Imagination: A Very Short Introduction explores imagination as a cognitive power and an essential dimension of human flourishing, demonstrating how imagination plays multiple roles in human cognition and shapes humanity in profound ways. Examining philosophical, evolutionary, and literary perspectives on imagination, the author shows how this facility, while potentially distorting, both frees us from immediate reality and enriches our sense of it, making possible our experience of a meaningful world. Long regarded by philosophers as an elusive and mysterious capacity of the human mind, imagination has been the subject of extraordinary ambivalence, described as both dangerous and divine, as merely peripheral to rationality and as essential to all thinking. Drawing on philosophy, aesthetics, literary and cognitive theory as well as the human sciences, this book engages the dramatic conceptual history of imagination together with contemporary explanations of its role in cognition to explain its importance in everyday life as well as the exquisite creativity of the arts, scientific discovery, and invention. Engaging examples from cave paintings to modern painting, performance art to pop art, physics to phenomenology, technological inventions to literary worlds, the Nazca geoglyphs to dramatic theatre, poetry, and jazz improvisation, the author illuminates with clarity and vision the philosophy of imagination and the stakes of its involvement in human thinking.
Pseudo-Memoirs: Life and Its Imitation in Modern Fiction
Pseudo-Memoirs redefines the notion of fiction itself, a form that has all too often been understood in terms of its capacity to produce a seeming reality. Rochelle Tobias argues that the verisimilitude of the novel derives not from its object but from the subjectivity at its base. What generates the plausibility of fiction is not the referentiality of its depictions but the intentionality of consciousness.
Edmund Husserl developed the idea that consciousness is always intentional in the sense that it is directed outside itself toward something that it does not find so much as it constitutes as an object. Pseudo-memoirs reveal the full implications of this position in their double structure as the tale of their own telling or the fiction of life-writing. In so doing they reveal how the world of fiction is constructed, but more important they bring to the fore the idealist premises that fuel the novel and guarantee its truth, even when it remains an invention of the imagination.
Rochelle Tobias explores novels by Thomas Mann, Robert Walser, Thomas Bernhard, and W. G. Sebald in conjunction with philosophical and theoretical texts by René Descartes, Husserl, Friedrich Nietzsche, György Łukács, Roland Barthes, and Maurice Blanchot.
Phenomenology to the Letter: Husserl and Literature
Regarding philosophical importance, Edmund Husserl is arguably “the” German export of the early twentieth century. In the wake of the linguistic turn(s) of the humanities, however, his claim to return to the “Sachen selbst” became metonymic for the neglect of language in Western philosophy. This view has been particularly influential in post-structural literary theory, which has never ceased to attack the supposed “logophobie” of phenomenology. “Phenomenology to the Letter. Husserl and Literature” challenges this verdict regarding the poetological and logical implications of Husserl’s work through a thorough re-examination of his writing in the context of literary theory, classical rhetoric, and modern art. At issue is an approach to phenomenology and literature that does not merely coordinate the two discourses but explores their mutual implication. Contributions to the volume attend to the interplay between phenomenology and literature (both fiction and poetry), experience and language, as well as images and embodiment. The volume is the first of its kind to chart a phenomenological approach to literature and literary approach to phenomenology. As such it stands poised to make a novel contribution to literary studies and philosophy.
In our age of climate change, the work of the decidedly philosophical poet Friedrich Holderlin has gained renewed urgency with its emphasis on the forces of nature that produce life and at the same time threaten to devour it. At the heart of his work lies an understanding of nature and the role that consciousness plays within it. This responds to, but also revises, the concerns of 18th and 19th-century philosophy of nature.This collection of 15 essays by distinguished international scholars reconsiders what his work reveals about the impulses toward form and formlessness in nature and the role that poetry plays in creating Holderlin’s ‘harmonious opposition’. The collection shows that Hlderlin anticipates many of the concerns that motivate contemporary environmental thinking.
While existentialism has long been associated with Parisian Left Bank philosophers sipping cocktails in smoke-filled cafés, or with a brooding, angst-filled outlook on life, Gosetti-Ferencei shows how vital and heterogeneous the movement really was. In this concise, accessible book, Gosetti-Ferencei offers a new vision of existentialism. As she lucidly demonstrates, existentialism is a rich and diverse philosophy that encourages meaningful engagement with the world around us, offering a host of fascinating concepts that pertain to life as we experience it. The movement was as heterogeneous as it is now misunderstood, influenced by jazz music, involving diverse thinkers from around the world, challenging received ideas about the meaning of human existence. Part of the difficulty in defining existentialism is that it was never a unified philosophy, but came to identify a set of shared concerns about the meaning and possibility of human freedom, as it may be expressed in authentic choices, actions, and projects. Existentialists all explored how, in the absence of traditional reassurances about the meaning of life, we may transcend our present circumstances, and give our situation new meaning. With existentialism, concrete, lived experience of the single individual emerged from the shadow of abstract systems and long-defended traditions, and became subject-matter in its own right for philosophical inquiry. Far from solipsistic, Gosetti-Ferencei shows that existentialist attention to the human self can be intertwined with ways of conceiving the world, our being with others, the earth, and the encompassing concept of being. Fully appreciating what existentialism has to offer requires recognizing the rich diversity of its prospects, which involve not only anxiety, absurdity, awareness of death and the loss of religious meaning, but also hope, the striving for happiness, and a sense of the transcendent. On Being and Becoming unpacks this philosophical movement’s insights, and reveals how its core ideas promote creative responses to the question of life’s meaning.
