According to Linnaeus’ taxonomic analysis, the human being is defined by being the only animal that has knowledge of itself. This same knowledge is also what makes it the animal whose survival instinct set the illusion as an answer to reality’s dangers. Thus fiction comes up as an intrinsic and primary need to human nature. An imaginary that stands on complex artificial structures, that allows continuity when necessity is over or simply when finitude becomes unbearable. How does that relation with a fictional universe of possibilities that never become real may constitute a point of view in the configuration of subjectivity? And how does reality gets transformed by the possibility of being replicated, expanded and manipulated by the human strength of imagination?
Kierkegaard’s concept of imagination [Phantasie] is presented as a medium that sets up a certain positioning of the subject in its existence. By approaching existence through imagination the subject is accessing a particular existence settled a priori by the perspective adopted. Thus, imagination is not a capacity but a conditioner to the completion of all other capabilities – feeling, willing and knowing – determining them as imaginary feeling, imaginary willing and imaginary knowing. Imagination becomes constitutive of existence itself by matching to the tone or pitch that the subject uses to set it up, always and every time he imagines it.
Imagination corresponds to the infinitude of possibilities as well as the existential reality of the subject, as a medium, is regulated by the boundaries demarcation, by necessity and by contingency. Kierkegaard defines imagination as the medium that allows the infinitizing process as every time the subject approaches existence, having imagination as a point of access, the possibilities are infinite and the infinite is a possibility. However, the infinity that characterize the imaginary does not correspond to a mere limits annulment; there is an euphemization process that nullifies the properties which constitute the subject's life once approached by the reality's perspective, such as risk and necessity.
Imagination is defined as point of view where existence loses its sharpness, while turning blurred and dimmed, as opposed to the rigorous and vehement focus given to us through the reality medium. However, this rigorous focus through which reality is given to us can become a violence that dazzles, sometimes resulting on a denied access – a blindness caused by excessive light. It is through this loss of acuity that, in imagination, reality’s inherent risk is suppressed, allowing the possibilities to become infinite, as, while imaginary, they while never constitute an actuality, in the full sense of its realization to the subject. Thus, the possibility that is hold in the imaginary plan is only realized when the subject develops it through its inclusion in the existence plan, the process in which possibility becomes actuality.
In kierkegaardian thought, subjectivity corresponds to a dialectical synthesis in which all that is constitutive to the subject is presented in a dichotomy of one category and one another which contraries the first. Freedom is given precisely in the conscious relation established between the subject and those dichotomies which constitute his inner self. However, the effectiveness of one of the categories over the antagonist one can be predetermined by the medium through which the subject has access to his existence, it sets the abolishment of certain properties and the manifestation of others. In personality as a synthesis «the finite is the limiting and the infinite the extending constituent»and through which the subject operates an extension of himself. Thus, the intensity of the imagination’s subject corresponds to the intensity of the subject himself as possibility.
Let us focus on the binomial opposing possibility and necessity. Inside the plan of imagination, nothing more than possibility exists, not only in the sense that everything is possible – possibilities are infinite – but also because nothing goes beyond the mere possibility. In the imaginary, nothing becomes an act and nothing constitutes an actuality. And, if everything is possible, need and contingency are suppressed a priori and so excluded from the plan of imagination. The subject can certainly imagine a need; however, he can also suppress it, if he aims to, as so this need will lose its mandatory condition – an imaginary need is still and always a possibility. One may conclude from this that if the binominal necessity/possibility is constitutive of the subject, he could never fully accomplish what defines him through the medium of imagination.
Regarding the binomial finity/infinity, one can witness the suppression of one of the categories. If imagination corresponds to infinity, finity would constitute a negation of imagination’s own nature as a medium. Thus, the imaginary only allows the infinite realization; finite would remain to recognize if the subject would approach existence exclusively through the imaginary.
The process through which the subject becomes what he is – by an appropriation of himself or in becoming contemporary of himself – only takes place through a conscious and concrete synthesis of what constitutes him. If the access to existence through the imaginary plan implies a suppression of finity and contingency then the subject would never perform the process of becoming what he is through the imaginary point of view. The synthesis of the opposites involves a dynamic where the subject does not delegate his existence to a single perspective through which he can approach reality.
Self-knowledge and the consequent self-appropriation process passes through the assignment of giving different configurations to existence, through the adoption of different perspectives that will give, once and each time, a particular tone to reality. The process of the subject’s constitution depends on the recognition of all these tones and of all the gradients which are possible or current so that it can subsequently adopt a position before them. If infinity and possibility are part of the synthesis that constitutes the subjectivity, the imagination is the medium through which the subject has access to those categories in existence. Imagination reflects the subject’s possibilities ad infinitum; reality actualizes some of those. However, the process of subjectivity’s constitution points not only to what the subject already is but also to what he might potentially become.
