Imagination and the Good Life

“To create one’s own world in any of the arts takes courage.”

- Georgia O’Keefe

I was privileged to attend a lecture given by the Canadian philosopher and poet Jan Zwicky, whose poetry I’ve long admired, and whose collection Songs for Relinquishing the Earth has graced my bookshelf for years. Zwicky is also a violinist, and has written extensively and perceptively on the experience of musicians, for example”Open Strings,” in which she characterizes the strings of the violin:

G, cathedral of the breastbone,
oak-light, the earth

Also “Bartok’s Roumanian Dances,” and one of my favourites, “Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet in B Minor, Op. 115.”

Her lecture, titled “Imagination and the Good Life,” was fascinating, if over my undisciplined head at times. It’s been awhile since I’ve sat in a lecture hall taking notes while trying to absorb what’s being said. I found myself succeeding in writing down the first six words of a statement, only to reach the seventh word and go completely blank, by which time Dr Zwicky was well on to the next point, or perhaps the one after that. I carried on gamely, catching what I could and jotting it down.

The thrust of her lecture had to do with the power of forming mental images inherent to the act of imagining. She gave the example of following Ikea assembly instructions, ie seeing what one is thinking (something I recently accomplished). Dr Zwicky used as a delightful illustration of the Gestalt shift in thinking a line drawing which, at first glance, appears to be a rabbit, and at second glance, a duck. Nothing changes in the image; the change is in the viewer’s perception of the image, a shift in thinking.

Understanding occurs when the mind is on the move, Dr Zwicky said at one point. I’ve been chewing on that one ever since. Now that early spring is giving us hints of warmer days, my mind seems to be stirring from its winter hibernation.

A few days later while at the local independent video store, a movie I’d never heard of leapt off the shelf at me, “Georgia O’Keefe” starring Joan Allen and Jeremy Irons. It was a riveting, visually stunning account of O’Keefe’s love affair with Alfred Steiglitz. I’d never heard of it, but recommend it without hesitation (in fact, my advice to Dear Reader is to run, don’t walk to your nearest video store!).

It all adds up to the groan-and-creak of the mind stretching, awakening after a long winter’s nap.

Categories: General.