This paper attempts to reconcile two apparently opposed ways of thinking about the imagination and its relationship to literature, one which casts it as essentially concerned with fiction-making and the other with culture-making. The literary imagination’s power to create fictions is what gives it its most obvious claim to “autonomy”, as Kant would have it: its freedom to venture out in often wild and spectacular excess of reality. The argument of this paper is that we can locate the literary imagination’s complementary power of cultural articulation in this fictional activity. The suggestion is that we should conceive of the literary imagination as expressing its interests in culture not mimetically but by producing a certain kind of meaning. This meaning is irreducibly narratological, and understanding it helps us to see the role of narrative in bringing into harmony the literary imagination’s interests in both the imaginary and the real.