When Memory Rubs Up Against Imagination

[Video: a multimedia installation called Memory Lane, by artists Félix Luque and Iñigo Bilbao. You can read more about the installation here. But — vis-à-vis this post — I was most struck by this portion of the description (emphasis added): “The installation forms in this way a coherent unit: sand rock and landscape… are two aspects of the same investigation on memory and space, on [the] perception of reality and on the human capacity of generating fiction, either by means of a simple child’s game or of a complex technological process.”]

From whiskey river:

If only we could listen more carefully, look more closely… Someday something will happen, the inner reality will stand revealed. At the same time I realize that this sense of mystery, of secrets dwelling in these streets, in this park, is fleeting and hard to defend. If someone were to ask me ironically, “Mr. Zagajewski, what actual mystery do you have in mind?,” I’d be hard-pressed to answer. I also know that there are people, some of them highly intelligent, who can never be brought to acknowledge the postulate of a mystery hidden in a city, or a park, or a quiet street at dusk. No, they’d say, everything can be checked and measured, so and so many bird species make their home in the park, including two subspecies of woodpeckers, along with twelve squirrels, maybe two martens, and five bums. The policemen on duty might easily survey the park and write up an unbiased report conclusively proving that no secrets had been unearthed.

(Adam Zagajewski [source])

and (second stanza):

The Nail

Some dictator or other had gone into exile, and now reports were coming about his regime,
the usual crimes, torture, false imprisonment, cruelty and corruption, but then a detail:
that the way his henchmen had disposed of enemies was by hammering nails into their skulls.
Horror, then, what mind does after horror, after that first feeling that you’ll never catch your breath,
mind imagines—how not be annihilated by it?—the preliminary tap, feels it in the tendons of the hand,
feels the way you do with your nail when you’re fixing something, making something, shelves, a bed;
the first light tap to set the slant, and then the slightly harder tap, to em-bed the tip a little more…

No, no more: this should be happening in myth, in stone, or paint, not in reality, not here;
it should be an emblem of itself, not itself, something that would mean, not really have to happen,
something to go out, expand in implication from that unmoved mass of matter in the breast;
as in the image of an anguished face, in grief for us, not us as us, us as in a myth, a moral tale,
a way to tell the truth that grief is limitless, a way to tell us we must always understand
it’s we who do such things, we who set the slant, embed the tip, lift the sledge and drive the nail,
drive the nail which is the axis upon which turns the brutal human world upon the world.

(C. K. Williams [source])

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Reimagining the World

'Imagination' (one of a series), by Inara Pey on Flickr

[Image: “Imagination,” one of a series posted on Flickr by Inara Pey. (Click image for full-size original.) The images in this set are all digital creations — scenes from the Second Life alternate-universe “game”/virtual world. See Pey’s blog post about it for more information. Image used under a Creative Commons license.]

From whiskey river:

Imagination can so easily be trapped by the wish to escape painful facts and unbearable conclusions. The New Age idea that one can wish oneself out of any circumstance, disease, or bad fortune is not only sadly disrespectful toward suffering, it is also, in the end, dangerous if escape replaces awareness.

At the same time, the act of seeing changes those who see. This is perhaps most clear with self-perception. By my perceptions of who I am or what I feel, not only do I re-create my idea of who I am but I also change myself. Perception is not simply a reflection of reality but a powerful element of reality. Anyone who meditates has had this experience: Observing the activities of the mind changes the mind until, bit by bit, observation creates great changes in the soul. And the effect is the same when the act of perception is collective. A change in public perception will change the public. This is why acts of imagination are so important.

Like artistic and literary movements, social movements are driven by imagination. I am not speaking here only of the songs and poems and paintings that have always been part of movements for political and social change, but of the movements themselves, their political ideas and forms of protest. Every important social movement reconfigures the world in the imagination. What was obscure comes forward, lies are revealed, memory shaken, new delineations drawn over the old maps: it is from this new way of seeing the present that hope for the future emerges.

(Susan Griffin [source])


Love brings something inside you to life. Perhaps it is just the full dimensionality of your own capacity to feel that returns. In this state you think no impediment can be large enough to interrupt your passion. The feeling spills beyond the object of your love to color the whole world. The mood is not unlike the mood of revolutionaries in the first blush of victory, at the dawn of hope. Anything seems possible.

(Susan Griffin [source])


Uley, Glos

The moonlight is suddenly large:
a brightness on the fields that only shows
when this house dims
and something clearer rises
through the parish I know by heart, bricks and glass, the dead
immersed in stone,
subtle erasures, siftings of blood and bone,
as if this was the story of a place
that I could tell without impediment:
first thought, then form, a drift of native souls
scattered across the land like seed or snow,
ordered and lost; a sieve of consciousness
the making of this commonplace domain:
respected borders, marriages and births,
the giving up and taking on of names.