Sex Changes with Kleist analyzes how the dramatist and poet Heinrich von Kleist (1777–1811) responded to a change in the conception of sex and gender that occurred between 1790 and 1810. Specifically, Katrin Pahl shows that Kleist resisted the shift from a one-sex to the two-sex and complementary gender system that is still prevalent today. With creative close readings engaging all eight of his plays, Pahl probes Kleist’s appreciation for incoherence, his experimentation with alternative symbolic orders, his provocative understanding of emotion, and his camp humor. Pahl demonstrates that rather than preparing modern homosexuality, Kleist puts an end to modern gender norms even before they take hold and refuses the oppositional organization of sexual desire into homosexual and heterosexual that sprouts from these norms.
Focusing on the theatricality of Kleist’s interventions in the performance of gender, sexuality, and emotion and examining how his dramatic texts unhinge major tenets of classical European theater, Sex Changes with Kleist is vital reading for anyone interested in queer studies, feminist studies, performance studies, literary studies, or emotion studies. This book changes our understanding of Kleist and breathes new life into queer thought.
The Life of Imagination: Revealing and Making the World
Imagination allows us to step out of the ordinary but also to transform it through our sense of wonder and play, artistic inspiration and innovation, or the eureka moment of a scientific breakthrough. In this book, Jennifer Anna Gosetti-Ferencei offers a groundbreaking new understanding of its place in everyday experience as well as the heights of creative achievement.
The Life of Imagination delivers a new conception of imagination that places it at the heart of our engagement with the world―thinking, acting, feeling, making, and being. Gosetti-Ferencei reveals imagination’s roots in embodied human cognition and its role in shaping our cognitive ecology. She demonstrates how imagination arises from our material engagements with the world and at the same time endows us with the sense of an inner life, how it both allows us to escape from reality and aids us in better understanding it. Drawing from philosophy, cognitive science, evolutionary anthropology, developmental psychology, literary theory, and aesthetics, Gosetti-Ferencei engages a spectacular range of examples from ordinary thought processes and actions to artistic, scientific, and literary feats to argue that, like consciousness itself, imagination resists reductive explanation. The Life of Imagination offers a vital account of transformative thinking that shows how imagination will be essential in cultivating a future conducive to human flourishing and to that of the life around us.
Intervening in the multidisciplinary debate on emotion, Tropes of Transport offers a fresh analysis of Hegel’s work that becomes an important resource for Pahl’s cutting-edge theory of emotionality. If it is usually assumed that the sincerity of emotions and the force of affects depend on their immediacy, Pahl explores to what extent mediation—and therefore a certain degree of manipulation but also of sympathy—is constitutive of emotionality. Hegel serves as a particularly helpful interlocutor not only because he offers a sophisticated analysis of mediation, but also because, rather than locating emotion in the heart, he introduces impersonal tropes of transport, such as trembling, release, and shattering.
Jennifer Anna Gosetti-Ferencei demonstrates that the exotic, as reflected in major works of German literature and in the philosophy and art that inspires it, provokes central questions about the modern self and the spaces it inhabits. Exotic spaces in the writings of such authors as Thomas Mann, Franz Kafka, Stefan Zweig, Robert Musil, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Gottfried Benn, and Bertold Brecht, along with the thought of Nietzsche, Freud, Levi-Strauss, and Simmel and the art of German Expressionism, are shown to present alternatives to the landscape and experience of modernity. In an examination of the concept of the exotic and of spatial experience in their cultural, subjective, and philosophical contingencies, Gosetti-Ferencei shows that exotic spaces may contest and reconfigure the relationship between the familiar and the foreign, the self and the other. Exotic spaces may serve not only to affirm the subject in a symbolic conquering of territory, as emphasized in post-colonial interpretations, or project the fantasy of escapism to a lost paradise, as utopian readings suggest, but condition moral, aesthetic, or imaginative transformation. Such transformation, while risking disaster or dissolution of the self as well as endangerment of the other, may promote new possibilities of perceiving or being, and reconfigure the boundaries of a familiar world. As exotic spaces are conceived as mystical, liberating, erotic, infectious, frightening or mysterious, several possibilities for transformation emerge in their exposure: re-enchantment through epiphany; the collapse of the rational self; liberation of the imagination from the confines of the familiar world; and aesthetic transformation, revealing the paradoxically ‘primitive’ nature of modern experience. In strikingly original readings of canonical authors and compelling rediscoveries of forgotten ones, this study establishes that exotic experience can evidence the fragility of the European or Germanic self as depicted in modernist literature, revealing the usually unconsidered boundaries of the subject’s own familiar world.
