“Without drawing I feel myself but half invested with language.”
– Samuel Taylor Coleridge Notebooks 1803
Fascinating insights about Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the nature of imagination were uncovered at Friday’s philosophy workshop at Clare College, Cambridge under the banner ‘S. T. Coleridge: the elusive imagination. Clues and trails.’ Papers were given by Dr. Douglas Hedley, Rev Dr. Malcolm Guite, Dr Huw Williams of Coleg Cymraeg, Prof. John Rogerson (in absentia), and author Graham Davidson of the Coleridge Bulletin. Richard Parry and I talked about engaging public imagination through the Coleridge in Wales Festival; I illustrated the day’s conversations and unravelled some thoughts on the challenging pragmatist-materialist culture within institutions, and shared some 3D mechanisms for modelling words and images which could engage the utilitarian mindset on its own territory.
In his Biographia Literaria Coleridge distinguishes between primary and secondary IMAGINATION. Primary Imagination he defines as a ‘repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM’. Living Power no less. The secondary Imagination is ‘an echo of the former…It dissolves, diffuses, dissipates, in order to re-create’, bringing fixed and dead objects alive. How do these play out in illustration – often seen as secondary creativity – and animation? I’m thinking in the context of art & design teaching and visual facilitation which themselves might be seen as ‘secondary’ conversational acts of imagination. Is hierarchy appropriate?
Douglas Hedley highlighted Coleridge’s ‘De-Synonymising’- making clear distinctions between concepts such as Culture and Civilisation, Reason and Understanding, Imagination and Fancy, with an attention to nuance reminiscent of Calvino’s essay ‘On Exactitude’. While Coleridge sees primary and secondary imagination as living force, FANCY on the other hand ‘has no other counters to play with but fixities and definites.’ Fancy merely rearranges the furniture; nothing of substance changes. ‘Fancy is no other than a mode of Memory emancipated from the order of time and space’ receiving ‘all its materials ready made from the law of association’. It could be argued much illustration slips and slides around in this realm, making ready analogies, noting connections and resemblances in a whimsical way without delving deeper to the world of ideals and unities. Fancy: light from a lava lamp, a moon made of cheese; Imagination: moonlight itself. Cue Beethoven.
Image: Secondary imagination or fancy? – transforming a photo of the Matthew into a ghost ship for the Return of the Ancient Mariner.