(John Burnside [source])

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What You Think, What You Know, What You Can and Can’t Have

[Longer trailer for The NeverEnding Story (1981); you can see the whole film on YouTube, if you’d like, broken up into nine or ten parts]

From whiskey river:

I see human beings as a self-regulating system that wants us to discover our own nature. Our imagination, our deep mind, so to speak, wants to help us to do this. In part, that’s why it gives us the thoughts and feelings and associations it does. That’s why we dream what we dream and “think up” the imagery that comes to us. When we take all of this seriously, when we use it, that is, and are willing to risk releasing our tight grip on ourselves by writing what we don’t yet know, to paraphrase Paul Klee, we demonstrate to our own imagination that we can be trusted with its gifts. Of course, our imagination likes this. It says, “Hey. She’s serious. Let’s give her more.”

But when we turn our back on this powerful inclination toward completion, we risk losing contact with the gift-giving nature of the imagination. We risk damaging the relationship we’ve developed. Think of it as a relationship to “the muse,” if you will. As the poet Stuart Perkoff wrote in regard to abusing the gifts of the muse, “Be careful. It’s hers. She’ll take it back.”

(Peter Levitt, ZinkZine, Fall 2003 [source])


It is important to have a secret, a premonition of things unknown. It fills life with something impersonal, a numinosum. [*] A man who has never experienced that has missed something important. He must sense that he lives in a world which in some respects is mysterious; that things happen and can be experienced which remain inexplicable; that not everything which happens can be anticipated. The unexpected and the incredible belong in this world. Only then is life whole. For me the world has from the beginning been infinite and ungraspable.

(Carl Jung [source])

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Attach Imagination to Mouth. Turn Ignition. GO.

When my niece was a couple-three years old, she went through this engaging stretch of weeks, maybe months, during which she improvised neverending stories. For some reason these tended to involve creatures like the Frankenstein monster, Dracula, and so on. (That may have been attributable to my sister’s macabre sensibilities.)

For instance, a story (told, and told, and told… from the back seat of a car) might go something like this:

Once upon a time Frankenstein was walking through the woods AND THEN it started to rain AND THEN Dracula flew down and got Frankenstein AND THEN Dracula and Frankenstein went to a party and monsters were all there AND THEN the sun came out and it was like Sesame Street…

And so on, and on, and on, all the AND THENs providing the transitional links between hundreds of what might otherwise seem, to my unimaginative adult mind, to be discontinuous stories. (They also, and perhaps by unconscious intent, made the plot as a whole uninterruptible.)

I loved that.

This urge to free-associate stories seems a common phase which kids go through — not all kids, but many of them. Should you need evidence I offer, first, this brief and enormously popular (over nine million views and counting!) video from earlier this year: a three-year-old little girl summarizes the plot of Star Wars, Episode IV (this was the original film in the franchise, remember, first released in 1977 simply as Star Wars).

More recently, along came the next one — likewise destined for online-video classic status. (I encountered it the other day, among the weekly 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks entries.) The monologue (a little over four minutes long) is in French, but the clip also includes English subtitles. Some of the characters will be familiar (vaguely) to anyone who’s been around little kids in recent decades. But as far as I know the plot is based on nothing at all other than what emerged, spontaneously and moment-by-moment, from the storyteller’s mind.

Knock me over with a feather. Plucked from the wings of a hippopotamus — in HEAVEN.

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Writing on Purpose

1st edition: The Man Who Folded HimselfIn the summer of 1990, I took my first steps away from a soft-cubicled work day. I had some money available, and my employer at the time offered an extended-leave-without-pay benefit that I decided would fit me just fine for a year, anyhow. I was desperate, see, to learn if I really could write — not just for my eyes and my family’s and friends’, but for the eyes of complete strangers.

(There was a secondary purpose, too — what I once described as my potatoes-in-a-colander purpose. I may write about that later. Not now.)

As I’ve written before, by then I’d been subscribing to the Compuserve Information Service, or CIS, for a couple years. There I’d “met” people from all across the country, especially writerly sorts of people. A lot of them gave me a lot of good ideas where I might want to live during my year’s experiment.

I wasn’t familiar with many of these places (sheltered life to that point, dontcha know: 40 years in New Jersey, and that was about it). So I opted to take a week or two simply to visit the ones that seemed most interesting. And then I’d decide.

At the top of the list was a small city in Oregon. I didn’t move there, as it happened. But I figured as long as I was going to be on the west coast, I might as well make a real trip of it. Happily, another of my CIS acquaintances would be running a weekend writing workshop in southern California, at the very start of the trip.

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