A thought just arose that I think needs addressing. If all is imaginary, how can we account for the excess? How can we account for change? Difference? Plenitude? The experience of the beyond?
For Sartre, Husserl, and the phenomenological legacy, there is a problem. If it is the case that the image (and the imagination) is impoverished (it gives nothing, teaches nothing) then imagination is necessarily limited. It is finite. The only way there can be depth to the world is through perception’s encounter with an infinite given. This is what Husserl, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, and more recently Edward Casey all suggest: there is a depth to the world, to objects of consciousness, but only in perception. This depth is due to the vastness of the perceived objects. Imagination, by contrast, is simply a self-entertaining operation. And as such, a limited operation in that imagining is purely self-referential.
In contradistinction to this view, John Sallis wants to truly take us ‘to the things themselves’. He criticizes Husserl et al for their subordination of the imagination (even though thinkers like Sartre might escape this criticism from within a certain reading… something for another discussion). Ultimately, according to Sallis, phenomenology, like the classical schemas, subordinates the imagination, and thus the ‘sensible’, under the intelligible/rational (and he uses ‘sensible’ in the Romantic sense). So, in response to this, what Sallis proposes is that we return to ‘nature’. More specifically, we must return to the ‘elemental’ – namely the earth and the sky. In a sort of Nietzschean inversion of the classical schema, Sallis claims that only by affirming the earth and the sensible can we truly understand the ‘force of imagination’, as the elemental draws us into it, declaring its beauty, its truth, and its infinite mystery and depth (there’s also a large Heideggarian influence here: veiling/unveiling of truth). So, with a sort of pre-Socratic Romanticism, Sallis hopes that a turn to the untouched and unspoiled elemental will allow for the force of imagination to be unleashed.
While I appreciate Sallis’ tendency to give primacy to the imagination, my primary disagreement is with the idea of nature altogether. If, as I’ve suggested before, all is imaginary, then the idea of the unspoiled, untouched elemental is itself a fiction. All is imaginary. And as such all is artificial. There is no such thing as ‘nature’ (at least not in the technical, philosophical sense). However, there seems to be a problem: if Sallis derives excess from the depth of the elemental, how can I account for it according to the imaginary? Simply stated, excess derives from the indefinite and indeterminate possibilities of a relational ontology. That is, excess is the very product of the contingency of the relation of forces within any given system. This affective interplay of forces is therefore the motor that drives the imaginary. Affect is thus the first point of contact between any set of structural entities. ‘In itself’ it is not ‘known’. It is only ever known after it has been incorporated into the imagination. But it is experienced. It has effect (by nature). It serves as the ‘material’ out of which the imagination is able to create, as the latter is jolted by its continual encounter with it. Then projecting forward the imagination continually rearranges the affective landscape, which thus introduces an entire new set of indefinite and indeterminate possibilities. One implication of this is that any given state of affairs, or any given structural relation, is contingent – it could be otherwise, or could have been otherwise, and is continually becoming otherwise… and even paradoxically is simultaneously both what it is and what it is not, depending on the vantage from which it is assessed. It also implies that novelty (in the Deleuzian sense) is ubiquitous. However, this universal novelty is never experienced as such. It is only ever ‘known’ post facto – and thus only ever speculative.
This formulation seems to skirt the problem of the transcendent (and its product: anxiety) that I mentioned in the previous post, while also giving an account of the excess of Life from within a thoroughly immanent transcendental theory of imagination.
Some problems remain however: if there is no distinction between real and imaginary, how can I explain the apparent split between affect and the imagination? is this not just another dualism? can affect be thought of as imaginary? if so, in what way(s)? and if this is the case, how can I defend myself against the charge of anthropocentrism? is affective experience ‘felt’? if so, is this feeling then merely a moment of the ‘transcendental unity of [imagination]’? if not, what does it mean to experience affect? is experience an appropriate designation?
These are just some of the problems that I see arising, and that at the moment I can’t fully address. I think I have some germinating ideas, but I’ll have to work some of them out before trying to put them into a coherent piece just yet…
One of the ways to possibly resolve the apparent separation between affect and imagination is to show how they are really just two different modes of the same process. That is, affect and imagination are different only in degree, with imagination being a sort of folded back complex operation of affectivity. I think this would require me to develop both a variegating inflationary account of affectivity and a deflationary account of cognition; a sort of panpsychist enfolding in which structural entities (i.e. any given relational thing, system, or set of systems) continually make connections with others, thereby creating augmented moments (or ‘forms’) of relative stability and complexity (with the hope being that human consciousness, reflective/meta/linguistic consciousness, would come to be seen as that continually arising moment of becoming that is defined by the transcendental imagination).