Cosmos Café [6/11] - Lost Knowledge of the Imagination

Recorded 11 June 2019

In our previous Café entitled Completing Distinctions we reflected on tempo-rhythms; sensing and imagining the other; and ecstatic expressions of the ineffable (among other topics). Owen Barfield’s works Poetic Diction and History in English Words entered the conversation as we spoke of the way in which particular words can give a felt sense or incarnate a particular level of consciousness. . . by studying the evolution and history of words and meaning we can directly witness the evolution of consciousness. This takes a certain degree and understanding of “imagination”.

Imagination, as the term is generally used today, is often brushed aside as “that’s just your imagination” or seen as child’s play, magical thinking; or it is utilized for innovative visioning, as a tool that helps us on the cutting edge of technology and new ideas. The lost knowledge of the imagination cannot be found within this surface understanding of the word. Barfield, Lachman, Raine and others have recovered through their writing this lost dimension, the form of imagination coming from the sensual realm. The imagination carries with it a depth, a way of knowing and understanding the essence of invisible realities. Covert realities were uncovered, discovered and recovered in this Café.

Reading / Watching / Listening

“Here he suggests that, as a result of modernity, we have lost sight of the conscious poetic power of nature and reality itself. He focuses on the work of Goethe who claimed that the disciplined imagination of the poet can be applied to scientific questions. His argument centers on the work of philosopher and historian Henry Corbin, who argues that the “imaginal” realm was distinct from fanciful imagination and also ontologically real. He also describes the journeys taken by the great Swiss psychiatrist, C. G. Jung, into the depths of his own psyche.” – taken from New Thinking Allowed introduction

Context, Backstory, and Related topics


An excellent choice, Doug, and thanks for setting this up. I saw the interview last night, I read the book last year, and I imagine the ideas expressed will resonate widely. Lachman and Kripal are bringing attention to the weird in wonderful ways. They are scholars and they are also good writers. Lachman’s take on the Occult and the Alt-Right is also intriguing. I look forward to the next Cafe.


I look forward to viewing-listening to this, a intimate subject close to my Heart & Way of Living my Life.


It is a solid interview (as is most all of the Thinking Allowed recordings). When I first listened to it, I felt the connections to our recent conversations were too good to pass up. This dimension of the imagination is discussed in the threads on Loeffler’s Generative Realities, which examine the past social structures, cognition, and temporality in civilization in search of imagining and generating realities. A few of us are being introduced to Jean Gebser. I am sure our “Gebsperts” would appreciate a space to explain the connective tissue of Ever Present Origin to this lost knowledge of imagination. Gary Lachman has been referenced a few times throughout our wider conversation. There is much more material out there we could examine but considering the preparation time for this Café, I felt this recording was a great round-up of what we are exploring.


I don’t think I’m going to be able to make it to the Cosmos Cafe conversation - there seems to be a schedule conflict for me - but I had the time today to watch/listen to the discussion between Jeffrey Mishlove and Gary Lachman. I really enjoyed it; it was a pleasure to hear Lachman talk about the myriad influences and personages and ideas that have over time developed the concept of the imaginal as something ontological and even objective. I tried reading Henry Corbin years ago (once again, Bloom was the gateway for this), and I would like to try again. Some other thoughts: has anyone read anything by Giambattista Vico? He was an Italian philosopher, writing in 18th and 17th centuries, during the Enlightenment, but with very many ideas that ran counter to Descartes and his followers and the Enlightenment, including what seems to me to be a very complicated but important theory of poetic wisdom, that involves a way of seeing that is (here comes a somewhat paltry way of describing this) less about distinctions than connections. (I absolutely loved hearing about Goethe’s participatory way of seeing involving the ur-flower, and Vico’s thought seems germane in this regard, although I’d need a bit of time to flesh this out more as to how and why.)

