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Social Imaginaries

Volume 5, Issue 1, Spring 2019

Varieties of Creative Imagination

Claudia Baracchi
Pages 19-35
DOI: 10.5840/si2019512

The Cosmos of Imagination

This essay raises the question of the character and status of imagination in ancient Greek philosophy. It is often said that neither Plato nor Aristotle conceived of imagination in genuinely productive terms. The point, however, is not approaching ancient thought while thinking with Kant, as if we were looking for proto-Kantian insights in antiquity. Ancient thought is not a series of ‘tentative steps’ destined to reach a full-blown articulation in modernity, let alone an anticipation of the first critique. On the contrary, it is essential to acknowledge the discontinuities that make the ancient discourse remote and, in many respects, opaque, hidden from us. On the ground of such assumptions, the essay addresses the understanding of imagination (eikasia, phantasia) in the Greek context, focusing in particular on Plato’s Timaeus. First, we consider how imagination, precisely in its creative aspect, operates at the very heart of philosophical argumentation. Plato’s emphatic awareness of this disallows the rhetoric of philosophy as the discipline of truth (of apodictic necessity, objectivity, and neutrality). In fact, it calls for a profound re-thinking of the relation between creativity and the philosophical turn to the ‘things themselves.’ Timaeus imagines the cosmos as a theatrical device: the place of seeing and being seen, of contemplation and the originary emergence of images. This evokes an understanding of imagination outside the order of subjectivity and its faculties, i.e., a meditation on the impersonal character of production and the force of images (of symbols) arising without being constituted by ‘me.’

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