Lee Stoops continues his series on the unforgettable image this week. Here, he explores the link between imagination and memory.
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In our generation of images and scenes, we tend to recreate the things that have strongly affected us. I need to note something about cliché here. Something is labeled cliché when it affects (or has affected) a lot of people. The problem with cliché, and why it doesn’t work for unforgettable imagery, is that it doesn’t have power. Because it’s common, overused. Clichés don’t surprise or evoke…anymore.
So, getting back to what we know and how we imagine: There are those few experiences that infect us, the things we can’t forget, especially the things we often times want to. These experiences are deeply informed by both imagination and memory. So let’s break it down a bit.
Imagination: It has a fundamental and paradoxical dichotomy. It’s sensory, yet exists separate from the physical. Imagination makes hearing possible when there is no sound, remembers smell when there is no scent, makes images available when the eyes are hidden behind the flesh of lids.
But, the purpose of imagination is to provide meaning to experience and understanding to knowledge. It is the fundamental faculty through which people make sense of the world. It plays a key role in our human learning process.
Imagination, informed by memory, makes it possible for us to create, deepen, and understand the idea of the “other” – something I suspect we, as humans, are alone in our ability.
Memory: It is nothing if not imagination. The generation of feelings, both emotional and sensate, past and present, is the work of imagination.
While imagination is the tool with which we tell stories, paint pictures, sculpt statues, and compose music, process our world, make sense (or try to) of everything that happens, and then draw connections, what we’re really doing is forming memories to inform future experiences.
When we write, we use both imagination and memory to develop our scenes, our images.
When you write a scene, whether something you’ve a sense of for a story or something you remember for a personal essay – what happens?
As soon as it’s in words, it sharpens. And becomes permanent the way you imagine/remember it.
We’ve all heard that our memory is our truth. But what’s more? When we take the time to write these things, fiction or nonfiction, they also become our memory – they round memory out, possibly even replace memory.
In the next post, we’ll dig into the science and how we can use it as storytellers.