25 June 2008

Imagination & Possibility

Imagination is among the cognitive capacities that we have for exploring possibilities; it enables us to operate in the subjunctive mode that is essential to both art and politics. It also stands in unavoidable tension with the common demand that art and politics hew a realist line. We should, on this contrasting view, operate in the indicative mode, attending to what actually is the case rather than to what might be. I think that this tension is crucially important, is less a burden than an opportunity, and that both art and politics are richest when we are trying to discover the bounds or explore the borderlands of the subjunctive and the indicative, the possible and the actual.

At the start of his tome The Man Without Qualities, Austrian novelist Robert Musil, while discussing his protagonist Ulrich, offers the following observation.
To pass freely through open doors, it is necessary to respect the fact that they have solid frames. This principle ... is simply a requisite of the sense of reality. But if there is a sense of reality, and no one will doubt that it has its justification for existing, then there must also be something we can call a sense of possibility.

Whoever has it does not say, for instance: here this or that has happened, will happen, must happen; but he invents: Here this or that might, could, ought to happen. If he is told that something is the way it is, he will think: Well it could just as well be otherwise. So the sense of possibility could be defined outright as the ability to conceive of everything there might be just as well, and to attach no more importance to what is than to what is not. The consequences of so creative a disposition can be remarkable ...
Here Musil is offering a hypothetical. Is what he calls a “sense of possibility” parasitic on the existence something like “the sense of reality?” I actually suspect that the opposite is that case. I cannot defend that claim here. I hope to come back to it at some point. For the moment, I love this Orion advert. The facial expressions and the palpable 'sneakiness' the boys evince bring to mind my own experience as a kid. The scene gives some indication why, temporally at least (as opposed to conceptually), imagination comes first.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love hide and seek, and it kinda reminds me of myself when i see the two guys, excellent photo we got here!

26 June, 2008 06:30  

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