Imaginal Metaphysics

Imaginal Metaphysics

Eternity by Ismael Nery (1900-1934)

I’ve been doing some reading today of eighteenth century Italian philosopher, Giambattista Vico. His magnum opus, Scienza Nuova, or New Science, was published in 1725. The primary reason why I am looking into Vico is because of an idea he talks about in New Science that can change our world. He writes,

…as rational metaphysics teaches that man becomes all things by understanding them (homo intelligendo fit omnia), this imaginative metaphysics shows that man becomes all things by not understanding them (homo non intelligendo fit omnia) and perhaps the latter proposition is truer than the former, for when man understands he extends his mind and takes in the things, but when he does not understand he makes the things out of himself and becomes them by transforming himself into them  (pages 116-117).

By “rational metaphysics,” Vico is here referring to the dualistic view of Descartes, where mind and matter are dichotomous, and where we come to understand the world by using reason alone to form “clear and distinct ideas” about things that we experience empirically. After Descartes, there was no longer a need for imagination. Reason would solve all human problems, or so they thought.

Vico was attempting to combat that line of thinking because he knew that it would be the death of imagination. If we follow Descartes’ viewpoint, yes, we will gather knowledge from outside ourselves (since the world is now inner and outer) and come to understand these external realities in a clear and distinct fashion. A rational metaphysics wants to know facts about external objects. Thus, we can extend our minds by importing these facts into our brains so that we can be better computers. In other words, reason, according to Descartes and his defenders,  does not require any assistance from imagination, or any participation from us except that of the rational mind. Vico’s idea was that, instead of understanding things, it is better to not understand them, and then use the imagination to experience the world, as did its first inhabitants. This method fully utilizes the human capacity for imagining one’s experience, not in an imaginary, but in a very imaginal way. For the difference here, read Henry Corbin’s essay, Mundus Imaginalis.

The people who “made things out of themselves” were those ancient humans who knew nothing about rationality. They poured their own Souls into the world they experienced and it transformed them to where they were synonymous with the world. By seeing the world as a very imaginative place, Soul was kept paramount in their lives and they were one with Nature.

It is the mythic experience, the mythic imagination that opens, reveals depth and mystery, which places the human in the context of the nonhuman, and so, forces retreat, humility, and awe, in the presence of spaces beyond our will (Green Man, Earth Angel, by Tom Cheetham).

Rationalists envisioned a world where all mysteries had been solved and all future problems could be eradicated through reason. They soon discovered that it wasn’t that simple. The irrationality of important world events, such as the French Revolution, the Bolshevik Revolution, and World Wars I and II, proved that rationality was only one archetype in the Anima Mundi. Reason failed to recognize its Shadow.

We are currently in the midst of a revival of Imaginal Metaphysics. We who are advocates for depth and imagination in human discourse are the New Metaphysicians. In this philosophy, the mythopoeic nature of Soul is at the forefront. Like the ancients, we are beginning to thrust our very being into our world. This is transforming us, individuating us, and propelling us toward a coming evolutionary leap of consciousness. No longer are we simply reasoning automatons. Now, we recognize that we are imaginal creatures living in a Universe where everything is made of images and everything is Soul.

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6 thoughts on “Imaginal Metaphysics

  1. I think you did a great job making this matter digestible, Mark. The main difference between the experience of the ancients and our own lies in the way they identified with Nature, with their whole external environment (and perhaps they did not even draw a distinction?)

    When we seek to understand, objectively, we separate ourselves from the object. This is a big part of our modern malaise, and imagination will be a crucial part of the cure. That, and recovering our sense of identification – as you say, perceiving Soul in all of creation once again.

  2. Thanks, Steve. I bought the domain name too. 🙂

    DD, don't worry about being number 13. That's nonsense, anyway. Welcome! 😉

    Seth, Thank you! That means a lot coming from a fellow blogger. 😉

  3. When we begin to get a glimmer of the insight that consciousness is just an particular concentration of the fabric that it is embedded within, we begin to relate to the objective psyche. Then the walls of our rationalism can come tumbling down…

  4. I wonder, Richard, whether “consciousness is just a particular concentration of the fabric” of everything? I think that's what you're saying, right?

    Thanks for the thought-provoking comments! 🙂

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