Exhausted Imagination?

Резюме, ключови думи и биография:

Докладът се занимава с въпроса изчерпва ли се – съотв. изчерпано ли е – въображението днес? Ако въображението е отнасяне към непредопределеното като непредвидимо, при което то предхожда себе си в образите, които (си) дава, тогава формите на въобразеното не могат да са предзададени. Нито субективните условия на опита за времето. (С намигане към Лиотар е разгледан парадоксът на формулировката “въображението днес”, доколкото въображението е онова, което конституира “днес”, “сега” като такива.) Ако има проблем, той би идвал от новите (?) форми на настояще, на актуалност, на онова, което се въобразява като натиск на действителното. Основната теза на доклада е, че въображението днес съвсем не е изчерпано, напротив, то е свръхактивно. Дори то може би никога не е било по-изпълнено и работещо. Ала трябва да бъдат развременени формите (форми на времето, на актуалното), в които то се самоосъществява. Нужно е отваряне към трансформиращи нови овременявания. Това би могло да стане, ако въображението временно спре, бъде изпразнено в едно празно обръщане към себе си, при което да тематизира самата непредопределеност на опита, който носи.

Ключови думи: въображение, изчерпване, време, Ришир, Дерида, настояще, актуалност, невъзможност

Keywords: imagination, exhaustion, time, Marc Richir, Jacques Derrida, present day, actuality, impossibility

Дарин Тенев е доктор по теория на литературата, преподава в СУ „Св. Климент Охридски”. Директор е на Института за социални критически изследвания към ПУ „Паисий Хилендарски”. Има интереси в областта на литературната теория, съвременната философия и модернистичната литература. Публикувал е Фикция и образ. Модели (Пловдив, 2012) и Отклонения. Опити върху Жак Дерида (София, 2013).


Exhausted Imagination?


Directing and premeditating every move
That creates the act of manipulation
Mastering the art of deception.
That increases your sick addiction
It’s an overactive imagination
That enslaves your empty shell

Chuck Shuldiner, “Overactive Imagination”


What I want to present before you today in the form of a hypothesis is rather simple. I will state this hypothesis twice – at the beginning and at the end of my paper in an attempt to develop what is first exposed and then to lead it to a recapitulation; thus giving this paper, as it were, the form of a fugue. I hope the counterpoints to the main theme will become evident enough.

It may seem today that imagination is exhausted, depleted, emptied out. It may seem that in an age of aggressive marketing, shocking advertisements, amidst the tides of visual and verbal information there is no room left for it, no room for the imagination – its possibilities are drained out and not only because it is tired but also because there is no work for it, everything has been done for it in advance and there is no use of imagination in the present. Two scenarios that overlap: the imagination of to-day is either too tired (implying a possible fatigue of imagination), or too lazy and impotent (implying a possible sloth of imagination). It may seem that there is no possibility for imagination today. But here is my hypothesis: imagination, imagination today, is neither impotent, nor exhausted; on the contrary, it is more active than ever, it is overactive. (I guess that in a certain way that is all I want to say.)

It is not a claim to be proven, it will be rather, as I said, a theme, a motive to be developed.

The starting point of the development is an axiom: Imagination is temporalizing. Temporalization is an act of imagination. Our experience of time is made possible by, and is based on, the work of imagination.

This axiom has a phenomenological background. In Husserl there is a distinction between Phantasie and Bildbewusstsein (or Einbildung), Fantasy and Image-consciousness. Whereas the image-consciousness (imagination in the strict, or rather restricted sense) deals with images and with the perceptual data even when the perceived thing is not present (as in the case of recollection and day-dreaming), fantasy does not have an object per se. Fantasy is pure modification. As a pure modification, it is not dependant on a temporalization based on the present. Husserl, it seems, did not perceive the radical consequences of this distinction, but recently Marc Richir has taken it up and built on its basis a new foundation for phenomenology. According to Richir, the temporalization proper to Fantasy cannot be derived from perception and the present moment it presupposes. Richir writes: “the temporalization of phantasia is a temporalization in presence without assignable present […], a temporalization where the apparitions of phantasia appear and disappear originally as retentions and protentions, but as retentions and protentions not of a living present, and that are distributed originally in presence itself, in other words that fall within presence, a presence to be understood therefore as a phase – not anymore a phase of a flowing present as in Husserl but phase in which time is created [se fait] without an assignable present (except by secondary abstraction) as time of presence and of the at-the-same-time.”1 To think of such an intermittent presence that disrupts the continual flow of time as it is described by Husserl would mean to conceive Phantasie as prior to consciousness and therefore to redefine the very status of the transcendental subject (Richir proposes an “asubjective phenomenology”) and the phenomenon (discussing the phenomenalization of the phenomena, Richir speaks of a “phenomenological blink [clignotement phénoménologique]”, the blinking of the phenomena between their apparition and disparition2 ). The foundational operations of imagination understood as Phantasia are displaced and transposed only afterwards on the level, secondary and derived, of image-consciousness. This is labeled by Richir an architectonic transposition of fantasy to the image of an object (and it is this transposition that intentionally turns the object in a pure possibility of the imagination). What is even more important for the purposes of the present paper is that Phantasie is understood here as the architectonic register or basis (Funadment) for the foundation (Fundierung) of the different types of institutions (Stiftungen)3, and it is also the basis (Fundament) that underlies the “uniform and continuous temporalzation in the present” and opens it to “the polymorphous temporalization in presence without an assignable present, that is to say to the temporalization of (non intentional) sense that makes itself up [se faisant] and brings into play phantasiai.4

