By Sam Earle
Tuesday evening was Perspectiva’s inaugural event at the beautiful 42 Acres in Shoreditch.
Here I want to share some personal reflections, in light of my research, on the evening’s experiential phase of inter-activities coordinated by Pippa Evans. The word I’d use to sum up the activities and their impacts is ‘unexpected’.
I was, for example, surprised when actors planted in the audience struck up typical internal monologues aloud with increasing volume and insistence during a guided meditation; I was surprised when people volunteered to share their, often raw, emotional responses to an inundation of distressing facts about the world in what had (rather moving) shades of spontaneous group therapy; I was surprised by the willingness of the attendees to embrace the spirit of the event — to reflect on, and shake up, preconceptions and prejudices; I was surprised by how effective even watching others participate in a multi-tasking activity was in shaking me out of my own thought-patterns; and I was surprised by how the inter-activities helped me understand elements of my own research a bit more — and thus turned out to be a kind of experiential philosophy.
It is in this repeated unexpectedness that, to my mind, the power of the experience lay. As part of my research into Imaginaries I am exploring the role of the imagination. In brief, I suggest that there are three kinds or modes of imagination that each play distinct and necessary roles within the imaginary: the representational (how memes are shared); the moral (how community bonds and a sense of the ‘Other’ are formed); and the radical (how new conceptions and perspectives that disrupt the status quo are created).
I am especially interested in the radical imagination, as it plays an essential and central role in challenging the current imaginary and creating alternative — and hopefully better — ways of being (together) in the world. The radical imagination has two facets: 1) the capacity to stand back and ‘objectively’ critique the current social order (i.e. perspective taking) and 2) creating radically new ideas (necessary for re-imagining the imaginary). Metaphor — the ‘carrying across’ of one domain onto another — plays a crucial role in the radical imagination. It works by creating a sort of hermeneutic shock: two familiar things are unexpectedly forced together in a way that disrupts one out of the ‘dogmatic slumber’, to coin Kant, that inevitable (and necessary) neural shortcuts lead to. This shock wakes us up, and we become alert and are able to attend to things with greater clarity and intensity. And it is in this ‘heuristic space’ that creativity can happen. The heuristic space has intrinsic liminality in that it is radically open and non-determined and is thus, par excellence, the space of the unexpected.
Through this lens, it occurred to me that the inter-activities that Pippa conducted on Tuesday were in fact metaphors. There are several ways in which the metaphors were at work, and this is something that I will need to dedicate more thought to, but the most obvious way was in combining the cognitive (i.e. thought-based) with the somatic (i.e. body-based). This seems to me to account for the powerfulness of the experience in creating a sustained sense of the unexpected and the heuristic space for challenging preconceptions and engendering new ideas.
Conversely, the experience helped me to understand two things. Firstly, that the scope of metaphor is far beyond the merely semantic. I had already suspected as much, realising that metaphor can be visual, and that synaesthesia is metaphorical, for example. But last night I really understood — in a more than theoretical way — just how considerable metaphorical reach is, and the potential this offers for the radical imagination. Secondly, I realised that although the creative faculty of the radical imagination is essentially a solitary phenomenon, the heuristic space that offers the distance necessary for critical reflexivity and that grounds creativity can be engendered collectively. Indeed, I share these reflections and insights as evidence of that.
It would be fascinating to hear in the comments below if these thoughts resonate with anyone else who attended, and what — if any — critical thoughts or creative ideas arose from the experience.
*This post was originally written by Sam Earle and made available on the online publishing platform Medium.