Saulius Geniusas (Ed.): Stretching the Limits of Productive Imagination: Studies in Kantianism, Phenomenology and Hermeneutics

Roger W. H. Savage

Stretching the Limits of Productive Imagination: Studies in Kantianism, Phenomenology and Hermeneutics Book Cover Stretching the Limits of Productive Imagination: Studies in Kantianism, Phenomenology and Hermeneutics
Social Imaginaries
Saulius Geniusas (Ed.)
Rowman & Littlefield International
2018
Paperback £24.95
272

Reviewed by: Roger W. H. Savage (University of California)

In his introduction to this timely volume, Saulius Geniusas underscores the diverse ways in which the essays collected in this book address the concept of the productive imagination. By asking what this concept entails, Geniusas outlines the reach of the contributors’ various investigations into the history of this concept, the role of productive imagination in social and political life, and the various forms that it takes. Geniusas astutely points out that the meaning and significance of the productive imagination cannot be confined to the philosophical framework or frameworks in which it was conceived. Moreover, as Geniusas and several contributors points out, the power that Kant identified with the art of intuiting a unity of manifold sensible impressions was for Kant secreted away in the soul. As the faculty of synthesis, the workings of the productive imagination prove to be elusive, as the essays in this volume attest. While Kant was not the first philosopher to employ the concept of productive imagination (Geniusas explains that Wolff and Baumgarten had taken up this concept in their work), the central philosophical importance he accorded it vests the concept of the productive imagination with its transcendental significance. In his introduction, Geniusas accordingly provides an instructive summary of Kant’s conceptualization of the productive imagination in the Critique of Pure Reason and in the Critique of Aesthetic Judgment.

Kant’s treatment of the productive imagination in the Critique of Pure Reason and the Critique of Aesthetic Judgment is the staging ground for post-Kantian engagements. Geniusas remarks that the transcendental function Kant identifies with imagination in the first Critique leads him to draw a distinction between the productive imagination as an empirical faculty and the imagination as the a priori condition for producing schemata of sensible concepts. Geniusas’s review of the role of the schema provides the reader with an introduction to Kant’s philosophical enterprise. According to Geniusas, Kant “identifies productive imagination as the power than enables consciousness to subsume intuition under the concept the understanding” (ix) by engendering schemata of substance or of a cause, for example. From this standpoint, experience is possible due to this act of subsumption. Hence, one could “qualify productive imagination as the power that shapes the field of phenomenality” (ix).

Conversely, the account Kant provides in the third Critique places the accent on the productive imagination’s creative function. Whereas in the first Critique the power of imagination is operative in subsuming an intuitive manifold under the categorical structure of a universal, in the third Critique the direction of subsumption is reversed. Hence, in aesthetic judgment the power of imagination is operative in the way that the individual case summons its rule.[1] Conceptualizing the “experience of beauty as a feeling of pleasure that arises due to imagination’s capacity to display the harmonious interplay between reason and sensibility” (ix), as Kant does on Geniusas’ account, underscores the difference between determinative and reflective judgment. Geniusas here identifies the productive imagination’s conceptualization with its medial function within the framework of Kant’s philosophy. Furthermore, this medial function is at once both reconciliatory and procreative. By generating the schemata that provide images for concepts as in the first Critique, or by creating symbols that harmonize sensible appearances and the understanding as in the third Critique, the productive imagination “reconciles the antagonisms between different faculties by rendering the intuitive manifold fit for experience” (ix). Geniusas can therefore say that for Kant, the productive imagination acquires its transcendental significance by reason of the fact that this faculty of synthesis is the condition for the possibility of all phenomenal experience.

The several difficulties and drawbacks of Kant’s conception of the productive imagination that Geniusas subsequently identifies sets the tone for several of the chapters in this book. First, the concept of productive imagination as Kant employs it “appears [to be] too thin” (x) to accommodate post-Kantian philosophies in which the productive imagination figures. Second, one could object that Kant’s use of the term “productive imagination” in his various writings, including the first and third Critiques, differs in significant ways. Third, most post-Kantian thinkeoers, Geniusas emphasizes, do not subscribe to the ostensible dualisms of sensibility and understanding, phenomena and noumena, nature and freedom, and theoretical and practical reason that pervade Kant’s philosophical system. Post-Kantian philosophies, Geniusas therefore stresses, seek to capitalize on the productive imagination’s constitutive function while purifying it of its reconciliatory one. As such, the volume’s success in engaging with the Kantian concept of productive imagination while attending to this concept’s history in relation to the different philosophical frameworks in which it figures rests in part on the ways in which the contributing authors situate their analyses in relation to the broader themes set out in the editor’s introduction.

