The Surprising Imagination of C.S. Lewis - page 3


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From the Fall 2016 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

The Surprising Imagination of C.S. Lewis

by Mark Neal
Author and Speaker

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  Lewis spent the early years of his life attempting to reconcile the divided parts of his mind. How could imagination ever be a source of truth comparable with reason? He loved and valued imagination, but his materialistic worldview wouldn’t allow him to believe it was anything more than make-believe. He wrote a poem, titled “Reason,” about this essential division in his mind. In the poem he asks this question:

Who [will] make imagination’s dim exploring touch
Ever report the same as intellectual sight?3

  I believe this split is present in the minds of many followers of Christ today, a division that simply does not give credence to imagination as a primary factor in how we understand and approach God. We are in fact using it, but our ignorance of its role and its functions and our facile understanding of it, as a childish appurtenance that we have long outgrown, causes us to reject and devalue it. We therefore need a more robust conception of how the imagination functions.

Nuanced Imagination: The Key to Deeper Clarity and Truth

  Lewis understood imagination to be highly nuanced. In fact, he identified more than thirty of these nuances.
  For example, Lewis writes of the penetrating imagination that seeks to get at the truth of a thing by looking at it from many different angles. He cites Shakespeare as the great master of the penetrating imagination, often giving numerous metaphors to describe one thing. This allows us to go deeper and expand our understanding.
  Primary imagination helps us to make sense of the data supplied by our five senses. Material imagination attempts to depict accurately the material world through vivid description. Realizing that imagination enables us to grasp the complexities of the world and to understand them in matters of truth, we can have a sure, but not a last, word. We can always delve more deeply, apply our understanding more widely, and see it in coherent relation to other truths.
  Not every nuance of the imagination is a positive one. Lewis describes the transforming imagination that engages in idealized projection, placing inflated expectations onto the objects of its affection. Similarly, the generous imagination embellishes a thing beyond what it deserves. It is the blind estimation of an idea that can result in groupthink and inner-circle mentality.
  To gain more clarity about how Lewis gave overlaid the imagination with nuances, let’s examine one positive and one negative use.

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