Newsletter Issue:
Fall 2014

Ordering Life Patterns: Book review of The Poetic Imagination in Heidegger and Schelling by Christopher Yates

By Wilson Hurst, Cohort ’13

The starting point for creative independence involves a passionate interest in existence, recognizing the unavoidable discrepancy between appearance and actuality. In this quest, imagination is the psychological vulnerability by which metaphysical reason translates distinct perceptions and impressions into cohesive entities. Physics investigates objective matter, while metaphysics questions existence. Rational thinking considers these fields as coextensive physical entities. However, thoughts themselves function in an entirely different mental realm of non-physical manifestation. The temporal flow of imitative perceptions, concepts, and emotions occurring in subjective intellect actually exist as something other than just the associated electrical brain waves. These markers of imaginative illumination are necessarily kinetic, provisional issues for philosophers, authors, and artists.

Philosophical concepts evolving over time remain uncertain, vacillating, vague, manifold, and fluctuating. “How has imagination fared in a critical [philosophical] tradition prone to regard it as reason’s affective double?” (Yates 3). This provocative question is at the heart of Christopher Yates’ fascinating book, The Poetic Imagination in Heidegger and Schelling (2013). Events usually have an internal complexity, exhibiting both a plurality of temporal phases and a plurality of spatial components, and Yates’s thoughtful approach explores these ideas philosophically. As the unobservable is postulated from speculative imagination, discoveries are made by employing abstraction, by filling in the gaps. Linking perception of a multiplicity of concurrent sensation must invoke a synthesis. Ordering the patterns of life, conceptual cognition requires past memories and future predictions. To recognize sequential order entails continuity of subjective reference, or identity. Yates simultaneously explores this connection while performing it, by tracing theories of thought shaping the contingent subject evolving over time. He thus shows that this continuity must both analyze and employ imagination to associate the existing instant with a history gone and a future yet to be. Furthermore, such pattern repetition allows thought formation to occur, for without such recurrence, all sensual input would be novel and thus incoherent.

As Aristotle, and Aquinas after him, Yates concedes, “the intellect can’t operate without images.” Kant’s productive power of imagination at the heart of genius is an investigation both obscure and indispensable. The transcendental imagination is a fundamental synthetic power of the subject, expansively repurposing thoughts in judgments of taste and the sublime. Imagination in the wake of Kant operates at the metaphysical frontier, exploring artwork significance through expression, structure, symbol, and beauty. In this process, “we no longer see the objects before us, but we see, as if outside of ourselves, the forms we have in our minds.” Yates argues that unifying theoretical and practical philosophy, Schelling and Heidegger derive a Kantian point of departure for their own attunements to imagination as a means of approaching the Absolute. For Heidegger, imagination establishes the itinerary of fundamental ontology, reawakening the question of the meaning of “being.” Here poetic imagination is the very touchstone for thought’s inceptual leap into perpetual becoming. Yates has helped to bridge that gap.

Image: “Frozen Surface,” 2014, by Wilson Hurst
Image: “Frozen Surface,” 2014, by Wilson Hurst

These thinkers have taught us to hesitate before adopting the presumptions of philosophical conclusiveness. Imagination is not a process under consistent improvement, but rather delineates the creative basis of thought comporting with the creative possibilities of human existence, the mystery of life. Thus, as Yates contends, imagination as deployed and refined by the artist in creative production takes on critical importance relative to a subjective understanding of an objective world. In a finite existence of temporality, sensual experience provides a foundation for speculative reason. Experiencing an increasingly complex spontaneous morphogenesis, formulated as a vital impetus, thought transcends the state of things as they actually subsist. Imagination is persistent and explosive, an impulse and impasse, the elemental compass in one sense and the brink of enthusiasm in another. As an irreducible remainder, the imaginative subject is a caught up in the play of “unconcealment” in the primordial scene of phenomenological beginnings. Yates reminds us that by deploying imagination, higher levels of cognition can direct fundamental abstractions, overcoming predetermined structural limitations.

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