Imagination, Formation, and Place: An Ontology

In Hans-Georg Moeller & Andrew Whitehead (eds.), 'Imagination: Cross-Cultural Philosophical Analyses. New York, USA: Bloomsbury (2018)

John Krummel
Hobart and William Smith Colleges
My contribution seeks to unfold an ontology of the imagination based on the history of the productive imagination in its relation to common sense and recent developments of the notion of the social imaginary, while making use of ideas found in both Western and Japanese thinkers. Kyoto School philosopher Miki Kiyoshi shows a connection between the imagination he inherits from Kant and a certain form-formlessness dynamic he inherits from Nishida Kitarō’s notion of a self-forming formlessness. The source of the imagination’s creativity is in that formlessness that lies both within the interior depths of the psyche and outside in the environing nature. Post-war Japanese philosopher Nakamura Yūjirō—taking off from Miki’s attempts to concretize Nishida’s theory of place in terms of the imagination—in turn points to a connection between imagination and place and explicates this via his development of the Aristotelian notion of common sense (koinē aisthēsis, sensus communis). Common sense in itself has a long history within the West that involves a variety of meanings starting with the Aristotelian faculty for integrating the various senses (as koinē aisthēsis) that was closely associated with the imagination, and ending with two contrasting notions of a communal or social sensibility (as sensus communis)—the vulgar “commonplace” notion of common sense as habituated custom and the healthy sense of common sense as prudential, contextual, ethical judgment explicated by thinkers like Hannah Arendt. Both are found in Kant’s Critique of Judgment but the imagination’s creativity expressed in genius comes into tension with the latter communal sense of common sense that attempts to fetter that creativity of genius with the judgment of taste. The contemporary notion of the social imaginary, for example in Cornelius Castoriadis, seems to encompass both the vulgar and the healthy senses of common sense, and also recalls the close connection between the imagination and common sense in Aristotle. Contrary to what Kant sought, however, this underscores the temporal contingency or historicity and non-transcendental status of common sense, even in its healthy sense, and its communal judgments. At the same time, the form-formlessness dynamic found in Miki and the tension between unbounded creativity and communal responsibility found in Kant’s third Critique in a certain sense also reappears in Castoriadis’ ontology (of magmas) whereby chaos is the source of the imagination’s creativity not only for the individual psyche but for the social-historical or social imaginary significations as well, that is, in the social imaginary’s inner tension between the instituting and the instituted. Recalling the fact that Nishida was inspired by the Greek notion of chōra in developing his theory of place, I then suggest that the linking of the imagination with the process of the forming of the formless as well as with place may allow us in turn to understand the creative imagination ontologically in the Greek terms of chōrismos—etymologically related to chōra—as the difference that brings order to chaos by allotting beings, each to its own place. Imagination as Ein-bildung might then be viewed as the ontological formation that, through differentiation, gives shape, form, to place. This then leads to the issue of autonomy—To whom does the spontaneity of the creative imagination belong when the chaos or formlessness, indeed “freedom,” at the root of its creativity exceeds the boundaries of subjectivity or reason? Heidegger in his later works, albeit in only a few places, suggests such a sense of the imagination as no longer a faculty of the human subject, no longer a doing of man.
Keywords imagination  productive imagination  common sense  sensus communis  social imaginary  Kant  Heidegger  Castoriadis  Miki Kiyoshi  chaos
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