Günter Zöller’s study of the transcendental function of the productive imagination in Kant’s philosophy highlights the parallel treatment of reason and the understanding with regard to the imagination’s schematizing power. Charged with bridging the gap between sensibility and the understanding, the faculty of imagination assumes this transcendental function in order to account for the production of images that constitute cognitive counterparts to the sensible manifold of a priori pure intuitions. Zöller explains that as the source of these images, transcendental schemata provide the generative rules for placing particular intuitive manifolds under the appropriate concepts. As such, these transcendental schemata evince the extraordinary power of the productive imagination. The imagination’s medial role vis-à-vis sensibility and reason is no less extraordinary. Zöller subsequently emphasizes that Kant introduces the term “symbol” in order to differentiate between “a schema, as constitutively correlated with a category of the understanding, and its counterpart, essentially linked to an idea of reason” (13). Zöller concludes by remarking on the analogical significance of the natural order for the moral order in Kant’s practical philosophy. On Zöller’s account, a twin symbolism either “informed by the mechanism constitute of modern natures sciences … [or] shaped by the organicism of [the then] contemporary emerging biology” (16) thus give rise to different conceptions of political life in which normative distinctions between rival forms of governance take hold.

By emphasizing the formative-generative role of the imagination as Wilhelm Dilthey conceives it, Eric S. Nelson situates Dilthey’s revision of Kant’s critical paradigm in the broader context of Dilthey’s “postmetaphysical reconstruction” (26) of it. For Nelson, “Dilthey’s reliance on and elucidation of dynamic structural wholes of relations that constitute a nexus (Zusammenhang) is both a transformation of and an alternative to classical transcendental philosophy and philosophical idealism that relies on constitution through the subject” (26). Reconceived as historically emergent, structurally integral wholes, transcendental conditions that for Kant were given a priori are eschewed in favor of the primacy of experience conditioned by the relational nexuses of these dynamically emergent wholes. Since it “operates within an intersubjective nexus rather than produce it from out of itself” (28), the imagination is productive in that it generates images, types, and forms of experience that can be re-created in the process of understanding. Nelson here cites Dilthey: “all understanding involves a re-creation in my psyche …. [that is to be located] in an imaginative process (cited 32-33). According to Nelson, for Dilthey the imagination’s formative-generative role plays a seminal part in enacting a historically situated reason and in orienting the feeling of life rooted in specific socio-historical conditions and contexts. While Dilthey rejected aestheticism, poetry and art for him are nevertheless “closest to and most expressive of the self-presentation of life in its texture, fulness, and complexity” (38). Aesthetics consequently provides an exemplary model with regard to the human sciences’ “systematic study of historical expressions of life” (Dilthey, cited 39).

Claudio Majolino’s examination of the phenomenological turn reprises significant moments of the history of the concept of the productive imagination. Starting with Christian Wolf’s definitions of the facultas imaginandi and the facultas fingendi, Majolino follows the course of different philosophical accounts of the imagination’s productive character. Unlike Wolff’s definition, which stresses the imagination’s power to feign objects that in the case of phantasms have never been seen, Kant on Majolino’s account replaces the “idea of ‘producing perceptions of sensible absent things’ … with that of ‘intuiting even without the presence of the object’” (50). Kant’s insistence on the productive imagination’s a priori synthetic power consequently opens the door to a Heideggerian strand of phenomenology. According to Majolino, the productive imagination manifests its solidarity with the main issue of ontology as the source of the upwelling of truth. The stress Paul Ricoeur places on metaphor’s redescription of the real in light of a heuristic fiction and on fiction’s power to project a world that is unique to the work accentuates the productive imagination’s ontological significance and force in this regard. Ricoeur accordingly illustrates the “first ‘hermeneutical’ way in which PI [productive imagination] turns into a full-fledged phenomenological concept” (61). For Majolino, Husserl’s account of Kant’s concept of productive imagination opens a second way to phenomenology, which following this other path describes the eidetic features of a form of phantasy consciousness that in the case of poetic fictions are free of cognitive constraints. Majolino consequently asks whether the “eidetic possibility of the end of the world” (73), which he credits to the originality of free fantasies that in Husserl’s view mobilize emotions, offers a more fecund alternative to the course inaugurated by Heidegger.

