This essay will examine how Jacob Boehme and William Blake understood and valued imagination, and how imagination is quite distinct from fantasy. Both men saw it as rooted in living experience, and as such necessary for a fuller knowledge and understanding of reality. For both, abstract reasoning alone gives only a partial view, one that can distort and limit our understanding and the world that we do experience. By contrast, the creative embodied imagination places us more fully in existence, in ourselves and in the world; it makes possible true Reason; it reveals all the profound potential that is too often unexplored and unrealised in us; and by doing so it affords us a vital living understanding of and relationship with the Divine.
Harvard neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor, commenting on the subtle but significant differences between how each hemisphere of our brain understands and engages with the world, observed that “the two halves of my brain don’t just perceive and think in different ways at a neurological level, but they demonstrate very different values based upon the types of information they perceive, and thus exhibit very different personalities” (My Stroke of Insight).
Shelley is often thought of as an atheist, the author of the celebrated pamphlet The Necessity of Atheism, for which he was promptly expelled from Oxford. In fact, the pamphlet did not advocate atheism as such but rather argued for its decriminalisation – a philosophical nicety sadly lost on the Oxford authorities. Moreover, Shelley himself at the time was if anything a Deist, as were most progressive eighteenth-century radicals – his letters from this period are filled with arguments trying to find a rational basis for belief in God.
In many ways, I believe that Michael Eigen is attempting to restore to psychology a dimension suppressed by the scientistic ambitions of the academicized discipline, where the drastic attempt to reduce language to a vehicle for hard data makes of language itself nothing but an empty shell, good only to serve as a frame for the apparent objectivity of statistics. Where Freud could only grudgingly wonder at poetry as a form of psychological gnosis, Eigen understands that poetry—and, very possibly, therapy, too—has the function of revealing who we are. “Poetry”, he says, “is dusting off the true self”.