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Undoubtedly, the imaginary, the domain where the imagination manifests its virtuality, is the vital zone of the European cultural space. This is due to the degree of importance conferred to the imagination as a typically human creative capacity, close to the reason.
In such a context, there are various approaches to the topic, among which one in favor of imagination, acknowledging it as the very element that makes representation possible, thereby essential in the relationship man-nature/environment (I. Kant, The Critique of Judgement), or one acknowledging that all attempts to surprise the human condition must take into account the essential role played by imagination, in other words an euphemistic-bound refuge for consciousness. (G. Durand, Anthropological Structures of the Imaginary).
Given these perspectives, the angle for tackling what the imaginary represents today is open to a certain extent, and the connection to alchemy can be felt in the mediatory function pertaining to our imagination.
What happens today along with the appearance, evolution and structuring of the communication mass means is related to a utopia of the practical achievement of man’s synchronicity with the surrounding reality. It is a utopia in the extent that it would be impossible to obtain authentic, coordinated documentation using the mass-media, in a context where everything is reinterpreted through direct and indirect informational messages of circulation in the public space.
On one hand there are these information practices, indispensable in a society bound up in the speed of communication and balance of power, which signify back by reinterpretation, and on the other hand there is the information-consumer man, who absorbs the objects and images not in the sense of a real consumption, but, as Baudrillard says, (System of Objects), feeding on the idea of relationship between him and the object (image, word or product destined to the body use), which would account for the fact that nowadays consumption has no boundaries.
The paradigm of the contemporary era is based on abstract-making and de-materialization of objects in their vicinity with the human being. We thus notice that the contemporary man is animated by the same desire as the alchemist: to remain in contact with the concrete reality, with “the matter” and the events, however he fails to treat things as symbols, by treating them as signs instead, which renders the transmutation to their authentic meaning more difficult, instead of keeping them rooted in the ground they belong to.
We could say that television or cinema screen has become the window through which man launches himself, remaining located on the other side of time – such as the alchemist – consequently, beyond everything that pertains to time – death, history - in front of which the modern man seems to be tempted to run away from (unlike the artist and his Work).
The differences are substantial: the contemporary mentality discards the old philosophical concept frame, when in the relation One-multiple or Being-becoming the first term was privileged without any reticence, the latter not being autonomous but rooted in the first. In the consumption society in which we live, it’s the variety that prevails, whereas the universal is replaced by the particular, and the diversity is substituted to the unity.
One image makes sideswipes to another in a referential disorder, the signifier becomes signified and vice-versa, whereas all this universe of the imaginary is an amorphous organism whose pulse and rhythmicity are not far from the vegetal power of multiplication/proliferation. This dissemination is a symptom of acknowledging all the phenomena and events that occur under the umbrella of the mass-media, the image having become the ideal vehicle for transporting the message in a speeding, intensifying space.
If the image of the organism is not far from what the alchemy meant by Nature, the multiplication present in our society, even in the cultural life of the contemporary man has little to do with that multiplying virtue that the “matter” used to have under the concept of Philosopher’s Stone, yet it remains transmutable, representing the equivalent of a state of the matter somehow “on the black market”.
To a certain extent, the way the image is delivered allows us to understand the mutation of forms in the communication space: it all depends on the limits’ and contours’ overflowing, on “the trans-formation” which the mass-media achieves by the conveying process, rather than the effective message. The status of the image is affected by the discarding act of the creative function of imagination, by the transfiguration of the fantastic into the phantasm. In the moment when images are being promoted – which in the “traditional” way had a unique, autonomous significance and nowadays can aspire only to the simple status of persuasive methods in the distorted relationship with the receptor – it is but natural that the man should feel more and more alienated and predisposed to a loss of vitality, the only “treatment” that would revitalize him remaining the passage from transmission to transmutation.
At this moment it’s time to put into equation a different contemporary religiosity in which the imaginary has many implications, from the New Age movement to the most insignificant and regional religious manifestations. If this form of religiosity is characterized more or less by aspects pertaining to the irrational, towards intuition and faith, and if the profane western thinking is based on rationality, it’s not less true that imagination is placed somehow between the two, making the shift and maintaining tension.