Like Majolino, Quingjie James Wang credits Heidegger with singling out the productive imagination’s original ontological significance. According to Wang, Heidegger identifies two competing theses within Kant’s system: the “duality thesis,” for which the senses and the understanding are the two sources of cognition, and the “triad thesis,” for which an intuitive manifold, this manifold’s synthesis, and this synthesis’s unity are the conditions of possibility of all experience. For this latter thesis, the transcendental schema, which for Kant is the “medium of al synthetic judgments” (Kant, cited 83), constitutes the third term. On Wang’s account, Heidegger endorses the triad thesis by interpreting Kant’s concept of the transcendental power of imitation in terms of a “transcendental schematism, that is, as schematization of pure concepts within a transcendental horizon of temporality” (87). This transcendental schematism precedes, phenomenologically speaking, psychologists’ and anthropologists’ conception of the imagination’s power. Wang remarks that for Heidegger, the transcendental power of imagination is the existential and ontological root from which existence, life, as well as the phenomena amenable to phenomenological inquiry proceed. Wang accordingly concludes by stressing that for Heidegger, the “originality of the pure synthesis, i.e., its letting-spring-forth” (Heidegger, cited 88) reveals itself as the root of the imagination’s transcendental power.

Saulius Geniusas’s engagement with Miki Kiyoshi’s philosophy brings a transcultural dimension to this volume. Miki’s philosophy, Geniusas stresses, is one of productive imagination. Moreover, “[b]y kōsōryoku, Miki understands a power more original than reason, which is constitutive of the sociocultural world” (92). On this view, the productive imagination shapes our world-understanding through generating collective representations, symbols, and forms. Miki’s phenomenology, Geniusas accordingly explains, is Hegelian and Husserlian. Furthermore, for Miki, “imagination can only be understood within the standpoint of action” (94). Hence, only from this standpoint can one thematize the productive imagination’s transformative power. Contra Ricoeur, whose goal, Geniusas maintains, is to develop a typology of forms of the productive imagination, Miki aims to “ground productive imagination in the basic experience from which productive imagination as such arises” (96). According to Miki, the logic of action, which is equivalent to the logic of imagination, is rooted in group psychology. Geniusas remarks that Miki’s insistence that the logic of imagination differs from the logic of the intellect is difficult to understand. Accordingly, Geniusas’s account of the way that collective representations, symbols, and forms both shape our understandings and experiences and refashion the given order of existence ties the logic of productive imagination to the real’s formation, reformation, and transformation. For Geniusas, a “philosophy that grants primacy to imagination over reason and sensibility provides a viable alternative to rationalism and empiricism and a much more compelling account of the Japanese … 1940s than any rationalist or empiricist position could ever generate” (104-105). For such a philosophy, the notion that imagination plays a seminal role in the constitution of historical, socio-cultural worlds would seem to open the door to a further consideration of the nexus of reason and imagination vis-à-vis the initiatives historical actors take in response to the exigencies and demands of the situations in which they find themselves.

