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Beyond Rationalism: Fantasy as a Tool for Imagination

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Josh Withrow

on 10 April 2014

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Transcript of Beyond Rationalism: Fantasy as a Tool for Imagination

Beyond Rationalism:
Fantasy as a Tool for Imagination

1. A working definition of Fantasy

2. Why we need to move beyond rationalism

3. How Fantasy assists a student's imagination
Session Overview
“symbols penetrate imaginatively into that mythic aura that encompasses Ultimate Truth, Truth that we will one day be able to comprehend more fully than our ‘knowing in part’ allows us today. [A good writer] trusts his symbols to convey that quantity of truth that any given hearer may be able to grasp.”

Rolland Hein
"If a symbol is real and belongs to the ontology of being, though the mystery remains, the fact is that children belong to that ontology and are participants in the symbolical, semiotic, and sacramental universe...Children are already “literate,” which is to say equipped to read out the meaning in a meaningful world. [The] [t]rouble is we neither trust in this nor attend to introducing them to the world properly. Imaginative powers are innate. But they must be exercised properly, like muscles in the body, lest they either atrophy or grow grotesquely."

Vigen Guroian
A Brief History of Fantasy
"Practical reason needs to be nurtured first by the direct moral guidance of parents, teachers, and society, through instruction in accepted attitudes and mores. It is such practical nurturing, not abstract, ethical study, that builds life-long foundation for sound moral behavior. The faculty of reason is important in perceiving and articulating principles of morality, but in one sense it remains subservient to imagination because until those principles are internalized by a person and connected to life situations, they do not become meaningful and affect behavior."

Peter J. Schakel
Think of an image that describes Fantasy
"The forming of mental images, especially wondrous or strange fancies; imaginative conceptualizing."
Josh Withrow
10years teaching middle school/high school--Currently at John Knox Christian School in Burnaby

Graduated from Trinity Western University with a Master's in Interdisciplinary Humanities

Focused on the children's fantasy literature (particularly the fantasy writing of George MacDonald)
A Teacher's Invitation
"Imagination is, in a word, the faculty by which we organize the content of our experience into some form...it makes us refuse to accept experience as mere random clutter"
--Thomas Howard
The Wise Imagination
"...is the best guide that man or woman can have; for it is not the things we see the most clearly that influence us the most powerfully; undefined, yet vivid visions of something beyond, something which eye has not seen nor ear heard, have far more influence than any logical sequences whereby the same things may be demonstrated to the intellect."

George MacDonald
Fantasy utilizes the imagination--when imagination is lost then we lose our ability to understand (or appreciate) fantasy.

Imagination is like a muscle--it must be exercised or it will atrophy
My Thesis:

The teaching of fantasy in the class allows students to use their imaginations to have a more holistic understanding of the world. The creative instruction of this genre can facilitate the mental, emotional, spiritual, literary, and imaginative wholeness and well-being of our students.
Before the Enlightenment, the genre existed in other literary forms that are nowadays lumped into the word "Fantasy."
Science Fiction *
Horror *
“Imagination does not breed insanity, exactly what does breed insanity is reason.”

G.K. Chesterton
A growing belief in rationalism created great skepticism in the use of the imagination. Human reason was seen as a superior faculty.
"[Fantasy] does not deny the validity of science, but it denies that empirical science is the only way to understand."

"The crucial element in fantasy is the interaction of the natural with the supernatural."

--Matthew T. Dickerson

The genre of Fantasy thrives with the use of metaphor to explain the human condition, and many believe that it stirs the human desire to want more from this life.
The girl cut off her toe, forced her foot into the shoe, swallowed the pain, and went out to the prince.
The girl cut a piece off her heel, forced her foot into the shoe, swallowed the pain, and went out to the prince.
But the prince insisted on it, and they had to call Cinderella. She first washed her hands and face clean, and then went and bowed down before the prince, who gave her the golden shoe. She sat down on a stool, pulled her foot out of the heavy wooden shoe, and put it into the slipper, and it fitted her perfectly.

When she stood up the prince looked into her face, and he recognized the beautiful girl who had danced with him. He cried out, "She is my true bride."
The genre of Fantasy became popular during the
Enlightenment of the 1700's. This period was known as the Age of Reason and gave way to a form of thinking called Rationalism. This form of thought sought to redefine the understanding of how people know:

"The Enlightenment was the age of the encyclopedia...It was an age that wanted to write definitions and provide encyclopedic information--that is to capture the whole truth of a thing rationally and scientifically"
--Matthew T. Dickerson

The genre of Fantasy defied this definition:

"It succeeded, in part, on the notion that there are things that must be known through the imagination and not merely through deductive arguments or empirical science"
--Matthew T. Dickerson

One of the oldest forms of Fantasy is the myth. Many students have come to incorrectly understand a myth as simply "false."

account through a story
account through reason or proposition

To the Greeks, the two words were interchangeable, and even when
came to mean "fictionalized," it was still used as a trusted form of communicating.

Owen Barfield suggests:

that myth, language, and a person's perception of this world are inseparable...

"The word myth, in this context, must be taken to mean that which describes [a person's] perception of [his/her] relationship to the natural and supernatural world."

--Verlyn Flieger
Imagination allows us to make connections with the images that we see, and ultimately to shape our experience by finding meaning. This cannot come through science.
* Allow the symbols and metaphors to breath
* Use fantasy to help students explore the mysteries of the universe (and invite them to be part of that mystery)
* Use fantasy to invite students to "re-image" their worlds
Q & A
The Power of the Symbolic
Moral Imagination
The wise imagination recognizes that we are not isolated learners--that we are part of a symbiotic relationship with other learners. And while all learners filter information through their own understanding, the narcissistic learner rejects the information he/she does not recognize on the basis of his/her own
Think of a word that describes Fantasy
Full transcript