“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
–Alfred North Whitehead

Love, Death, and the Sub-Creative Imagination in J. R. R. Tolkien

Yesterday I found myself reading The Silmarillion, an unfinished collection of Tolkien’s mythopoeic writings depicting the creation of Ëa and its passage through the first of the three ages of the world (The Lord of the Rings trilogy depicts events at the end of the third age). The stories, posthumously published by his son Christopher in 1977, are prefaced by a letter sent by Tolkien to the editor Milton Waldman in 1951 in the hopes that he would agree to publish The Lord of the Rings. “My dear Milton,” began Tolkien, 

You asked for a brief sketch of my stuff that is connected with my imaginary world. It is difficult to say anything without saying too much: the attempt to say a few words opens a floodgate of excitement, the egoist and artist at once desires to say how the stuff has grown, what it is like, and what (he thinks) he means or is trying to represent by it all. (xi)


Despite the brilliant summary provided in the letter, dear Milton decided that, due to the medley of mythic “stuff” woven into Tolkien’s trilogy, it was, after all, too long and “urgently wanted cutting.” LoTR was of course published several years later, in full, and has by now sold more than 150 million copies.

Despite my several year long research focus on the power of imagination, I’ve only very recently begun exploring Tolkien’s work. I completed my first reading of his trilogy just a few months ago with my partner Becca (check out her blog). Her graduate work also orbits around Imagination, with a particular focus on Tolkien’s relevance to the task of articulating an enchanted ecology. After a bit of effort, she has succeeded in awakening me to Tolkien’s genius and to the archetypal vitality of Middle-Earth (thanks, Becca!).

I’m fascinated both by the Art Tolkien sub-created, and by the creative process through which it was brought to term.

“In order of time, growth and composition,” wrote Tolkien to Waldman, “this stuff began with me.”

“This stuff”? Is this Tolkien’s choice of words, or is he echoing Waldman from a prior letter? Do I detect a soft hint of sarcasm in Tolkien’s tone as he responds to Waldman’s patronizing request for a résumé of his “make-believe” world? Judging from Waldman’s refusal to publish the trilogy, I get the sense that he lacked the historical sensitivity to recognize the significance of what had happened to Tolkien, as well as the imaginal organ required to participate in the world Tolkien had brought forth.

“This stuff began with me,” he wrote. “I do not remember a time when I was not building it…I have been at it since I could write” (xi). The imaginal flowering of Tolkien’s mythopoeic world was never something external to or separate from his real life identity. His very sense of himself was coëval with his sense of the story. His autobiography and his archeology of Middle-Earth were as one, at least in Imagination (though I challenge you to point out anything that isn’t). From Tolkien’s point of view, Art is not simply the vocation of a few artists. Art, or sub-creation, is a universal human calling. Unlike every other creature on Earth or above it, our purpose is not pre-determined by our species. To be human, as Pico della Mirandola taught us, is to lack any such purpose but that we create for ourselves. In a participatory universe like that envisioned by the organ of Imagination, the only purpose given us by our Creator is to become like him, to become a subcreator.

The subtending power of Imagination over human life and death is such that, lacking a positive desire for creation, we quickly sink into the darkness of world-negating nihilism. Cosmic meaning is never prescribed; we are called instead to participate in its making. It isn’t that the lack of a creative desire to participate in life dissolves the illusions of Imagination, leaving behind nothing but bare biological survival and pure physical reality. It’s that, for better or worse, there is no escape from Imagination: it encompasses the whole of both life and death, body and soul. To be sub-creators is our doom, whether we use our power to create beauty or to destroy it. 

Reality is never pure: it always comes mixed up with Images. Reality, it turns out, is not a finished unity, but a plurality of processes. Every supposedly simple and complete reality is just a self-created image, an idol. What happens is that an ongoing creality is mistaken for a completed reality. This mistake leads not only to nihilism, but to ressentiment of the world’s becoming (see William Connolly’s A World of Becoming, 2011). Ressentiment or re-enchantment: these are the two paths open to we earthly sub-creators. Both bring forth a certain shape of subjectivity: the former that of an embattled ego who has externalized blame upon an enemy in order to feel expiated for its own failure to faithfully participate; that latter that of an ego innocently open to the eucatastrophic surprises of a cosmic story still in the proces of being told.

