chapter  1
18 Pages

The Imaginary as a Poetics of Theory and Crosscultural Consciousness

As a concept, the imaginary is at once familiar and transcendent, universal and utopian. Its familiarity may be marked in the common actions and practices of a given group. Its transcendence may be perceived in the way it so commonly resists defi nition, and in the way, when defi ned, it still mystifi es and veils its origins. We encounter the word so often in the discourses of academic and popular culture today that, like culture itself, or fantasy, or the imagination (sometimes a cognate but not a synonym), it has naturalized our assumptions about the object(s) it names. In a deeply philosophical work of cultural theory on the Caribbean, Edouard Glissant distinguishes the imaginary from the category of illusion, endowing it with the aesthetic and poetic power to produce a people’s identity and their being in the world.1 To this his translator Betsy Wing aggregates her understanding that for Glissant the imaginary is “all the ways a culture has of perceiving and conceiving of the world.”2 That gloss distils the imaginary’s meaning down to a reductive generality. Terse yet totally inclusive, the summation envisions the universal. And yet, with Glissant, as with other theorists, the matter can become so abstract, so complex and elusive as to embody the defi nition of utopian. The formulations I present in this book will not revolutionize the idea; they will shed some new light on it, as it is introduced into the prism of the mythic, the occult and the uncanny that are the intrinsic properties of the Caribbean Atlantic to be recovered in Ligon and Lewis. My approach is exploratory and eclectic, privileging the processual and the dynamic over the fi xed and the instituted. The imaginary will remain a complex notion, but the texts and contexts to which I apply the notion illustrate its profound organicism and signifi cations across the cultural practices and structures of the colonial societies under scrutiny.