I will pursue no further the thought of Marc Richir (nor will I undertake here the task of a critical reading of those parts of Richir’s texts that). Before moving to the other inspiration behind the present paper, I will like to resume and stress two of the points that seem to me of extreme importance: 1. Imagination (understood as Phantasie) is what opens every experience of the present to the possibility of a polymorphous temporalization irreducible to a pre-given form. 2. As a basis or foundation (Fundament) of the present (and the internal time consciousness in general) imagination creates time as simultaneously double, as “at the same time” (or what was called in Aristotle “ama”).

Even more visibly than Husserl’s phenomenology and Richir’s developments, behind my axiom looms the shadow of Heidegger and his Kantbuch. In the famous §32 of Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics it is stated clearly that “time as pure intuition arises [entspringt] from the transcendental imagination.”5 As with Husserl, however, it is not so much Heidegger himself that I will refer to but rather one of his most ingenious readers, namely Jacques Derrida. With Heidegger, the transcendental imagination is conceived indeed as the abyssal ground of temporalization. The threefold synthesis of imagination that forms time however, as temporal in itself is time-forming – in a certain sense – in the predetermined form of the three extases of time known from Sein und Zeit.6 And as in SZ it is the third synthesis or the extasis of the future that comes first and “governs the other two”7 (of pure apprehension, namely extasis of the present; and of pure reproduction, namely extasis of the past). The future here is simultaneously a holder of possibilities and a guardian of pure identification. It takes no more than a step (the step from §33 to §34) to connect the pure identification to the “essence of selfhood”: time as pure self-affection provides “the transcendental ground-structure [Urstruktur]” of the self8. Seen in this way self-affection as if forecloses the possibility that comes from the other9, the possibility that affects the self from the outside. (Needless to say, this account is all too rough and oversimplifying. Yet even though it does not do justice to some inherent possibilities in Heidegger’s discourse, I believe that as a whole it is not erroneous.)

Derrida in his “Ousia and Gramme” criticizes Heidegger’s dismissal of Aristotle’s and Hegel’s thought as representative of the vulgar conception of time, taking up Aristotle’s aporetic “ama” (“at the same time”, “simultaneously”). The aporia of the “now” is that one has (to think of) two moments at the same time. And this is madness, as Derrida will say elsewhere. How this “at the same time” works? It splits the present, making it non-identical with itself. In other words, the structure of “at the same time” introduces the other in the same. But it should be noted, it introduces the other as impossibility, and it is impossibility that grounds time10. Then not only every auto-affection will be at the same time also hetero-affection, auto-hetero-affection, but also there would not have been an original form, pre-given and pre-determined form of time. (Hence the specific meaning of the derridean “to come [à-venir]” as what holds any temporality, any extasis of time open to the impossible inscribed in it.) Temporalization will be founded on impossibility (opposed no longer to possibility). Imagination will be always an imagination of an other time, “imagination of an autre temps11, that is probably not yet (or no longer) possible. Imagination temporalizes in a non-predetermined way.

On the basis of the above-mentioned axiom I can now start developing the main theme.  First, although I spoke of a possible scenario where imagination is seen as weary or lazy, or lazy and weary at the same time, imagination should not be all too easily personified (it is not something that gets tired). What is more, it should not be seen simply as a subjective faculty, nor as a kind of consciousness, for to a certain extent it is not constituted but constitutive of the subject and therefore not subjectable to the subject’s mastery. Therefore, the fatigue of imagination here can be no other than the fatigue of the subject. The expression “fatigue of imagination” will be at the same time a prosopopeia and a metalepsis.

