Don Gifford (1919-2000), late Professor of English and Class of 1956 Professor of American Studies Emeritus, taught, among others, English and American literature, cultural history, and art between 1951 and 1984 at Williams College, Massachusetts. His best-known monographs are Joyce Annotated: Notes for Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1967), Ulysses Annotated: Notes for James Joyce’s Ulysses (1974), and The Farther Shore: A Natural History of Perception (1990). His lectures have been posthumously published in Zones of Re-membering: Time, Memory, and (un)Consciousness, edited by Donald E. Morse (2011). Among his numerous scholarly essays “The Chip on His Shoulder: One for the Joyce Centennial—2 May 1982,” “Emily Dickinson and the Civil War,” and “The Eye’s Portion” appeared in HJEAS (1997.2, 2002.2, and 2008.2).
Two contrary concepts dominate our understanding about human imagination—this all-but-undefinable human faculty. While one tradition contrasts the creativity of the imagination, on the one hand, and the perception of reality, on the other—often suggesting that fact (reality) and fiction (imagination) are mutually exclusive—the counter-tradition defines imagination as integral to the creation/perception of reality, what Edith Cobb calls the “preconfigurative imagination.” Drawing on these theoretical-philosophical considerations, the essay takes an interdisciplinary approach to probe the inherently adverse nature and the destructive potential of the human imagination in action. With examples from literature, cultural history, politics, and diplomacy the analysis offers the case in point and demonstrates the ways destructive imagination, impervious to rational argument, may render our ability void; as Henry James put it in “The Art of Fiction,” “to guess the unseen from the seen, to trace the implication of things, to judge the piece by the pattern.” (ÉM)