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Reply To: The Inner Reaches of Outer Space is Within Reach,” with Dennis Slattery, Ph.D”

Dennis Slattery

    Thank you Stephen for your rich set of questions and statements above. I have a couple of thoughts right out of the chute. First of all, I was so moved by Henri Corbin’s essay on the Imaginal. He takes great pains not to use the word imaginary, which he notes contains an aura of untruth. Rather, he chooses imaginal to signify that terrain between the phenomenal world of matter and the spiritual world of invisible presences. The imaginal exists between them and participates in both.

    When I read different variations of Campbell’s use of metaphor and imagination I believe that he means a place in the soul that allows us to access the invisibles but nonetheless real aspects of the imaginal realm. I guess I would say that the myths, fairy tales and classics of literature, which include writers writing today invite us into the “as-if” realm where presences become powerfully real to us and may influence our dreams, our waking lives and shape our thinking in new or modified ways. I know, for example, that I was changed in my thinking as I taught Dante’s Divine Comedy for years, or my favorite, Moby-Dick, that still haunts me and I find in the circumstances that Dante or Melville laid out in their rich imaginative worlds analogies to my own the life of our culture right now. So the universals that exist in each of our souls are given particularity in these works, that lead our imaginations to these universals. I think the vehicle for these voyages are the metaphors, symbols and actions that the poets and artists pick up on and shape in their own ways to create a world of imaginations.

    Like the psyche, as Jung suggests, these worlds of imagination have their own reality and may, with the great writers and artists, paradoxically, shape worlds that are more real in some respects than our every day realities because they have been artistically shaped by powerful talents into realities that we can participate in while holding the tension of our everyday lives.

    Truly a marvelous quality in being human: to be able to imagine worlds that exist, but on a different plane of reality than our quotidian lives inhabit. Yes, paradoxically, they not only connect with our daily lives but actually deepen and enhance them.

    I believe it was the poet Wallace Stevens in one of his essays who observed that the poets and writers we experience expand the orbit of our own range of understanding by showing us to ourselves by analogy in rich patterns of growth and decay and renewal.

    James Hillman was one of many writers to suggest that the malady of modernity was the curse of literalism–having to have all of our experiences be literally true while leaving what is imaginally true by the roadside. When any of us reads poetry or stories that move us, we have a concrete human experience and often they have more TRUTH attached to them than our daily lives reveal to us. I also love the observations that Tim O’Brien makes throughout his classic story from his experiences in Vietnam, The Things They Carried. I copied many of his remarks on the nature of story from that work; it is a treasure trove of observations on stories. He writes, I think correctly, that stories do not have to have happened to be true. And, that stories that actually happened may not be true. What a paradox these observations rile up!

    Coincidentally, I am reading a new book by T. M. Luhrmann, How God Becomes Real: Kindling the Presence of Invisible Others. Tanya teaches psychology and anthropology at Stanford and is fascinated with how we come to believe what we believe. That is my interest. But she goes further into studies she has done to reveal how capacities in us, like Absorption, the ability to be present to an experience, can open one to invisible presences–God and others. May we include Myths here? We have to. We can become so absorbed in a story, a hunch, an intuition, that it takes on its own life and may muscle its way into our belief system.

    I hope these few responses to Stephen’s fine comments above opens things up for others of you to respond. I look forward to it.