The Imaginative Type And Association Of Ideas

I have questioned a very great number of imaginative persons, well known

to me as such, and have chosen preferably those who, not making a

profession of creating, let their fancy wander as it wills, without

professional care. In all the mechanism is the same, differing scarcely

more than temperament and degree of culture. Here are two examples.

B......, forty-six years of age, is acquainted with a large part of

Europe, North America, Oceania, Hindoostan, Indo-China, and North

Africa, and has not passed through these countries on the run, but,

because of his duties, resided there some time. It is worthy of remark,

as will be seen from the following observation, that the remembrance of

such various countries does not have first place in this brilliant,

fanciful personage--which fact is an argument in favor of the very

personal character of the creative imagination.

"In a general way, imagination, very lively in me, functions by

association of ideas. Memory or the outer world furnishes me some data.

On this data there is not always, though there should be, imaginative

work proper, and then things remain as they are, without end.

"But when I meet a construction--it matters little whether ancient or in

the course of erection--the formula, 'That ought to be fixed,' is one

that rises mechanically to my mind in such a case; often it happens that

I think aloud and say it, although alone. When going away from the

architectural subject under consideration, I make up infinite

variations upon it, one after another. Sometimes the things start from a


After having noted his preference for the architecture of the Middle

Ages, B...... adds (here he touches on the unconscious factor):

"Were I to explain or attempt to explain how the Middle Ages have such

an attraction for my mind, I should see therein an atavistic

accumulation of religious feeling fixed in my family, on the female side

no doubt, and of religiousness in ecclesiastical architecture--these


"Another example illustrating the role of association of ideas in the

same matter. One Sunday night I left Noumea in the carriage of Dr.

F...... who was going to visit a nunnery five leagues from there. At the

moment of our arrival the doctor asked what time it was. 'Half-past

two,' I said, looking at my watch. As we stopped in the convent court

in front of the chapel I heard the lusty conclusion of a psalm. 'They

are singing vespers,' I remarked to the doctor. He commenced to laugh.

'What time are vespers sung in your town?' 'At half-past two,' I

answered. I opened the chapel door in order to show the doctor that

vespers had just been held: the chapel was vacant. As I stood there,

somewhat non-plussed, the doctor remarked, 'Cerebral automatism.'

"I may add here, by association of ideas. The doctor had seen through

me, and had with fine insight perceived why I had heard the end of

the psalm. The incident made a great impression on me, all the more as

ever since the age of eight my memory testifies to a like hallucination,

but of sight in place of hearing. It was at L...... that on Good Friday

they rang at the cathedral with all their might. It was the very moment

before the bells remain silent for three days, and it is known that this

silence, ordained in the liturgy, is explained to children by telling

them that during these two days the bells have flown to Rome. Naturally

I was treated to this little tale, and as they finished telling it, I

saw a bell flying at an angle that I could still describe.

"But this transforming power of my imagination is not present in me to

the same extent as regards all things. It is much more operative in

relation to Romano-Gothic architecture, mystic literature, and

sociological knowledge than in relation, for instance, to my memories of

travels. When I see again, in the mind's eye, the Isle of Bourbon,

Niagara, Tahiti, Calcutta, Melbourne, the Pyramids and the Sphinx, the

graphic representation is intellectually perfect. The objects live again

in all their external surroundings. I feel the Khamsinn, the desert

wind that scorched me at the foot of Pompey's Column; I hear the sea

breaking into foam on the barrier reef of Tahiti. But the image does not

lead to evocation of related or parallel ideas.

"When, on the other hand, I take a walk over the Comburg moor, the

castle weighs upon me in all its massiveness; the recollections of the

Memoires d'Outre-tombe besiege me like living pictures. I see, like

Chateaubriand himself, the family of great famished lords in their

feudal castle. With Chateaubriand I return in the twinkling of an eye to

the Niagara that we have both seen. In the fall of the waters I find the

deep and melancholy note that he himself found; and after that I think

of that dark cathedral of Dol that evidently suggested to the author his

Genie du Christianisme.

"In literature, things are very unequally suggestive to me. Classic

literature has only few paths outwards for me--Tacitus, Lucretius,

Juvenal, Homer, and Saint-Simon excepted. I read the other authors of

this class partly for themselves, without making a comparison. On the

other hand, the reading of Dante, Shakespeare, St. Jerome's compact

verses on the Hebrew, and Middle Age prose excites within me a whole

world of ideas, like Wagner's music, canto-fermo, and Beethoven.

Certain things form a link for me from one order of ideas to another.

For example, Michaelangelo and the Bible, Rembrandt and Balzac, Puvis de

Chavannes and the Merovingian narratives.

"To sum up: There are in me certain milieux especially favorable to

imagination. When any circumstance brings me into one of them, it is

rare that an imaginative network does not occur; and, if one is

produced, association of ideas will perform the work. When I give myself

up to serious work, I have to mistrust myself: and in this connection I

shall surprise people when I say that in the class of ideas above

indicated the subject exciting the most ideas in me is sociology."

M......, sixty years of age, artistic temperament. Because of the

necessities of life, he has followed a profession entirely opposite to

his bent. He has given me his "confession" in the form of fragmentary

notes made day by day. Many are moral remarks on the subject of his

imagination--I leave them out. I note especially the unconquerable

tendency to make up little romances and some details in regard to visual

representation, and a dislike for numbers.

"It happens that I experience sharp regret when I see the photograph of

a monument, e.g., the Pantheon, the proportions of which I have

constructed according to the descriptions of the monument and the idea

that I had of the life of the Greeks. The photograph mars my dream.

"From the seen to the unknown. In the S. G. library. A slender young

woman, smartly dressed--spotless black gloves--between her fingers a

small pencil and a tiny note-book. What business has this affectation

this morning in a classic and dull building, in a common environment of

poor workmen? She is not a servant-maid, and not a teacher. Now for the

solution of the unknown. I follow the woman to her family, into her

home, and it is quite a task.

"In the same library. I want to get an address from the Almanach

Bottin. A young man, perhaps a student, has borrowed the ridiculous

volume. Bent over it, his hands in his hair, he turns the leaves with

the sage leisure of a scholar looking for a commentary. From the empty

dictionary he often draws out a letter. He must have received this

letter this morning from the country. His family advises him to apply to

so-and-so. It is a question of money and employment. He must locate the

people who, provincial ignorance said, are near him. And so goes the

wandering imagination.

"When I feel myself drawn to anyone, I prefer seeing images or portraits

rather than the reality. That is how I avoid making unforeseen

discoveries that would spoil my model.

"If I make numerical calculations, in the absence of concrete factors,

the imagination goes afield, and the figures group themselves

mechanically, harkening to an inner voice that arranges them in order to

get the sense.

"There may be an imagination devoted to arithmetical

calculations--forms, beings intrude, even the outline of the figure 3,

for example; and then the addition or any other calculation is ruined.

"I revert to the impossibility of making an addition without a swerve of

imagination, because plastic figures are always ready before the

calculator. The man of imagination is always constructing by means of

plastic images. Life possesses him, intoxicates him, so he never

gets tired."

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