The exhausted imagination is exhausted not in the sense of weariness, if it is exhausted it will be in the sense that it has exhausted its own possibilities, that it is unable to operate anymore, that it is impotent. The exhaustion is exhaustion of possibilities. Does this contradict the hypothesis that today imagination is overactive? The answer might seem to be positive, for an overactive imagination will not be devoid of possibility, on the contrary, it will be full of possibilities, potent and powerful.

Let us go back to the impossible. Imagination is a relation to the impossible.

A. That imagination is a relation to the impossible would mean that it is not entirely on the part of the subject. (One can even dare to say that it should be placed on the part of the image but this position would need explications that cannot be proposed here.) Imagination is what in the subject opens the subject to what is outside; it inscribes the other. Hence its ambivalence. On the one hand, it might seem that it is just another faculty, be it transcendental and the most important of all transcendental faculties. As a faculty it will be mastered by the subject and in its turn a tool of domination for the subject. The power it gives would seem comparable to that of a god, etc. On the other hand, it is a threat to the subject, it exceeds the subject, it opens the subject to what she/ he could not have known or experienced. Mastery then would appear to be traversed by non-mastery. From the side of mastery, mastery and non-mastery would form an opposition; from the side of non-mastery, mastery is internally divided by non-mastery that makes it possible and impossible at the same time.

B1. The impossible is not just a way to name what is yet indeterminate because of the want of more information. The impossible is indeterminable, non-predeterminable. Yet, with Bataille, Lacan or Derrida, the impossible is what happens. Impossibility is a rupture, a hiatus, in ontology and the non-predetermined should be conceived on an ontological level. Imagination as a relation to the impossible reveals the ontological rupture or hiatus and at the same time sutures and saturates the hiatus, veiling it and with it the impossible that is left outside the totality of Being. And while the first gesture (though there are not two gestures, it is one and the same, ambivalent and initially double act) lets the other in, the second conceals the fact and pretends to foreclose the other. (It is because of this that the discourses on imagination from Plato and Aristotle through Kant and the Romantic Imagination to Husserl, Sartre and beyond, seem to fall in the trap of the purely subjective, somewhat solipsistic conception of imagination.)

B2. Imagination presents the non-predetermined as unforeseeable and unpredictable. Thus it functions as an operator or a switch that translates and transposes an ontological problematic into an epistemological one. In this way the question about the non-predetermined, the indeterminable (that contemporary physics and biology are confronted with in a critical way) is translated in a question about the want of information, the lack of evidence, etc. The non-predetermined appears as unforeseeable and unpredictable, re-introducing in a new constellation the couple mastery/ non-mastery where the non-determinate seems forever determinable: a strange figure of anticipated mastery.

(C. Imagination is “in itself” to a certain extent indeterminate and indeterminable. It is on the one hand amorphous or proteiform, on the other, multiple. There is no Imagination as such, there is not one imagination. And we often do not recognize it. I won’t develop this line of thought here.)

If imagination is fundamentally a relation to the impossible, it is impossibility that serves as a source of imagination, and not the possible. Pure possibility in imagination is based on the impossible. Therefore, the exhaustion of imagination’s own possibilities cannot be the end but only the beginning, the activation of imagination. The less the possibilities, the more active imagination becomes.

So the question arises: If imagination is always relating to what is indeterminable, unforeseeable and unpredictable; if imagination’s exhaustion cannot be but a powerful trigger for its operation, why is it that when we speak of exhaustion and depletion of imagination today there is the impression of futility, of non-use and impotency of imagination? If imagination today is overactive, why would and how could it seem so exhausted? (Is it, could it be only because of the metalepsis of the subject? In other words, because of the fatigue of the subject?)

“Imagination today” would be a somewhat misleading expression if it is read as presupposing that imagination is simply something in time. As if imagination can be just picked up at certain moments in time, for example today, yesterday, tomorrow (“Imagination tomorrow” would have been also a nice title for a conference) and its changes traced back or forward through the history that governs it. Imagination is by its proteiform nature temporal but it is through imagination that time temporalizes itself in different non-pregiven forms. The form in which we are experiencing something as “to-day”, is a product of imagination, it is formed, deformed, transformed by the imagination. There is no simple history of imagination. Yet imagination is not without outside, it is always in history, albeit history is not independent from its work. Rather than pure interiority, it is exterior through and through. In the way it affects itself, its own self, with the forms it creates in introducing the indeterminable, it opens, and in the first place it opens itself, to what is other, different, formless, impossible. It inhabits the forms it generates, but at the same time haunts them as an uninvited ghost, a threat.

As it is activated today (this is not a precise way to put it12) imagination temporalizes a particular form of the present, a specific form of “today” and “now”. It is not the actual present that unilaterally defines imagination. Our experience of the present is a result of the work of imagination. The present has a particular historical form generated through imagination.