Vico also developed a theory of language, i.e. where it came from, that seems to have to do with imitation and imagination - the video touched briefly on this topic in regards to Barfield’s theories.

Another thinker I thought of while listening to the interview was Elaine Scarry, a professor of literature and aethetics at Harvard. Her interests range widely, but I am thinking specifically of a really wonderful book she wrote called “Dreaming By the Book.” This is probably one of my favorite accounts I’ve ever read of how imaginative literature works, (I am using the utilitarian or functional-sounding “works,” but I don’t think it is anything like a “How Fiction Works” kind of manual book that boils magic down to formulas). Scarry makes the very reasonable point that, for most of us, our imaginations by themselves, untutored by a book or author or painter or whatever, are sort of flimsy, shadowy, grey, two-dimensional. However, when we are in the hands of a mature writer or artist, something happens, and we are able to really imagine more deeply and vividly. Her book is then an exploration of what she calls “the felt experience of image making.” She has great passages on Ashbery, Wordsworth, and Hardy, as well as a chapter on how and why flowers are imagined by authors (with some nice appearances by Rilke), and therefore by readers.

One thing I remember specifically about this book that sort of shocked and amazed me, is that Scarry theorizes that we are able to imagine things like flowers or ghosts in literature, because their very delicacy, transparency, filminess, approximates the nature of our own imaginations. She has this amazing interpretation of a moment in Proust, where the narrator is watching a magic lantern projection slide in and out of the folds of a curtain, and describing why/how this works as a scene, or why/how we are able to imagine this so vividly in the first place, and it seems to connect to the nature of perception and imagination. The book is really a very astute and intelligent phenomenology of imagination. I’ve never read anything for long by the French philosopher Gustave Bachelard, who wrote extensively about phenomenology and poetry (as well as reverie), but I’d imagine we could locate Scarry’s book in a similar vein or tradition.


If the Good Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise, I should be able to take in the video (read Lachman’s book last year about this time, so it should be a nice refresher) tomorrow, or at least before the meet-up on Tuesday. Count me in.


Have you read Scarry’s book on Shakespeare? I loved it, though not necessarily in agreement with all of it, was wondrous strange and obviously arose out of her great love for S. and deep knowledge of his works. I will definitely try to find a used copy of Dreaming by the Book, thank you!
I loved Bachelard’s books on water, space, fire…I forgot the other ones! Poetry donning prose and exploring relationships overlooked, unheard, untasted… Barfield too, whom I read in a Religon and Literature class was one of my favorites. So delightful to hear from you on these writers.
The common origin of the imaginal realm and language was addressed in a fascinating way by the Mckenna brothers. Terrance attributes the “sudden blooming” of the imaginal (AND more sex and better eyesight) along with the birth of language as a kind of synesthesia: hear a sound, see/experience the source as image/taste/smell…and, eventually, word! Problems galore here, but I think thee may have been some influencing of directions brought about by “mind revealing” mushrooms and other plant substances, or “botanical neurotransmittors”…
When I worked with Deaf people and learned to sign, I moved into the sign-language before verbal language camp. (Children do learn sign at an earlier age than they learn verbal languages)
All this, and I haven’t even listened to the Cafe…going to do that now…
Glad to meet you, Andrew!


“Participatory epistomology” was the medthod of Barbara McClintock, (eventually) nobel geneticist who worked with corn…knowing, literally, each and every plant individually, imagining herself into the plant’s ways in general, and each one’s particular way…and came up with a vision of “jumping genes” which is now standard theory, but then was heresy. She described her method as a kind of intensely focused meditative entering- into the being, as is described in A Feeling For the Organism. You could use the word love here, as well, because deep passionate regard for any being is the key that opens the door to participatory epistomology… this can be an “artist method” for all forms that give expression to “imaginal worlds”. The aching gulf between mere idea and full-bodied knowing is bridged by the Imaginal, which is also “magical” in its capacity to conjure fully-rounded experience: we pluck and eat real pears growing on Imaginal Pear Trees…
“The world was alive” … reports of the world’s emptying of spirit, ie, its death have been tragically exaggerated, until today most of us seem to believe this aliveness belongs only to children and other underdeveloped beings.
“Old Moon Consciousness” is a fascinating name, I think, perfect for dreaming, hypnogogia, and I would add, creative/shamanic trance.

