Chris Hedges: Only the power of sacred imagination can save us

Benjamin_West_King_Lear_Act_III_scene_4

I’m always struck by the passion and power of Chris Hedges’ words whenever he mingles his signature brand of journalistic-prophetic doomsaying with reflections on spiritual and artistic issues. (No surprise that he’s quite lucid in the latter area, by the way; he does have a Master of Divinity from Harvard, after all.)

Current case in point: his recent column about the power of imagination in an age of spiritual suicide.

Oracles were revered in premodern societies. These oracles were in touch with realities and forces that lay beyond the empirical. All societies have oracles — such as Thomas Paine, Emma Goldman, W.E.B. Du Bois and James Baldwin in the United States — but in a modern society they are pushed to the margins, ridiculed and often persecuted. Those who spoke out of their vision quests in Native American society, or from Delphi in ancient Greece, did not employ the cold, clinical language of science and reason. They spoke, rather, in the nebulous language of love, tenderness, patience, justice, redemption and forgiveness. They paid homage, and called on us to pay homage, to the mysterious incongruities of human existence. A society that loses its respect for the sacred, that ignores its oracles and severs itself from the power of human imagination, ensures its obliteration.

Reason makes possible the calculations, science and technological advances of industrial civilization. But reason does not lift us upward to the heavens. It does not bring us into contact with the sacred. It does not permit us to curb our self-destructive urges. Herman Melville, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Emily Dickinson, Marcel Proust, William Faulkner, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Lorraine Hansberry and August Wilson mocked the myth of human progress and the folly of hubris. They, like Shakespeare, warned that conflating technological advancement with human progress deforms us.

. . . It is through imagination that we can reach the dark regions of the human psyche and face our mortality and the brevity of existence. It is through imagination that we can recover reverence and kinship. It is through imagination that we can see ourselves in our neighbors and the other living organisms of the earth. It is through imagination that we can envision other ways to form a society. The triumph of modern utilitarianism, implanted by violence, crushed the primacy of the human imagination. It enslaved us to the cult of the self. And with this enslavement came an inability to see, the central theme of “King Lear.”

. . . Songs, poetry, music, theater, dance, sculpture, art, fiction and ritual move human beings toward the sacred. They clear the way for transformation. The prosaic world of facts, data, science, news, technology, business and the military is cut off from the mysteries of creation and existence. We will recover this imagination, this capacity for the sacred, or we will vanish as a species.

MORE: “The Power of Imagination

(Hat tip to Michael Hughes for alerting me to this item. And on a separate [but related?] note, why haven’t you read Michael’s paranormal/occult thriller novel Blackwater Lights, out last year from Random House’s Hydra imprint?)

Image: “King Lear in the Storm” (1788) by Benjamin West [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

About Matt Cardin

Teeming Brain founder and editor Matt Cardin is the author of DARK AWAKENINGS, DIVINATIONS OF THE DEEP, A COURSE IN DEMONIC CREATIVITY: A WRITER'S GUIDE TO THE INNER GENIUS, and the forthcoming TO ROUSE LEVIATHAN. He is also the editor of BORN TO FEAR: INTERVIEWS WITH THOMAS LIGOTTI and the academic encyclopedias MUMMIES AROUND THE WORLD, GHOSTS, SPIRITS, AND PSYCHICS: THE PARANORMAL FROM ALCHEMY TO ZOMBIES, and HORROR LITERATURE THROUGH HISTORY.

Posted on May 13, 2014, in Psychology & Consciousness, Religion & Philosophy, Society & Culture and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. This was a nice tie in to how my week’s reading seemed to pile up (fingers crossed my hyperlinks work): Mythodrome’s post on Michael C. Ruppert’s suicide and the frenetic apocalypticism (apocalypticynicism?) of NTE’ers; RootSimple’s two posts on the hopium/despairoin addiction and antagonism found in our greater culture as revealed at the Age of Limits conference last year and then an article that I think needs to be more widely circulated, Stories will lead us back to the forest where the author writes:

    “As I teetered between hope and despair, between feeling alive and considering that we are all, in some collapsed time-frame, already dead, I struggled to determine whether to accept that I am but one organism in a species that has taken a wrong evolutionary turn, and to surrender to my fate alongside that of others, or whether to see myself as an agent of influence with purpose and direction… My inclinations depended on what I believed that day. And I learned that beliefs are moveable, malleable things…What was interesting was the effect of these respective beliefs on my energy levels. The latter, not surprisingly, was depleting; the former energising.

    “This, finally, was the deciding factor. Forget ultimate truth; forget the consensus view of the future. In the end, it came down to which belief engendered energy, openness and possibility; sensations that I happen to prefer to cynicism, rigidity and defeatism, regardless of what happens in the end.”

    Like Spedding suggests and like Hedges, in the article you link to, the key is that we can choose what to believe, knowing full well what such belief will engender (in and outside of ourselves) JUST as we can choose what to imagine, for the same reasons.

    Rather than being immobilized by the sheer enormity of the challenge, or drowned by it, we can make any amount of difference just by working from deep in the heart and the imagination and letting that small effort do as it will — either it will ripple outward or just simply improve our own particular, personal moments. There’s no shame in that as the competitively-doomsayer memes would postulate (with greener-than- or more-ready-to-be-extinct-than-thou attitudes).

    Nice article, Matt. Thanks for pointing it out.

    • This is all beautifully said. Plus, I had been thinking about noting Ruppert’s suicide in a post here at some point, and you’ve gone and done it for me. Thank you, Wendy.

  2. well, there’s certainly nothing to stop you from noting it in a post!

    anyway, I LIKE to hear your take on things…
    🙂

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