge. Nothing could be known about the world unless it was first preformed and transformed by the synthetic power of imagination" Kant attempted to "rehabilitate the validity of objective knowledge by establishing the validity of subjective imagination". In this view imagination ceases to be an imitation of the world and becomes the sine quo non of all knowledge, since it is imagination that in effect mediates between sensations (the empirical) and our understanding of them (the rational).

Kant's philosophy on imagination reversed the ideology that ‘being' was the center of the universe and the mind symbolized the planet revolving around it. In his ‘Copernican Revolution', ‘being' was dethroned from its status of the center of the universe and redefined as a production of the human imagination. "Imagination, thus ceases to be a copy, or a copy of a copy, and assumes the role of ultimate origin"...
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