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Pre-Romantic Concepts of Imagination

Arezou Zalipour, University of Waikato, New Zealand

 Abstract

The starting point of the history of imagination in poetry can be traced in the early attempts to define poetry, as in Aristotle’s Poetics. My investigation in the studies of imagination shows that while there are numerous comprehensive studies that provide a chronological survey of the idea of imagination as it appears in various fields, little has been done to investigate and examine the conceptual history of imagination in poetry. This article aims to explore the main developmental trends of the concept of imagination in poetry before its glorification during the Romantic period. I have structured these concepts according to the features that have appeared significant in the evolution of the concept of imagination from an imitating faculty to creative imagination in artistic creation and poetry. While this article presents a critical review of the available literature in the studies of imagination in poetry, it also conveys in an indirect manner the gaps and inadequacies in some of the most significant developments in the concept of imagination.

 Keywords: imagination, conceptual history, poetry, creative imagination, image

 Introduction

Referring to the quotation above, the present article is based on an overall project that traces the story of poetic imagination following Kearney’s maxim: to recall what poetic imagination was in order to understand poetic imagination now. The story of poetic imagination is tied to the story of imagination in philosophy and psychology especially in the early periods. The story commences with concepts of imagination in philosophy and in the early attempts to define poetry, as in Aristotle’s Poetics. My investigation in the studies of imagination shows that while there are numerous comprehensive studies that provide a chronological survey of the idea of imagination as it appears in various fields, little has been done to investigate and examine the conceptual history of imagination in poetry. This article aims to explore the main developmental trends of the concept of imagination in poetry before its glorification during the Romantic period. The conceptual survey reveals that imagination was initially examined by philosophers, including some minor and sometimes argumentative references to poetry. Later the concept of imagination was investigated in studies related to arts and artistic creation. This occurred at a time when creative dimensions of imagination began to receive greater recognition. In a comprehensive chronological survey of imagination across various fields, Engell (1981) tells us the idea of imagination in its general sense was actually the creation of the 18th century. Studies of imagination in poetry were simultaneously developed with examining this concept in the arts. Therefore, in order to collect and examine major features of poetic imagination within the realm of poetry, I was required to draw upon and organize the main characteristics of imagination in arts, philosophy and early psychology. I have organized these concepts according to the features that appeared significant in the evolution of imagination particularly with reference to poetry. While this article presents a critical review of the available literature in the studies of poetic imagination, it also conveys in an indirect manner the gaps and inadequacies in some of the most significant developments of the concept of poetic imagination. I will first provide an account of imagination in its early conceptualization to create a contextualization for the concepts that I have drawn as pre-Romantic concepts.

Imitation was an essential component of imagination particularly before the creative dimensions of imagination were discovered during the Renaissance. In the classical world, imagination was given an intermediary role between perception (senses) and thinking (thought), in relation to the soul, perception and memory. In De Anima, Aristotle considered imagination as part of common sense (sensus communis) – the belief in the sensory nature of imagination implying that imagination judges the perceptual traces and interprets these traces in various ways. By ascribing the functions of interpreting or judging to imagination, Aristotle, in fact, decreased the imitative attributes of imagination and prepared the groundwork for exploration of the role of imagination in appreciation and criticism of the arts and literature and also its creative potentiality…Access Full Text of the Article


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