Lost Knowledge of the Imagination

with Gary Lachman

Tuesday 23rd January 2018


This talk will explore the idea of imagination as a way of knowing reality. It will look at the historical roots of our current notion of imagination as ‘make believe’ and will examine evidence for a shift toward recognizing it as a power to ‘make real’.

"What is the imagination? Generally we think of it as in some way a substitute for reality, a form of ‘make believe,’ of escaping from the difficult, stubborn everyday world we know so well, into a different, better, more congenial one – that, more often than not, unfortunately exists only inside our head. Or we see imagination as a useful tool in grasping opportunities, producing novel, innovative ways in which some product or activity can get ahead of its competitors and occupy a place on the ‘cutting edge.’ Certainly these notions of imagination are accurate, as far as they go. But what if rather than providing us with  an ‘alternate reality,’ the imagination is actually deeply involved in bringing into being the very reality from which it ostensibly wants to escape? What if imagination, rather than being about ‘make believe,’ is actually about ‘make real?’

"Lost Knowledge of the Imagination is my attempt to articulate some of the basics of this “learning of the imagination.” To do this I explore the work of some of its most eloquent and adventurous exponents. With the philosopher and Inkling Owen Barfield I look at how the history of language can offer insights into how our earliest ancestors seemed to have experienced the world in a way much differ than how we do. Following the great German poet Goethe on his celebrated journey to Italy, I look at how the practice of what Goethe called “active seeing” led to his discovery of the Urpflanze,  the “Primal Plant,” from which countless gardens have grown. With the psychologist C. G. Jung and the scholar of Persian mysticism Henry Corbin, I test the waters of the mundus imaginalis, the Imaginal World, that sphere of reality that exists between the abstract realm of Plato’s Ideas, and the solid, three-dimensional world of physical, sensible things. With Corbin as a guide, I tag along as the Zoroastrian mystic Suhrawardi journeys to Nâ-Kojâ-Abâd, the “country of no-where,” on his way to Mount Qâf and beyond. And with Kathleen Raine I look at how the Neo-Platonism that emerged in ancient Alexandria served as inspiration for English Romanticism, via the remarkable scholarship of Thomas Taylor, the English pagan, whose translations of Plato, Plotinus and other sages of antiquity fed the imagination of Blake, Coleridge, Yeats and many others.          

And where does this knowledge of the imagination leave us today? Oddly enough, as I point out in the closing chapter of the book, we seem to have entered a time when the idea that imagination has the power to affect reality itself – directly, and not through the medium of culture – seems to have become a topic of interest, while reality itself has become something rather different than what it used to be. Is it possible that the obscurity in which the knowledge of the imagination was kept for so long is now starting to clear, and the true meaning and significance of our imagination is coming to light? We know that with great power comes great responsibility. Will we have the strength and purpose to meet this challenge? Let’s imagine." - Gary Lachman

Gary Lachman is a writer, lecturere and historian of ideas. Gary writes frequently for many journals in the US and UK, and lectures on his work in the US, UK, and Europe. His work has been translated into several languages.

His website is  here. 

Cost: £7 / £5 concession