In order to attend to everyday experiences, Kathleen Lennon adopts the idea that imagination is operative in images that give shape and form to the world. By rejecting the concept derived from Hume that images are faint copies of sensory perceptions, she espouses a broader conception that she initially relates to Kant. Similar to several other authors in this volume, she remarks how Kant credits the synthesis of a manifold apprehended in a single intuition to the productive imagination. As such, she identifies the work of the productive imagination with the activity of schematizing this synthetic operation. Lennon stresses the relation between schema and image by citing Kant: “imagination has to bring the manifold of intuition in the form of an image” (115). From this standpoint, the activity of “seeing as,” which she points out has been emphasized by several writers including P. F. Strawson and Ludwig Wittgenstein, draws its force from the way that the image schematizes the unity drawn from a manifold of sensations. At the same time, for her, the “picture of a noumenal subject confronting a noumenal world” (118) in Kant’s second Critique haunts his account of the imagination. Unlike Kant, who Lennon maintains tied both reproductive and productive imagination to perception, Jean-Paul Sartre bifurcates perception and imagination. According to Lennon, on this account the act of imagining for Sartre evinces the ground of our freedom through negating the real. In contrast, Maurice Merleau-Ponty “introduces the terms visible and invisible” (120) in place of the distinctions drawn by Sartre between presence and absence, being and nothingness, and the imaginary and the real. Rather than impose a conceptual form on intuited matter, Lennon says that for Merleau-Ponty the synthesizing activity of the imagination is the “taking up or grasping of shape in the world we encounter” (123) as it emerges in relation to our bodies. Lennon rightly maintains that feelings are felt on things as they manifest themselves to us.[2] For her, that both Sartre and Merleau-Ponty view the “imaginary as providing us with the affective depth of the experienced world” (125) is therefore constitutive of the ways that we respond to it.

The subversive power that Annabelle Dufourcq attributes to the field of the imaginary for her calls into question the pattern of the world based on a synthetic activity “concealed in the depth of the human soul” (Kant, cited 129). In her view, both Gaston Bachelard and Merleau-Ponty recognize the imaginary’s capacity both to distort the real and to render it in striking ways. Dufourcq accordingly searches out the ontological roots of the productive imagination in order to understand how, in contrast to the “arbitrary activity of a subjective faculty called my imagination” (130), the being of things makes images and fantasies possible. Following Husserl, who she maintains “rejects the idea that imagination is first and foremost a human faculty” (131), she adopts the notion that fantasies provide a more accurate model for thinking about images than do pictures. Unlike perceptions, in the case of fantasy, an imaginary world competes with the real in a way that it might even be said to supplant it. Hence for Dufourcq, reality itself become problematic in light of fantasy’s power to unseat the set of significations adumbrated within a limited perceptual field. Her assertation that “Cezanne’s paintings are integral part of the reality of the Mount Santie-Victorie [as] Merleau-Ponty claims in Eye and Mind” (136) resonates with Ricoeur’s claim that works iconically augment the real.[3] Unlike Ricoeur, for whom the real’s mimetic refiguration of the real brings about an increase in being, Dufourcq maintains that Being lies “in the echo of itself. …. [as] the shimmering that … gives birth to beings” (138). How, she therefore asks, can an ontology of the imaginary escape the nihilism born from the belief that there is no reality beyond the imagery of its representation. In response to the question: “[H]ow can one know what the right action is?” (140), the ethics she espouses assigns a profound meaning to any “symbolic” action the value of which ostensibly will be recognized later by those who follow after.

Kwok-ying Lau’s defense of Sartre ostensibly offers a response to Ricoeur’s critique of the representative illusion and by extension of Ricoeur’s theory of mimesis. For Lau, as a writer of fiction, Sartre could hardly have been ignorant of the imagination’s productive power. Hence according to Lau, for Sartre the creative imagination’s essential condition consists in its capacity to produce the irreality of an image posited as the “nonexistence of an object” (152) presentified by it. Conceived as “nothingness,” the irreality of the imagined object is for Sartre an ontological category won through the imagination’s nihilating act. By insisting that fiction for Ricoeur is ontic, Lau overlooks Ricoeur’s insight into how a work’s mimetic refiguration of the real brings about an increase in being. Following Sartre, Lau instead insists that the production of image-fictions takes place in “a void, a nowhere” (153) outside or beyond the real without the need to refer to any existent things. The act of “irrealizing” the real is undoubtedly attributable to the productive imagination’s subversive force. Yet, one could ask whether by giving a “phenomenological and ontological explication of the absolute status of consciousness, whose freedom allows it to express and operate as … the constitutive origin of the world of reality” (153), Sartre in Lau’s reading of him supplants the model of the image-picture and the attendant metaphysics of presence with an aestheticizing idealization of the “[m]imesis of the imaginary” (159) that preserves intact the Platonic theory of imitation while seemingly reversing its direction.

