The Surprising Imagination of C.S. Lewis - page 5

 


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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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Controlled Imagination: Virtue as Fantasy

  The controlled imagination is a negative use. It projects self-seeking desires onto others to gain ascendency over them. It is akin to the distinction of imagination that Lewis labels wish fulfillment. The self becomes the center of the universe. The controlled imagination can also be what Lewis calls servile. Contrast this with the free activity in which the self is not central to the thing imagined. The servile activity fuels the controlled imagination with images and wish fulfillment dreams that keep us imprisoned within a fantasy world. George Macdonald writes that “the one principle of hell is—I am my own.”9 Perhaps Lewis’s best example of the embodiment of the controlled imagination is in The Screwtape Letters, a fictional work in which a junior devil attempting to guide a human soul to hell is advised by his uncle about the best tactics to use to accomplish this diabolical work.
  The most fatal aspect of the controlled imagination is its propensity to encourage a willful ignorance of our inner life: all the motives and machinations that seethe below the surface of our minds and souls. Conversely, the most powerful antidote is our being intentionally aware, turning our gaze inward and practicing self-examination. Lewis writes, “All reality is iconoclastic.”10 It is constantly breaking in on us and shattering the images and idols we make of it. This beneficial iconoclasm offers us a vision of the world as it is, not as we would create it. We must cultivate the free activity of the imagination in a way commensurate with reality and without self at the center.

Seeing With Others’ Eyes: The Imagination as Reconciliation

  Finally, how do we use our imaginations for the glory of God? Most uses of the imagination are ultimately reconciling. They enable us to reconcile ourselves to a larger world, to see that world accurately, even with its sorrows and failures, for what it is rather than what we want it to be. They provide us with hope and idealism without illusion. They enable us to see that “we may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito. And the incognito is not always hard to penetrate. The real labour is to remember, to attend. In fact, to come awake. Still more, to remain awake.”11 As we give nuance to our own imaginations, they give us bearings on our idea of God, what Lewis terms the “Bright Blur,” consequently enriching our lives and deepening our understanding.

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