Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

September 11th, an Attack at the Limits of Thought

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

September 11th, an Attack at the Limits of Thought

Article excerpt

Imagining: An introduction

The development of a human being cannot be equated to the simple accumulation of experiences, but is rather an operation of constructing meaning which takes place uninterruptedly over the course of life. By interpreting the experiences we live through, we find our personal way of conceiving the world and our place in it.

The imagination plays a crucial role in the process of signification which the individual undertakes. It is developed in that dimension which Winnicott (1953) calls transitional, a third dimension beside the categories of real/ unreal in which we customarily do our reasoning. In fact, imaginative thought generates a class of objects which are neither true/real, in that they do not concretely exist, nor false/unreal, in that they are 'imaginatively true', or true and real in the internal world of whoever is imagining them.

Into this class of objects come the mental representations and the anticipations which we build about the future. The imagination that we use for thinking about the future is principally composed of memory, or rather is imbued with the experiences we have undergone in the past, to which we add the experiences of the present, at the moment in which we are thinking:

As we are proceeding towards the future at every moment in our life courses, the imagination -based on our past - may set up expected and desired scenarios for what may happen. From that perspective, the pretend play of young children, the professional and personal aspirations of adults, the psychological adaptations in later years, are all generated by the same basic system: the constructive capacity to imagine the AS-IF state of objects that are accessible in the AS-IS form or, in other words, the capacity to imagine that what is the case could be different, or what is not could be for real.

(Zittoun et al., 2014, p. 73)

Imagination is therefore a process of constructing meaning. As it unfolds we use ways of seeing, memories, states of mind, associations of ideas, and thoughts shared with our social and cultural circle: each aspect is decomposed, transformed, reinvented. This is how we can imagine the atmosphere we will find at home before we get there, how food will taste before we try it, what work we will enjoy before getting a job, and so on. By means of these thoughts we can prepare, pre-feel, pre-see (Zittoun et al., 2014).

The imagination is also guided by the ways of seeing that are disseminated in our culture and absorbed through social exchange. Deposits of traditions, customs, habits of thought and, above all, value-systems are laid down in us and transferred from one generation to another, thereby characterizing a 'territory'.

Socially shared images can become crystallized in modes of speech, songs, work of art, legends or histories that compose the 'semiosphere' of which we form part: on the one hand they are the mould within which thought begins; on the other, they represent a sketch that we can enrich and modify by adding our experience, thereby continuing the multi-authored story which composes the social fabric2 (Zittoun et al., 2014).

Castoriadis (1996) had highlighted the risk - in his opinion a highly concrete one - of the West exhausting its capacity for imagination. By the "exhaustion of imagination" he was referring in particular to the inability of a social system to rethink itself, its own fundamental values, and its possible trajectories for development. A society with these characteristics knows no evolution that is not a repetition of identical schemata, albeit with circumstantial variations (Patalano, 2010).

The heart of social innovation lies in the very possibility of keeping two levels of thought in mind, that of reality as it is (the AS-IS perspective), and that of reality as it could be (the AS-IF perspective): the latter is the level created by imaginative thought (Lawrence and Valsiner, 2003). If this level is exhausted, the possibility of creatively changing and evolving will be reduced:

Importing from the real to the imaginary and back is precisely the process by which one can move towards new experiences or elaborate past ones. …

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