The relation between reason and imagination figures prominently in Suzi Adams’s reflections on Cornelius Castoriadas’s theory of the radical imaginary. Adams stresses that for Castoriadas, the “radical imaginary is a dimension of society” (163). Like Merleau-Ponty, Castoriadas regards phenomenology as a means of interrogating the interplay between history, social formations, and creative impulse that, as the “‘other’ of reason in modernity” (167), unsettles philosophy. At the same time, unlike Merleau-Ponty, Castoriadas embraces the radicality of the social imaginary as instituting the particular set of significations that constitute the real. Adams emphasizes that for Castoriadas, the real is irreducible to functionalist determinations, since any functionalist approach to society “already presupposes the activity of the imaginary element” (171). Accordingly, Castoriadas sets out a tripartite structure in which functional, symbolic, and imaginary aspects of social institutions operate together. Overturning the long-received distinction between the imaginary and the real in this way brings to the fore the radical imaginary’s significance vis-à-vis the networks of symbolic significations that constitute reality for a particular society. For Castoriadas, “the imaginary institution of the real” (176) thus takes shape as a “new form created by the socio-historical out of nothing” (177)—that is, as a creatio ex nihilo that is irreducible to any prior antecedents. Adams remarks the Castoriadas’s turn to ontology and his “radicalization of creation to ex nihilo meant that he could no longer account for the world relation of ‘the meaning of meaning’” (161). From this standpoint, Castoriadas’s contribution to our understanding of the social imaginary opens an avenue for exploring the relation between the productive imagination, the rational, and the real.

Richard Kearney’s attention to the difference between phenomenological accounts that regard imagination as a special mode of vision and Paul Ricoeur’s turn to language underscores the ineluctable role of imagination in the production of meaning. Most philosophies of imagination, Kearney remarks, have failed to develop a hermeneutical account of the creation of meaning in language. Ricoeur’s tensive theory of metaphor redresses this failure by highlighting how a new meaning is drawn from the literal ruins of an initial semantic impertinence. The semantic innovation that in the case of metaphor leads to seeing a peace process as on the ropes, for example, owes its power to disclose aspects of reality that were previously hidden to the power of imagination. Kearney accordingly stresses that imagination is operative in the “act of responding to a demand for new meaning” (190) through suspending ordinary references in order to reveal new ways of inhering in the world. Kearney subsequently sets out Ricoeur’s treatments of the symbolic, oneiric, poetic, and utopian modalities of the imagination. The power of the imagination to open the “theater of one’s liberty, as a horizon of hope” (189) bears out the specifically human capacity to surpass the real from within. Kearney points out that “without the backward look a culture is deprived of its memory, without the forward look it is deprived of its dreams” (202). The dialectical rapprochement between imagination and reason made possible by a critical hermeneutics is thus a further staging ground for a philosophical reflection on the imagination’s operative role in the response to the demand for meaning, reason, and truth.

The two chapters that conclude this volume explore how the concept of productive imagination might apply to nonlinguistic thought and imaginary kinesthetic experiences. By claiming that scenic phantasma (which he equates with “social imaginary”) play out fantasies concerning complex social problems, Dieter Lohmar ostensibly extends the role played by the imagination to regions in which the symbolism at work subtends or supersedes language-based thinking. On Lohamr’s view, scenic phantasma draw their force from nonlinguistic systems of symbolic representations that he maintains are operative in human experience. At the same time, the narrative elements that he insists inhere in scenic phantasma vest the “series of scenic images” (207) that he likens to short and condensed video clips with an evaluative texture. According to Lohmar, “it is nearly impossible to represent the high complexity of social situations by means of language alone” (208). For him, the recourse to scenic phantasma offers a nonlinguistic alternative for representing these complex situations in an intuitive way. Weaving series of scenic representations together into a “kind of ‘story’” (209) redresses the apparently insurmountable problem of conceptualizing adequately real-life situations and calculating accurately the probabilities of possible outcomes. Scenic presentations of one’s attitudes and behavior in response to a personal or social problem or crisis thus supposedly provides a more reliable basis for judging the situation and making a decision as to how to act than linguistically mediated accounts of events. Lohmar insists that “[o]nly in the currency of feeling are we able to ‘calculate’” (212) possible outcomes through appraising competing factors in order to arrive at a decision. For him, this “‘calculation’ in the emotional dimension” (210) thus provides a greater surety with regard to one’s motives and convictions than propositional abstractions.

