Professor of English
British Columbia, Canada
Literature and the Logic of Visualization
The word "imagination," once an indispensable term in the critical vocabulary, is now pretty much extinct. References to "imagination" typically treat it as too quaint for words or as belonging to some hopelessly outdated "Romantic ideology" or the exploded metaphysics of something called "myth criticism." In this respect, critical theory has returned to the prejudices against imagination common to psychology through most of the twentieth century and to philosophy through most of its history (not all).
The problem is that imagination will not "go away" just because critical fashions have moved away--by imagination I do not mean German-Romantic imagination, but imagination in its primary sense as the forming and transforming of mental images (mental senses more generally including hearing with the mind's ear as well as seeing with the mind's eye and the other senses). This activity really constitutes a type of intellection in its own right, indeed with its own kind of logic, but this type of intellection is different from abstract reasoning, the preferred and privileged model of thinking in the academy. Since literary texts are the creations of this "imagethinking" mode of consciousness and not the product of abstract reasoning, literary theory has generated virtually insurmountable problems for itself by ignoring the ways in which this "imagethinking" mode of consciousness constructs and expresses. Tropes, for example, have to be regarded as the attempt of words to replicate the rhythms and forms of imagethinking, as opposed to abstract reasoning. It is only to abstract reasoning, therefore, that they are undecidable and. aporetic: what present as insoluble convolutions to abstract reasoning are clear and direct expressions as far as imagethinking is concerned.
A further example is the use of certain "cues", as they may be called,
crucial images located at certain points in the text of stories to indicate
the direction of the plot. I summarize and illustrate some of these
cues, and draw upon classics of "realism" to illustrate my point (for example
Trollope's Barchester Towers). As soon as one begins to study
the logic of visualization as it constitutes literary texts one begins
to notice how frequently writers themselves refer to the act of forming
and transforming mental images: definitive indication, if one were needed,
of the profound importance of this activity for literature and by extension
for consciousness and for society itself.
Nicholson is Professor of English at University College in British
Columbia, Canada, and former Chair of English and Modern Languages and
member of the executive of the Association of Canadian College and University
Teachers of English and Board member of English Studies in Canada.
He is the author of Male Envy: The Logic of Malice in Literature and
Culture and of the forthcoming .
13 Ways of Looking at Images: The Logic of Visualization in Literature and Society. Forthcoming.
Male Envy: The Logic of Malice in Literature and Culture. Lanham: Lexington Books, 1999.
Gertrude's Poison Cup: Entering the Unknown World. LIT: Literature Interpretation Theory 8. 1. (June 1997): 1-21.
C. S. Lewis and the Scholarship of Imagination in E. Nesbit and Rider Haggard. Renascence: Essays on Value in Literature 51. 1 (Fall 1998): 41-62.
The Riddle of the Firecat. Wallace Stevens Journal 22. 2 (Fall 1998): 133-48.
Confusion of Tongues in C. S. Lewis's The Silver Chair. Lamp-Post of the Southern California C. S. Lewis Society 18. 2 (June 1994): 15-27.
The Scene of Eating and the Semiosis of the Invisible. Recherches Semiotiques/Semiotic Inquiry 14. 1-2 (1994): 285-302.
Disaster Fantasies: Byron as a Poet of the Fantastic. Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts 2. 4 (8). 1990: 110-32.
Peripety Cues in Short Fiction. CEA Critic: An Official Journal of the College English Association 56. 2 (Winter 1994): 42-55.
'The Slightest Sound Matters': Stevens' Sound Cosmology. The Wallace Stevens Journal 18. 1 (Spring 1994): 63-80.
Bram Stoker and C. S. Lewis: Dracula as a Source for That Hideous Strength. Mythlore 19. 3 (73) Summer 1993: 16-22.
Byron and the Drama of Temptation. Comparative Drama 25. 4 (Winter 1991-1992): 329-50.
L'Homme Fatal in Hedda Gabler. Modern Drama 35. 3 (Sept. 1992): 365-77.
God, Noah, Lord Byron - and Timothy Findley. ARIEL 23. 2 (April 1992): 87-107.
Magic Food, Compulsive Eating, and Power Poetics. Disorderly Eaters: Texts in Self-Empowerment. University Park. 1992. 43-60.
Eat-or Be Eaten: An Interdisciplinary Metaphor. Mosaic 24. 3-4 (Summer-Fall 1991): 191-210.
Indeterminacy in Byron. English Studies in Canada 16.1 (March 1990): 35-53.
The New Cosmology in Romantic Poetry. The Wordsworth Circle 20. 3 (Summer 1989): 123-131.
Reading Stevens' Riddles. College English 50. 1 (Jan 1988): 13-31.
Food and Power: Homer, Carroll, Atwood and Others. Mosaic 20.
3 (Summer 1987): 37-55.
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MLA 2000: The Literary Imagination