It is in the self-knowledge exercise, in the close look before the mirror, that the subject transforms the one on the reflected image side. The relation is interchangeable and the duplication serves one single being projected in the future. The mirror is an element. The mirror is an element with a fertile symbolic dimension and whose metaphorical allusions have become common in popular culture. From Narcissus’ passion for his reflected image in the waters, to Snow White stepmother’s mirror, that only seems to reflect the wills and convictions of the one who contemplates it, or to Alice from Lewis Carroll’s novel, who crossed it until the bizarre world beyond it, the mirror is always duplication and transfiguration. It transfigures once it determinates the future of the one who, through the gaze, reveals and deciphers himself.
«The nineteenth century dislike of realism is the rage of Caliban seeing is own face in a glass. The nineteenth century dislike of romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing is own face in a glass.» Oscar Wilde's words, that preface his 1980’s novel The Portrait of Dorian Gray, point to a continuous recognition of the subject that faces himself and to how this recognition constitutes the basis of his actions and creations. From that moment, the place to inhabit is marked on the map: the axis that cannot fall in a delirium of reversal reality guaranteed by imagination which cannot imprison the subject in the reality.
If imagination does not show any risk and necessity, sometimes reality, by itself, does not allow having a glimpse at the possibilities’ totality. If the subject who lives absorbed in his imagination may lose him self's concreteness, to the point when he becomes an abstract subjectivity – a stain without contours spread in reality – the subject who only knows necessity in existence has no condition to continue when all the possibilities fail, he loses the capacity to believe and to have a glimpse which transcends actuality. The subject who submits himself to reality without imagination as a possible point of view is disarmed when facing necessity; and this «lack [of] possibility means either that everything has become necessary for a person or that everything has become trivial.»To the subject of determinism, ignorant of the infinity as possibility, «imagination must raise him higher than the miasma of probability, it must tear him out of this and teach him to hope and to fear – or to fear and to hope – by rendering possible that which surpasses the quantum satis [sufficient amount] of any experience.» Imagination sets an empire of possibilities: it is the subject’s face as a possibility of himself. To the fragment of existence lead by fiction we owe the redemption as existence alone threatens to consume us.
«A human being is a synthesis of the infinite and the finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity, in short, a synthesis. A synthesis is a relation between two». This synthesis that subjectivity constitutes is based on successive joints of reality that is actualized, where contingency is the background, and the infinitizing of existence’s possibilities to that subject. It is in this contention between reality – contingent, limited and irrefutable – and the fictions created by imagination that life is played by. Subjectivity itself is structured by the illusions that imagination weaves. The individual gets to know himself and the world in the exact moment that he replicates himself and reality, with the creation of all the possible worlds. From that moment, it is reality itself that is defined by imagination’s capacity: thus, such as contingency befits its nature, so does the constant existence of an illusion that leads it in a particular way.
This line of thought points towards the assertion that human nature is in itself a reflection of what mankind, through imagination, regards and craves for and about itself. For that reason, imagination takes part in the evolutional dynamics of human nature just as any other purely external factor. One can with this allege that what distinguishes the human being is the fact that the matter which gives it shape and content has also its origin in the illusory and treacherous underworld of its imagination. Each era encloses the dreams and fears of those who live it. However, are not these dreams and fears already a reality, as they are actualized and materialized, in the rear era, incorporated by mankind, in its collectivity? To Michelet’s sentence «Each era dreams the next one», Walter Benjamin answers adding that «Indeed each era not only dreams the next one but, by dreaming it, it moves it towards its awakening. Carries within itself its own purpose and (...) accomplishes it with cunning.» Imagination gives a shape and a tone to the future, it points the direction, lights the path to be followed. In this sense, all the real is preceded and outlined by the unreal, just as imagination finds in reality its anchorage point. Both Janus’ faces are Janus.
The human being’s rationality seems to bloom along with its antidote: irrationality. The fall in the irrational, in the mythical and in the illusory is sometimes the behavior that reason itself prescribes to the subject. Thus, facing the suffocation of the imposed finity and necessity while encountering the extreme truth, «our most beautiful duty is to imagine that there is a labyrinth and a thread. We will never find the thread; maybe we will find it and then lose it in an act of faith, in a rhythm, in the sleep, in the words named philosophy or in mere and simple happiness.» With or without the thread, it only matters to have a glimpse over the labyrinth's exit and that all the paths to find it are infinite.
^ KIERKEGAARD, Søren. (1983). Sickness Unto Death – A Christian psychological exposition for upbuilding and awakening,