The theory of kinesthetic imagination that Gediminas Karoblis advances extends the concept of productive imagination to the corporeal reality of bodily movement. According to Karoblis, Ricoeur voids the corporeal moment of kinesthetic movement by ridding the imagination of the spell of the body in order to account for the productive imagination’s transformative power.[4] In Karoblis’s view, Ricoeur insistence on fiction’s capacity to place the real in suspense accords with the idea that the “kinesthetic sphere in principle pulls us back to reality” (232). Similar to Lohmar, Karoblis sets kinesthetic phantasy against the linguistic domain. For him, contemporary virtual and augmented realities are as much phantasy worlds as are the worlds projected by narrative fictions. Kinesthetic phantasy, he therefore maintains, involves a phantasy body that is “positively imagined as free” (234) as, for example, in the case of flying. According to Lohmar, positing bodily movement as quasi-movement, as though the act of flying was physically enacted, fulfills the “necessary requirement of the irreality and the freedom applicable to any imagination’ (233). We might wonder whether a future in which kinesthetic experiences manipulated by designers of fully immersive computer games will be one that supplants fiction’s mimetic refiguration of the practical field of our everyday experiences. Conversely, the kinesthetic imagination’s role in figuring nonnarrative dance, for example, evinces its productive force through revealing the grace and power of bodies in motion.

The essays in this volume thus not only explore the enigmas and challenges posed by Kant’s conceptualization of the productive imagination, but they also broaden the scope of inquiries into the imagination’s operative role in various dimensions of our experiences. The sundry directions taken by post-Kantian critiques and appropriations of the concept of productive imagination is a testament both to this concept’s fecundity and to its continuing currency in contemporary philosophical thought. Furthermore, the degree to which the authors in this volume draw upon, and in some ways are inspired by, Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Sartre, Castoriadas, and Ricoeur bear out the extent to which the work of these authors adds to, and augments, the history of this concept. We should therefore also recognize how, in these essays, philosophical imagination is at work. For, every question, difficulty, or challenge calling for an innovative response sets the imagination to work. Genius, Kant maintains, “is the talent … that gives the rule to art.”[5] Correlatively, he insists that the products of genius must be exemplary. Phronesis, which according to Aristotle is a virtue that cannot be taught, has a corollary analogue in the power by reason of which of social and historical agents intervene in the course of the world’s affairs. The essays collected in this volume are indicative of the productive imagination’s ineluctable significance. As such, this volume broadens the scope of philosophical deliberations on the often highly-contested terrain of a concept the operative value of which is seemingly beyond dispute.


[1] See Paul Ricoeur, The Just, trans. David Pellauer (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2000). Ricoeur explains that by allowing for a “split within the idea of subsumption” (95), Kant reverses the direction of a determinative judgment, which consists in placing the particular case under a universal. Consequently, in aesthetic judgment, the individual case expresses the rule by exemplifying it.

[2] See Paul Ricoeur, Fallible Man, trans. Charles A. Kelbley (New York: Fordham University Press, 1986). Ricoeur emphasizes that is definitely intentional, in that a feeling is always a feeling of “something.” At the same time, feeling’s strange intentionality inheres in the way that the one hand, feeling “designates qualities felt on things, on persons, on the world, and on the other hand [it] manifests and reveals the way in which the self is inwardly affected” (84).

[3] Paul Ricoeur, A Ricoeur Reader: Reflection and Imagination, ed. Mario J. Valdés (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991), 130-133; Paul Ricoeur, François Azouvi, and Marc de Launay, Critique and Conviction: Conversations with François Azouvi and Marc de Launay, trans. Kathleen Blamey (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), 179.

[4] Cf. Paul Ricoeur, Freedom and Nature: The Voluntary and the Involuntary, trans. Erazim V. Kohák (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1966).

[5] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment, trans. Werner S. Pluhar (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 1987), 174.

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