But what is the present? What is the present today (you can easily discern where our paradox lies)? What is the present that creates the illusion of exhausted imagination? I guess this present, our present, the present today, can be – and has been – adequately described as dominated by “the reason of urgency”, to use an ingenious formulation by Milena Yakimova13. It is urgent to do this or that, one has to hurry; there are deadlines and projects, and no time, no time to wait and wonder (“няма време за помайване”). A year ago Dimitar Vatsov charting what is particular about the present today, introduced the concept of reactive capitalism to designate the system of maintenance of the urgent need for immediate reaction to any stimulus where haste and speed count as correctness. The reactive capitalism is a system of constant acceleration whose temporal form is the forced time demanding submission.14.

If my initial hypothesis is at least partially true, then the constant acceleration and the feeling of urgency defining our day could be seen as a reason for the overactive character of imagination today. Imagination has to operate faster and faster, urgently here and now, it has to react immediately to the ever new, it has to orient itself with no delay amidst the tides of information, etc. The paradox lies in the fact that this form of the present, this particular and rather peculiar experience of time, enslaving and exhausting imagination, making it at the same time more active than ever, this form of the present is itself a product of imagination. As it is activated today imagination temporalizes a particular form of present that subjugates it, subjecting it to the actual urgency of the actual present, to the pressure of the actual.15. One can guess that it is this particular form of temporalization that lets imagination be appropriated by the market (in the form of image-making, advertisements, marketing strategies, capitalization of the possible, insurances of the charisma, etc.)16.

Imagination today is overactive but this fact is doomed to be neglected as long as the forms of temporalization maintain the reason of urgency that imagination, as it were, imposes upon itself, subjugating itself to the monster it has created. It is overactive imagination that enslaves itself in the empty form (emptied out, exhausted) it has given itself.

The problem or rather the task before the imagination today is not its exhaustion but this specific temporal form of urgency and acceleration. The pressure of the actual is a particular form of temporalization in that it leaves as if no room for the imagination notwithstanding the fact that imagination becomes overactive precisely in maintaining this form of urgency. The task therefore is to generate new forms of time and new forms of the present in particular.

And with this I come to the recapitulation of the present paper.

The task of creating new forms should be seen on the one hand as an attempt to detemporalize, in the sense of Deyan Deyanov17, the present temporalizations or, if we use Eugen Fink’s term, to depresentify the present.18. This would mean resistance, an effort to resist the dominant forms of temporalization. On the other hand, it means affirming different experiences of time, incongruent with the reason of urgency and the pressure of the actual. There is no time, we are under the pressure of the forced time, so I will but enumerate several possible paths to be taken.

1. The first would be the thematization of the constant alteration, the transforming moves of imagination even within the seemingly fixed forms of the forced time. Within the limits of the urgency and need for acceleration there are small discrepancies, transitions, changes, disruptions that allow for everyday life tactics. The possibility for a rethinking of the uses of free time and for everyday tactics was recently investigated by Todor Hristov19.

2. Second, there is the slow time of the theoretical reason, which brings its own rhythm often incompatible with the forced laws of the reactive capitalism. This line of thought was developed by Milena Yakimova20.

3. Third, reflexivity would play an important role in the detemporalization and depresentification while at the same time introducing a complex temporal constellation. By reflexivity I mean here imagination that overtly and openly turns to itself revealing in this way the impossible as its source and the other as always already inscribed in the structures of the same (imagination).

4. Forth, there is the crucial role played by incomprehensibility. There is no incomprehensibility as such, in an abstract and absolute way; it is always relative. And yet, being always concrete, it ineluctably disrupts the habits of temporalization and opens toward the non-predetermined in a non-predetermined way. Here one should place some of the contemporary artistic practices, but also literature (classic, modern, contemporary), and last but not least, Theory, or what has come to be known under this strange name with a capital “T”, including Nietzsche, Freud, Benjamin, Bataille, Adorno, Deleuze, Lyotard, Lacan, Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Foucault, Derrida, Agamben, Badiou, etc. Incomprehensibility is important today, it is an urgent task in order to confront the order of urgency. What was labeled incomprehensibility can be expressed otherwise. For the role of incomprehensibility is nothing other than the constant, resistant and persistent effort of thought21.

One could ask if there is no contradiction in assigning such a task, if imagination is not just a subjective faculty. One would ask: Who would be the subject, the agent to perform the task? But our mastery over imagination, if it is not altogether an illusion, is able to do just this: to open itself to the point of non-mastery, to the point where we stop being the masters. This is the point where imagination turns to itself, turns upon itself. Imagination turned upon itself, reflexive, thematizing its own formlessness and the transformations it brings about, would not close off on itself, in its fold it will have inscribed the other, the outside, the impossible as a chance for a yet not predetermined form of time.