Another theory for the origin of verbal language is that children invented it, not adults, as children invent creoles quite easily among themselves, long before their parents catch on…

“An inexhaustible source” makes me think of the wells that never run dry, the magical jar that never empties, familiar in fairy tales. Maybe there was some reference here to the Imaginal Realm?

“Inner experiments” can, in a sense and to some extent, be “tested” via the creative work or fruit, yes?

Really stimulating discussion, thanks!


Hey Maia!

Thank you for the book suggestion - I didn’t even know she had written a book on S! I’m excited to look more into this. I think I’d like to give Bachelard a new try, too, at some point.

Scarry also wrote another book that I liked years ago called “On Beauty and Being Just,” which might interest you or others on this site. It was pretty short, and I remember liking the way she connected beauty to justice without seeming to reduce one to the other. I love her writing - she has such a vivid and rich and alive inner world, it even almost reminds me of Steiner in a way. A whole aching, organic universe inside.

I’ve never read Terrance Mckenna or his brother; there was a writer a friend of mine liked, named Tao Lin (the writer, not the friend), who I used to follow on Twitter, and Lin was utterly obsessed with Terrance Mckenna and wrote a book about him recently called “Trip.” It came out around the same time as Michael Pollan’s “How to Change Your Mind,” another book about psychedelics, which I thought was an interesting synchronicity-like thing/event.

Yes, I loved the above passage! I really want to learn more about Geothe’s participatory way or act of seeing - it seems like it has something to do with the ability to feel energy, or enter into the energy of something else, and also something, like you said, about love. I think fairly often about the “pathetic fallacy” and what it means, i.e. the way what one sees in the animal and plant worlds can be invested with a human feeling not necessarily felt by the animal or plant - and yet when it comes to the feeling of love, I am more confused as to how to think about the meaning of the pathetic fallacy. I also do not think that our feelings are bounded by the limits of our bodies or minds, and so this also seems to complicate our understanding of the pathetic falllacy. I wonder if many of the critics of the pathetic fallacy, who argue that it is a form of coercion (i.e. the cloud does not feel happy, so we are forcing it into a human framework that does not fit the cloud) might be themselves, to a certain extent, erring on the side of the “monological gaze,” (though the happy cloud experiencers might be erring to a certain extent on the side of the animistic or subjective…gaze, I’m struggling here to come up with the right term). I guess what I’m trying to say is that a vision of the world as unified and/or as love seems, to me at least, to involve many important (and often much derided) aspects of the pathetic fallacy, unless I am misunderstanding what the fallacy means or involves.

Nice to meet you!


We could use countless examples, but this poem by Mark Halliday I’ve always found fascinating, because it seems to embody a sort of vision of the world as unified and as love, but it is also (this is what I find interesting) ironic about such a vision, as if Halliday couldn’t quite bring himself to be too sincere about it, and therefore in some sense is almost coy or teasing. Underlying this, I thought, was a discomfort in a way about the pathetic fallacy. If we compared this to something by a Romantic poet (don’t have time too much time this morning to find a good example, but there are so, so many), the Romantic poet would not invest the poem with any irony, or at least this form/type/mode of irony. It’s a cliche to comment upon our “ironic age,” but I’ve always liked when R.E.M. sings “you said that irony was the shackles of youth,” because it implies that irony, or at least too much of it, is a remnant of a more immature stance. Irony is utterly essential to literature (we were talking about Shakespeare, some of whose characters are able to say something that utterly subverts what they are actually saying, if we can put it that way). However, too much irony seems to turn into a kind of doubting feaux-posture. Which is to say, that I think I mostly prefer the Romantics.