For instance, it could be about the conflict between theology and philosophy, or between nature and technique, where poetics and arts have intervened so often, briefly, the domains tangent to imagination. Besides this mediating role, imagination also has a productive one, very much due to how much man is a creator of sense. But where exactly the contemplative is located, it’s a matter of option and personal penchant.
That is why the individual religious experience appears so important to us: it signifies back whatever it encounters, but not in a loose way; rather according to some preexistent coordinates which are meant to orient the individual becoming on the map of existence. The idea of a coordinating system may be appropriate in this point, as it sends to spatiality, so specific to imagination.
Nevertheless we are not to forget that all religious feelings have a temporality of their own, a cyclic one, apart from the common, daily time of a continuous succession of the moments to an imminent ending. Thus, the phenomenon of the contemporary religiosity appears like a natural necessity to balance a world with no measuring unit, therefore like a philosopher’s attitude which makes its presence felt under the shape of an imagination which reintersects a circular temporality.
It is only natural, in an alchemic keynote, that a form of religiosity should appear in a society of the differencing matters, to make an attempt at conciliating the universal character of the sacred with the relativity and diversity of human aspirations, everything under the eyes of a general tendency to confer meaning to reality, in a transfiguring manner.
The decentralization produced in the space described by the individual and the image are another proof of the absence of a rigorous referentiality of the contemporary imaginary phenomenon, but especially because of an exigent focus on what the significance of the image means. But by the appearance of this brand new religiosity, manifesting as sharing a common ground with alchemy, a “beyond” is once more being served to us as one of the existential issues for our becoming into death and for our expectances from life. What remains to be seen is the direction in which this attempt to recuperating the “full”, symbolic image is, through the individual religious experience, also through the virtual transmutation according to which the body can enliven itself as reincarnation.
One of the dilemmas man confronts with nowadays is that of no longer knowing how to find the path to recuperating his being, as he is as far as ever from the light which only by foreseeing is truly enlightening. So refined in consuming, he seems no longer to perceive the hues, the shifts, in which life discretely, but powerfully finds shelter in. How else but by a re-collection can the dissolution be uplifted in the space between man and himself, where any transmutation is soothing and motivating, where the face figures the features of the reincarnated soul? The movement of the root in the ground may be lacking the meaning of an upholding, such as the meditation may abandon the word, but nothing can uproot what belongs to man, that is the capacity to strike roots in a meditation in perpetual motion.
It is perhaps what alchemy is trying to make us understand: where there is no passage, a transmutation can be made, because the passing itself is the sign of what is detached only to come back enriched. As we are in restless motion, we are therefore as rich as we can be, as we have, apart from the intuition of unitary harmony, the foreboding of an almost continual immobility, time and time again postponed by every pulsation of the world. Here we appear one to the other – an already found alterity – in the passage from hiding to unveiling, in the suffering which, by dislocating us, enables us to trans-figure it.
If alchemy is trying to “reconfigure” a matter presumed to be imperfect, it doesn’t ultimately rely on that, but it is based on human existence, on the transmutation of what is discontinuous in a continuity which does assume the accidentality of a nature, signified back as a welcoming of totality.
But perhaps the greatest merit of the Philosopher’s vision is that of having been brought back again into the contemplating look and in the body which handles that integrating and mediating perspective: the one which puts life back in the realm of the thinking. The alchemy’s actuality is related to the actuality of the problems it approaches, but at the same extent it results from the methods it deploys to treat them, as its logic is one that favors none of the terms we come across in the conceptual frame of traditional philosophy.
We can conclude: the way the alchemy is trying to render the invisible visible in its touchstone is an expression, one of the most captivating ones, of the human capacity to confer meaning to existence.
What we can do, in the spirit of the contemporary pragmatism which we seem to fail to escape from, is to use this Philosopher’s vision in the negociation with the self and in the forever reiterated dialogue between the indestructible Babel-world and the divinity.
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