Imagination today is more active than ever. In its exhaustion it is overactive. And the task is: to use the potential of the overactive imagination. To use this potential where it is most abundant – at its limit, where we can no longer be sure if what we are imagining is still possible, or still impossible. There the overactive imagination becomes an invitation to the yet unthinkable.

  1. 1. Marc Richir, Phénoménologie en esquisse. Nouvelles fondations, Grenoble : Éditions Jérôme Million, 2000, p. 91. []
  2. 2. Ibid., p. 480. Cf. Marc Richir, L’institution de l’idéalité, Beauvais : Association pour la promotion de la Phénoménologie, 2002, p.22. []
  3. 3. Cf. Richir, Phénoménologie en esquisse, p. 457. []
  4. 4.  Richir, L’institution de l’idéalité, p. 19. []
  5. 5. Martin Heidegger, Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, trans. James Churchill, Bloomgton: Indiana University Press, 1965, §32, p. 178. (Martin Heidegger, Kant und das Problem der Metaphisik, Frankfurt am Mein: Vittorio Klosterman, 1991, §32, S. 173.) []
  6. 6. See Heidegger, op.cit., §33. []
  7. 7. Ibid, §33,  p. 191. []
  8. 8. Ibid., §34,  p 196. []
  9. 9. And it is precisely in this way that Aristotle has defined dynamis. []
  10. 10. Jacques Derrida, “Ousia and Gramme”, Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982, pp. 29-67, and esp. pp. 54-56. []
  11. 11. Jacques Derrida, “Tense”, In: The Path Of Archaic Thinking, ed. Kenneth Maly, New York: State Univeristy of new York Press, 1995, p. 64. []
  12. 12. To speak of activation of imagination would reduce imagination to a faculty, a passive receptor that waits exterior stimuli. It is not the case. Imagination may be said to activate itself by itself. Yet even the vocabulary of acts, operations, functions, actualizations and activations, work, could not be very accurate for the act of imagination is a movement within the limits of the possible opening it to what disrupts the regime of the possible. It not only puts in question the possible but deactualizes every actuality. As obscure as such a formulation might sound, I guess that it won’t be too wrong to say that imagination acts in the actual against its actuality (changing it, transforming it, and what is more, repotentializing it) and against the nature of the act itself (thus against itself as so far as it is an act, if it is an act). []
  13. 13. See Милена Якимова, „Бавното време на теоретическия разум”, Социологически проблеми, 1-2/ 2008, с. 119-131. []
  14. 14.  Димитър Вацов, „Упорството на критиката и суверенността”, В: Боян Манчев, Логика на политическото, София: Изток-Запад, 2012, с. 7-31; see esp. с. 10-13. []
  15. 15. The turn to the visual in everyday life (TV shows, advertisements, computer icons, etc.) testifies to this pressure of the actual as long as the images are immediately there. It is not the same with verbal information (not to speak of what in the verbal is not reducible to information). Not only in the spectator the architectonic transposition of the fantasy into image-consciousness is a fact, but the image-consciousness functions in perception (and not in day-dreaming, recollection, and other forms of Vergegenwärtigung) and in the time flow dominated by the present characteristic of perception. Husserl however points the fact that the perceiving of images introduces a conflict in perception and with the perceived image we have a not-now in the now. (I cannot comment here the implicit idealization in Husserl according to which there is only one form of the present, neither the important critique by Richir.) []
  16. 16.  Here I would refer to the inspiring in more than one sense paper by Todor Hristov, “The Economic Dimension of Literary Schools” presented at the conference “The Evasive Object of Literary Theory. The Invisible School” on 30th of November 2012. []
  17. 17.

    Deyan Deyanov… []

  18. 18. Fink speaks of depresentifications [Entgegenwärtigungen] in an early work precisely when treating the problem of the image and Vergegenwärtigung: see Eugen Fink, “Vergegenwärtigung und Bild” (1930), Studien zur Phänomenologie 1930-1939, Den Haag: Martinus Nijhoff, 1966, § 9, pp. 22-26. []
  19. 19. See Тодор Христов, „Индустриализиране на свободата”, Критика и хуманизъм, кн. 34, 4/ 2010,с. 191-198 (esp. c. 197). []
  20. 20. Милена Якимова, op. cit. []
  21. 21. Боян Манчев, Логика на политическото, София: Изток-Запад, 2012, с. 289-291 []

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