Lately I’ve been enamored of Thomas Howard. Right now I have a library book, “Chance or the Dance: a Critique of Modern Secularism”, on loan from Saint Anselm College (no surprise that is where the local public library found it). The second chapter addresses imagination, which Howard says infuses all our lives with meaning.
“Imagination is, in a word, the faculty by which we organize the content of our
experience into some form, and thus apprehend it as significant.” He further
describes “two things at work in [imagination]…a synthetic faculty; that is it brings
things together (synthesizes) rather than breaks them apart (analyzes). In the second
place it is an image-making faculty; that is, its tendency is from the abstract toward
the concrete, and not vice versa.
…The imagination…handles things not by boring into them but by casting about for
correspondences from other regions of experience…It takes vague or difficult or
elusive things and seeks a concrete embodiment of what it wants to say about them.”
One example Howard uses is the expression…
“Whew! I felt like a dishrag after that!” we gasp. It is doubtful that our skin felt like
loosely knitted cloth to us, or that we felt soapy. What do we mean, then?
We mean that we felt exhausted, and that it was all very taxing, and that if, for
a moment, you can grant a comparison between a piece of cloth and a human
being, our experience of the situation was, to us, what the dishrag’s experience
of being wrung out is. In other words, by calling upon some other area of familiar
experience, we heighten our appreciation of the experience in question.
The image of the dishrag says simply and immediately what a whole string
of adjectives would have to try to say, and would say less effectively. By getting
an image of what we mean from another realm of experience, we say exactly what
we are trying to say.”
I was reminded of Howard and what he says about imagination when I read John Piper’s Seven Tips for College Students.
Typical Piper, it is succinct and biblical. What I thought was perhaps most helpful though, was the concreteness, “this is what that looks like in real life”, and it is good advice for all Pilgrims.