The Ecstatic Quotidian: Phenomenological Sightings in Modern Art and Literature
Fascination with quotidian experience in modern art, literature, and philosophy promotes ecstatic forms of reflection on the very structure of the everyday world. Gosetti-Ferencei examines the ways in which modern art and literature enable a study of how we experience quotidian life. She shows that modernism, while exhibiting many strands of development, can be understood by investigating how its attentions to perception and expectation, to the common quality of things, or to childhood play gives way to experiences of ecstasis—the stepping outside of the ordinary familiarity of the world.
While phenomenology grounds this study (through Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Bachelard), what makes this book more than a treatise on phenomenological aesthetics is the way in which modernity itself is examined in its relation to the quotidian. Through the works of artists and writers such as Benjamin, Cézanne, Frost, Klee, Newman, Pollock, Ponge, Proust, Rilke, Robbe-Grillet, Rothko, Sartre, and Twombly, the world of quotidian life can be seen to harbor a latent ecstasis. The breakdown of the quotidian through and after modernism then becomes an urgent question for understanding art and literature in its capacity to further human experience, and it points to the limits of phenomenological explications of the everyday.
Heidegger, Hölderlin, and the Subject of Poetic Language
Heidegger’s interpretations of the poetry of Hölderlin are central to Heidegger’s later philosophy and have determined the mainstream reception of Hölderlin’s poetry. Gosetti-Ferencei argues that Heidegger has overlooked central elements in Hölderlin’s poetics, such as a Kantian understanding of aesthetic subjectivity and a commitment to Enlightenment ideals. These elements, she argues, resist the more politically distressing aspects of Heidegger’s interpretations, including Heidegger’s nationalist valorization of the German language and sense of nationhood, or Heimat.
In the context of Hölderlin’s poetics of alienation, exile, and wandering, Gosetti-Ferencei draws a different model of poetic subjectivity, which engages Heidegger’s later philosophy of Gelassenheit, calmness, or letting be. In so doing, she is able to pose a phenomenologically sensitive theory of poetic language and a “new poetics of Dasein,” or being there.
The Discourse of Nature in the Poetry of Paul Celan: The Unnatural World
Paul Celan has long been regarded as the most important European poet after 1945 but also the most difficult owing to the numerous references in his work to his personal history and to a cultural heritage spanning many disciplines, centuries, and languages. In this insightful study, Rochelle Tobias goes a long way to dispelling the obscurity that has surrounded the poet and his work. She shows that the enigmatic images in his poetry have a common source. They are drawn from the disciplines of geology, astrology, and physiology or what could be called the sciences of the earth, the heavens, and the human being. Celan’s poetry borrows from each of these disciplines to create a poetic universe—a universe that attests to what is no longer and projects what is not yet.
This is the unnatural world of Celan’s poetry. It is a world in which time itself takes physical form or is made plastic. Through a series of close readings and philosophical explorations, Tobias reflects on the experience of time encoded and embodied in Celan’s work. She demonstrates that the physical world in his poetry ultimately serves as a showcase for time, which is the most elusive aspect of human experience because it is based nowhere but in the mind. Tobias’s probing interpretations present a new model for understanding Celan’s work from the early elegiac poems to the later cryptic texts.
An interdisciplinary project, the study combines readings of Celan’s poetry with discussions of ancient and modern science, mystical cosmology, and twentieth-century literature and thought. Tobias’s original approach to Celan illuminates his complex verse and contributes significantly to the theory of metaphor as it applies to modern verse.
After the Palace Burns is the stunning debut of Jennifer Anna Gosetti-Ferencei and winner of the Paris Review Prize in Poetry. Each line in this extraordinary collection articulates entrance into a world of intense clarity and deep surprise, nuanced by questions about the limits of the possible and knowable.
“Gosetti-Ferencei’s lyric meditations manifest eloquence, individual voicing, and authentic cognitive power.” — Harold Bloom
“In Gosetti-Ferencei’s poems the unsayable is suggested, encircled, and, finally, magically uttered into existence. ” — Mark Strand
“The writing resonates with an old, symbolist purity, a familiar but quiet formality.” –Stanley Plumly