Singing Reality: The Human/Divine Nexus

One of the most rigorously analytical thinkers in the history of philosophy recognized that poetry was more important than philosophy or history. In the ninth book of his Poetics, Aristotle wrote: “Poetry, therefore, is a more philosophical and a higher thing than history: for poetry tends to express the universal, history the particular.” He was right. Put simply, philosophy and history are constrained by what is, but poetry concerns itself with what may be. Poetry is a product of the imagination—of what may be. 

Almost 2500 years after Aristotle, his insight still stands. Bolivian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa notes in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech that a novelist is one who rejects what is in favor of what may be.

When we look in fiction for what is missing in life, we are saying, with no need to say it or even to know it, that life as it is does not satisfy our thirst for the absolute – the foundation of the human condition – and should be better. We invent fictions in order to live somehow the many lives we would like to lead when we barely have one at our disposal. (“The Nobel Prize in Literature 2010.”)

Gaston Bachelard goes even further, arguing in “Water and Dreams” that the imagination transcends and transforms reality: “Imagination is not, as the etymology suggests, the faculty of forming images of reality; it is the faculty of forming images which go beyond reality, which sing reality.”

The imagination is a universe of possibility that creates, shapes, and interprets reality. It contains our best and worst versions of ourselves and our world, is home to our gods and monsters, our greatest and smallest hopes, our most terrifying and mundane fears. The imagination is where are most human—and most divine.

Greg Salyer, PhD is the President of the Philosophical Research Society in Los Angeles, founded in 1934 by Manly Palmer Hall to promote the study of the world’s wisdom literature, and a traveler in imaginary worlds.