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This article is taken from PN Review 102, Volume 21 Number 4, March - April 1995.

On the Mental Image Christopher Middleton

Le temps vu à travers l'image est un temps
perdu de vue. L'être et le temps sont bien
différents. L'image scintille éternelle,
quand elle a dépassé l'être et le temps.

                                                  René Char


I should begin by saying that the term 'mental image' which shifts through several contexts here has no connection with recently popular ideas about 'visualization'. Those ideas seem to have been marketed with a view to reminding people that imagination is by no means the privilege of a few. Yet world peace, or whatever else besides, is not likely to be achieved just because some people are busy visualizing it. My concern is really the disruptive and eruptive character of a certain kind of mental image. It is a kind that cannot be willed across the gaps that yawn, or through the shadow that falls, between possibilities of being which are mystically imagined, and the way this world historically unfolds.

Certainly a large mental image can sweep through a whole nation and achieve consensual or hegemonic status. Hence in ancient Israel and Byzantium the sustained and ruthless politicking against idolatry, as if excessive reification of mental images could unbridle demons, threaten the numinous itself with life term imprisonment, and promote (among illiterates) an urge to pester with primitive desires the subtlest presences. Social benefits of widespread floating visualization, as well as blockage of life by idolatries, are unquantifiable matters, to say the least. Moreover, as E.P. Thompson has remarked, ...


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