Sunday, July 25, 2010

Imagination As Gospel

There is nothing in this world, arguably, that has the capacity to move in the same way a good story does. Stories are multi-layered, speaking to us on more than one level at once, and indirectly. Ideologies communicated to us in books or lectures don’t always stick – we can listen to them again and again while remaining utterly impenetrable, even as we nod our heads in agreement. But a good story has a way of sneaking in the back door and reaching that part of us tucked far away from life’s disappointments. It can lift us out of our self-imposed drudgery and show us what we’ve forgotten.

My favorite form of storytelling is film. If it’s done skilfully, with a deep respect for the power of narrative, the end result can hold enormous impact. With repeated viewings, we often find different parts stirring us in different ways at different times. We love a good story because it takes us away and brings us home at the same time. The line between truth and fiction is absurdly thin. Even the most bizarre scenarios can resonate, and those of us who think deeply are propelled into a place of meaningful contemplation.

This year is the 35th anniversary of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and some television stations are airing it on a rotating schedule. Tuning in to the first half recently – I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve watched the entire film – there was one scene that stood out to me this time. Jack Nicholson, a criminal serving a short sentence, is transferred to a mental institution for evaluation, where he amuses himself by goading the ball-busting Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher). The tables eventually turn, and though Nicholson successfully campaigns to have the World Series baseball game shown on the ward television, Nurse Ratched refuses to acknowledge it. Nicholson responds by creating a ruckus, and a gleeful one at that.

Standing in front of the blank television screen, he starts commentating on an imaginary game with unbridled enthusiasm. It is so real, and so infectious, that when the other patients start gathering around him and cheering, you actually get caught up in it too. And it dawns on you that it doesn’t matter that the television isn’t actually on. The excitement Nicholson rouses in his peers is epic.

Thomas Moore once said that imagination is more weighty than fact. If we could mine the annals of our consciousness, we might discover experiences there that had little in common with the circumstances of our lives – experiences so vivid they stunned us with their repercussions. So what determines our experience more, I wonder – what we imagine or what actually happens? I am inclined to think it is how we imagine what is happening to us, and how we imagine what will happen.

And that includes our experience of aging. Though the forces that shape our experience are vast and complex, it might be wise to take our imagination a lot more seriously, and in this sense, consider living artfully in a world bent on rationalism.


DazyDayWriter said...

Ah, yes, some good points in this post, Jesse. I'm reading Dreamgates: Exploring the Worlds of Soul, Imagination, and Life Beyond Death by Robert Moss. Also, Visions, Trips, and Crowded Rooms: Who and What You See Before You Die by David Kessler. Both books cater to the imagination; to exploring elements of the unknown, the unseen. Truly fascinating books w/many personal stories tucked within. And, yes, many stories convey quality information rather seamlessly and effortlessly -- as in film or fiction, or even memoir. Thanks for sharing your ideas; enjoyed reading this!

Jesse Mendes said...

Likewise, Dazy, thanks for your comment, and for the book mentions!

La Belette Rouge said...

I think I might go further than the brilliant Thomas Moore and say that imagination is fact. It is real and tangible and weighty. We know when imagination is real and when it isn't.
Love this post and I am delighted to have found your blog.

Jesse Mendes said...

Well thank you (I usually address folks by name but couldn't find your name on your blog). I agree with your comment full-heartedly. Imagination is fact. I was tempted to quote Thomas Moore's passage on that but thought it might be over kill. In any case, I am equally delighted to find your blog. A pleasure. Thank you for taking the time to connect. I am following you on Twitter now. Please stay in touch. Jesse

La Belette Rouge said...

You are such a generous blogger. I so appreciate you taking a look at my archives and sharing some of my older posts with your followers. Very kind of you.
p.s. I am a Thomas Moore fan!
p.s.s Are you up for a link exchange? I am loving your blog and would love to share it with my readers.

Jesse Mendes said...

What is a link exchange? Yes -- whatever it is! I also wanted to ask you a question about your Blogger page. Sent you a DM with my personal email.....can you write?

Jesse Mendes said...

p.s. a note to readers about Belette, she is a *fantastic* blogger, her writing is full of insight, humor and honesty. I strongly recommend folks check her out, especially her post I like to call:

On Warts, Miracle Whip and, well....Life

soulverbs said...

I really enjoyed your frame of thought. To me there is no argument, a story paints a picture for the mind, and a picture is worth a thousand words. Movies take away from the imagination because the director is giving us his interpretation, or inner-visualization of the original written work. Movies do, however, add something to the imagination because of the score; the music can be arranged in a way that amplifies our emotions, or underscores the conflict and drama of a scene. Give me a good book, a glass of wine, some quiet time, and my mind will paint a masterpiece of my own visualization. What many people lack today is the ability to let their imagination run wild; what Homer, Shakespeare, Poe, and other great writers had in abundance, todays youth only have in fits and starts.

Jesse Mendes said...

Hi "Soulverbs" (could not find your name -- did you know that if you don't list your name on your Twitter page, folks cannot find you on a search? Just something to consider) --

Many thanks for your thoughts, they are well received, as is your support. I agree with you, full heartedly, about youth today -- we are so bombarded with technology and information overload, it can't help but take its toll on the imagination. You sound like someone who could inspire them to re-connect with it :--)


Louise said...

'If we could mine the annals of our consciousness, we might discover experiences there that had little in common with the circumstances of our lives – experiences so vivid they stunned us with their repercussions.'
Super observation Jesse - thanks for this post

Jesse Mendes said...

Thank you, Louise. I appreciate your feedback, I really do. Jesse