I love articles that are challenging to fully comprehend, that stretch my intellect, and yet which are, at last, something I can comprehend, unlike many articles on physics, astronomy, philosophy, and mathematics. I also enjoy articles which are written in such a fashion that the language of the article, apart from the substance, is nicely crafted. I also love articles whose subject matter is enjoyable expands my store of knowledge and understanding. For these reasons I found the following article by Eva Brann particularly satisfying. And, the subject, imagination, is one which I had never really considered very much — certainly not at the depth developed in this article by Ms. Brann. It appeared at: theimaginativeconservative.org as: On the Imagination. This essay was originally published in The St. John’s College Review (Volume 29, No. 4, 1978). I hope you will enjoy it. RMF
On the Imagination
by Eva Brann
The imagination invests the world with that richness and resonance which makes it an attractive dwelling for the intellect. But the imagination is indispensable to action as well. For the real world is worth our exertion only when the visionary imagination sets the scene for action…
Tonight I shall commit the deliberate indiscretion of trying to say what may be, all in all, unsayable. Let me, therefore, begin with a little disquisition on ineffability.
First, there often exists an insuperable inner resistance to speech. We may declare something to be unspeakably terrible, or unmentionably shameful, or, again, unutterably beautiful or inexpressibly deep. We do not mean that we have made a laborious effort to find the right words and have failed, but rather that we do not want to speak, that we do not want to rekindle or precipitate, tarnish or dissipate, amplify or diminish our inner experience by exposure. (Of course, there is also the trivial reluctance to find language, expressed in the routine adjectives “incredible” or “unbelievable” or “fantastic,” which stems from mere indolence.)
“Figures in a Hudson River Landscape”
by Albert Bierstadt
Second, and at the other extreme, it is conceivable that, as the very consequence of the most faithful and methodical pursuit of speech, it may come to its own end. For by speaking thoughtfully and searchingly it may be possible to talk oneself, as it were, to the very edge of the realm which speech intends, there to confront immediately that which speech is about—whereupon there would be only the silent passage into being.
Third, the outer world, in its multifariousness, may outstrip speech, which is, for all its copiousness, inadequate to the infinity of appearances. Speech not only expresses and searches, it also describes, weaving itself around things in their inexhaustible variety and detail and failing for lack of world enough and time. For we live, as one of Pascal’s Thoughts observes (I, 72), in a double infinity between the minute and the enormous, which makes our researches endless and our speech incomplete. I might add that the bulkiness of the most characteristic modern novels is the consequence of a strenuous effort to master the appearances in words.
Fourth, it is barely possible that there are experiences which are inherently private, ineradicably internal, ultimately unique, and hence incommunicable.
And fifth and finally, I come to the kind of ineffability with which my discourse tonight may be afflicted. There may be a realm which solicits speech but never yields to it, not by reason of being itself the object of speech or by being affected with infinity, but because it is the other of what is sayable, that which always absconds from speech. It is what Valery intends when he says:
The beautiful perhaps demands the servile imitation of that which is indefinable in things. Continue reading