Goethe has long been on my radar, and I know @johnnydavis54 has periodically expressed interest in him as well, also in relation to Steiner (and Barfield). Maybe we should start thinking about a future read or so. At the moment, I feel I’ve got my hands full with the Axial Age project we’re getting together, but after that, who knows where things might go. Just a thought.


One man’s irony is another man’s poison. The Romantics are not overwhelmingly in agreement about anything. And there are queer and feminist variations that many straight men and women find objectionable and actively suppress. That the Post Modern has attempted to preserve pluralism is often unacknowledged by John Peterson’s distortions of Neo-liberal agendas. I grant you that mocking tones can be obnoxious and can descend into snark, but so can the certainty of the universal protocols of the short sighted Scientisms. Dogmatists can arise in all kinds of shapes and sizes. We need good satire to flush the toxins out of the system. I think the Romantic impulse arose to stop the Scientism of Newton’s Sleep. The Romantics tended to blow up things!

Frank O’Hara makes fun of a hetero movie star and he adores her at the same time. He is also mocking the tone of the confessional poetry dominant at the time.

and suddenly I see a headline
there is no snow in Hollywood
there is no rain in California
I have been to lots of parties
and acted perfectly disgraceful
but I never actually collapsed
oh Lana Turner we love you get up

I certainly imagine that Gary Lachman is a great guide to this fertile area of study. This has always been an area I have wanted to delve into, and the more I delve into it, the more there is to delve into. The literature on the Imaginal is vast!


This Theory is a description of my early childhood frustration of using voice with words,my younger sister translated for me until around age 4 or 5, I must of just went with the feeling my voice needs to be more in/online with the Big people ( a hind-feeling). At this time I still feel this vibe coming in interactions around conversation & the Entanglement of language @johnnydavis54 speaks of. For there’s a almost primal energy with language.Fortunately through the years & many caring thoughtful Humans on this Cosmos Cafe’ have given a different & wonderful Feeling View of the Alchemy of Language !!!


This is a powerful use of our Imaginal capacities. The Child is safe, the Sage is free!


I saw this poem on Twitter a couple weeks ago and really liked it; O’hara is wonderful.

There is also this, which I have only watched parts, though I love love love Ron Padgett (he makes me happy), and of course JA is there, too:

Yes, this must be done often, hehehe. (I have tried to read poets like Lowell and Plath and really can’t stand them - I find them flat and boring and, in the case of Plath, indulgent in the sense that she wallows in her suffering and then calls this “poetry” or “art.” Of course, we live in a climate that is obsessed with Plath, so I am definitely in the minority. But this explains partly why I really do love the New York School aesthetic, which does not, like the confessionals, take itself too seriously. That said, I have my own obsession with Abstract Expressionism - many of that movement’s artists were friends with the New York people - though unlike O’Hara or Koch or Ashbery or Guest or Schuyler, these artists were singularly humorless and took themselves very - probably too - seriously.)

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Thank you for thismoving and beautiful glimpse of your life!


A Engaging Interacting Circling into the Imagination in General with a Flow into the Personal. Thank U’s Three Messengers of Cosmos Cafe’, I received the messages & will Sit-Sense,Breathe,Move & Relate to the Food of Thought-Feeling!



After the call yesterday I sat on my firescape and read a book. A magnificent monarch butterfly landed on my page, a stranger from a strange land. I noticed, the word that the stranger hovered upon was EPILOGUE…a final or concluding act or event.

In the trialogue, Doug, mentioned that " Insects will speak to me… land on a page…upon a certain word…"

I recalled that comment as I studied the presence of the Stranger…a fluttering flirtatiousness…and is there a relationship between the monarch butterfly…fluttering upon the word on the page…and the reader reading on the firescape?



Hmm … which book?


Yes, my question, too!