…we need a way of entering the animate and animating mode of direct experience….Simply showing the image doesn’t work, because the unaccustomed eye has no more ability to ‘imagine about imagining’ than the untrained mind knows how to ‘think’ about thinking.

Marie Angelo

Contemporary culture exalts the calculating intelligence of Apollo, and pushes Dionysian ecstatic wisdom to the margins. We may encounter Dionysus in moments of pleasure or hedonism, but we are all dedicated to Apollo at birth. We value cognitive, rational and analytical intelligence; and largely discount the possibility that intuitive, emotional and imaginal, or non-propositional, ways of knowing can provide valid insight. Imagination is particularly dismissed as it is seen as something we grow out of as we leave childhood.[1] Consequently, ‘heart and soul have not been to school’[2], and we have ‘the limited view that intellect resides only in the head.’[3]

Carl Jung saw this division of head and heart as the ‘heavy sacrifice’ modern man paid for Western culture.[4] His phrasing is outdated, but his point stands. It did not happen all at once, but bit-by-bit we traded in an integrated cosmos for our version of civilisation. One-sidedness towards consciousness was, for Jung, the source of many of modern people’s problems. Through working with his own psyche he ‘discovered’ that the cure lay in a move in the opposite direction- to the unconscious[5]. Active imagination: a practice involving direct and symbolic engagement with the images of dream and phantasy, was advanced by Jung as his analytical method of psychotherapy[6]. Used for personal development, active imagination works by bringing unconscious materials into consciousness. This meeting creates a third thing- the transcendent function- which moves the psyche towards wholeness or individuation.[7]

The therapy room thus became a site where the ‘unaccustomed eye’ could be educated in the intelligence of image. However, along with independent scholar Marie Angelo I feel that active imagination, or, to decouple the kind of vision I am talking about from psychotherapy, image work, has a vital role to play in a broader re-visioning of education.[8] Writer and psychiatrist Iain McGilchist in his book The Master and His Emissary offers the structure of the human brain as a metaphor that is useful for understanding both the ‘heavy sacrifice’, and the importance of educating the ‘unaccustomed eye’.

McGilchrist argues that the two hemispheres of the brain bring two very different worlds into being.[9] The left hemisphere belongs to Apollo. Its style and preferences link it to the conscious and discursive mind. It enjoys focus, specifics, and likes what it already knows. The left brain does not so much experience the world as ‘re-present’ it in categories and classes of phenomena. The right hemisphere subsequently relates to the unconscious and the non-propositional mind. It is much more fun at parties as it is interested in relationships and patterns; and enjoys holistic perspectives and new experiences.[10]

Another metaphoric layer can be added here by drawing on Sean Kane’s work on Myth. Kane talks about polyphony and homophony in relation to speech and stories. Myth, in its mythopoetic form, speaks in a polyphony it ‘…is an echo in human expression of a world in which everything has intelligence, everything has personality, everything has a voice… [speaking within]… networks of communication with each other, the human listener being simply a part of that network’. In contrast, discursive language tends to be a homophony: ‘the reduced sound of human language when it is used under the assumption that speech is something belonging only to human beings, and when “other-than-human persons”, both animals and plants have been disenfranchised…’[11] From this we can imagine the left brain world droning with the sound of a single, rather pompous and irritating voice; while the world of the right brain resounds in divine chorus.

In modern culture, we are so dominated by left-hemisphere styles of thought that we barely recognise their pervasiveness, and have all but forgotten that there are other ways of knowing.[12] While left hemisphere reality may seem preferable because it appears both clearer and more useful, it is also reductive and atomising and creates an overconfident ego driven reality.[13]  Right brain experience is harder to reconcile to the standards of positivism and materialism, but may actually provide for more accurate perception of reality. McGilchrist calls for a recalibration of the relationship between the hemispheres, to make the left hemisphere the emissary, rather than the master, of the right.[14] An imaginal education, that opens us up to the intelligence present in the images of art, myth, story, poetry, dream and phantasy; and teaches us how to relate to and use our non-propositional minds, offers, I think, a way of doing this.

The need for widely accessible imaginal education is not just necessary, it is growing increasingly urgent. One-sidedness towards discursive thought has resulted in a world in which humans have, to quote depth psychologist Nicolo Santilli: ‘…assumed a level of power and influence that is incommensurate with our wisdom and our capacity to live well and beautifully.’[15] (2015, p. 60). Rediscovery of the imaginal may not be able to save us from ecological and social catastrophe, but it may have the power to redeem us. Imagination is one of the routes to direct experience of the connected cosmos. Through it we can experience embodied engagement with the world soul, the Anima Mundi, and it is this restored participation in the living and ensouled universe that has the potential to teach us how to live well in troubled times.

Claire Berlyn

April 2017

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[1]  Marie Angelo, Image Intelligence: A Psychological Study of Active Imagination as Education (Unpublished D. Phil thesis. University of Sussex, 1992), p. 16.

[2] James Hillman “The children, the children!: An editorial,” Children’s Literature ( Volume 8, 1980), 5.

[3] Marie Angelo Angelo, M “When the gods were intelligent, and education was enchanting”, Self and

 Society (Volume 26: Issue 6, 1997), pp. 13-14.

[4] Carl Gustav Jung, C. G. “The Transcendent Function’ in Chodorow, J. (ed.) Jung on active

 Imagination (London: Routledge,1916/1997), p. 97.

[5] cf. Ibid and Carl Gustav Jung Modern man in search of a soul (London and New York: Routledge, 1933/2001).

[6] Joan Chororow, Jung on active imagination (London: Routledge), p. 17.

[7] Carl Gust Jung (1916/1933) op cit,

[8] Marie Angelo, (1992; 1997; 2005) op cit.

[9] Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the

Western World (New Haven and London: Yale University Press [e=book], 2009) loc. 242-255.

[10] Ibid, loc.1048; 1079; 1348.

[11]  Sean Kane, Wisdom of the mythtellers. 2nd edn. (Ontario, Canada: Broadview Press, 1998), p. 191-2.

[12] Iain McGilchrist, op cit., loc 258.

[13] Ibid, loc. 2572-2577. 

[14] Ibid, loc. 5481.

[14] Nicolo Santilli, “Mystery, Paradox, and the Cosmic Soul”, Jung Journal (Volume 9: Issue 2, 2015), p. 60.