The chief import of Tolkien’s Art, as I understand it, is that its example invites us to step into our own roles as cosmic artisans, just at that moment in world history when so much seems headed for disaster.

Tolkien’s Art is not what it at first appears. More artisanal than artistic, the products of Tolkien’s sub-creation “arose in [his] mind as ‘given’ things.” He continues: “…always I had the sense of recording what was already ‘there,’ somewhere: not of ‘inventing’” (xii). Tolkien’s mode of creation is then just as easily characterized as a mode of discovery. This seeming contradiction is easier to grasp if we consider it alongside Tolkien’s belief that “myths are largely made of truth” (xv). The “wide-spread motives or elements” expressed in the world’s mythologies (known to Tolkien’s contemporary Carl Jung as “archetypes”) are such mythic truths. It is no surprise, then, that these archetypes were in some sense re-discovered by Tolkien in the course of his imaginal descent into Middle-Earth. We need not decide whether sub-creation is true creation, or simple discovery, since Imagination functions according to its own oscillatory logic allowing it to hover indeterminately between pairs of seeming opposites (creation/discovery, self/world, intellect/senses, spirt/matter, etc). It is from this unruly oscillation that all of Imagination’s mysterious power derives.

There is also a spiritual side to the strange logic underlying Tolkien’s sub-creative vocation. He says of all his “stuff” that it is “fundamentally concerned with the problem of the relation of Art (and Sub-creation) and Primary Reality” (xiii). Primary Reality is the world of daily life, of biological struggle, and, eventually, of death. The sub-creator, in bringing forth a Secondary Reality (made not of solid matter, but of story and myth), expresses a desire which not only has no ordinary biological function, but which indeed usually finds itself at strife with these functions (xiii). Despite its spiritual motives, the sub-creative desire “is at once wedded to a passionate love of the real primary world, and hence filled with the sense of mortality, and yet unsatisfied by it” (xiii). Death, even if imaginary, is no less real for all that. We human sub-creators have, again, two paths open to us upon encountering it.

The first option is to resent death as a curse, and so to “rebel against the laws of the Creator” by employing various devices meant to mechanically stave off the inevitable. This is a fallen form of creativity in service of the denial of death, which cannot but lead to the desire for ever more Power. For Tolkien, this desire for Power can lead only to an obsession with what Tolkien calls “the Machine.” The Machine necessarily possesses its master (and so inverts the master-slave relationship). It represents a form of black magic that is concerned only to make the will more quickly effective, a technological magic accomplished by external devices, rather than by the innate power of Imagination.

The second option is to accept death as a gift from God, to sub-create out of sheer love of this world without jealousy or possessiveness. This is easier if we follow Tolkien’s advice by looking at things “through Elvish minds” instead of our own. The object of Elvish magic “is Art, not Power, sub-creation, not domination and tyrannous re-forming of creation” (xii). Though “it is not the legendary mode of talking,” Tolkien assures us that his “elves” are really nothing more than “an apprehension of a part of human nature” (xvi). No doubt it is the higher part, though of course, the Elves were the first to fall.

There cannot be any ‘story’ without a fall…at least not for human minds as we know them and have them.” (xv)

In the mythic mode of speaking, the Elves are said to be the Firstborn of Ilúvatar, humans their Followers. Taking the Elvish view on things gives we mere mortals the opportunity to raise our attention from the mud into which we have fallen to dwell again at least for a moment beneath the stars in the sky and to contemplate the heavenly mission their light was sent to earth to share with us.

“The doom of the Elves,” writes Tolkien,

is to be immortal, to love the beauty of the world, to bring it to full flower with their gifts of delicacy and perfection, to last while it lasts, never leaving it even when ‘slain,’ but returning–and yet, when the Followers come, to teach them, and make way for them, to ‘fade’ as the Followers grow and absorb the life from which both proceed. (xiv)

“The Doom (or Gift) of Men,” he continues,

is mortality, freedom from the circles of the world. Since the point of view of the whole cycle is the Elvish, mortality is not explained mythically: it is a mystery of God which no more is known than that ‘what God has purposed for Men is hidden’: a grief and an envy to the immortal Elves.

From the Elvish perspective, death is Ilúvatar’s Gift to humans. They envy us because our love for the world is, at least potentially, so much more beautiful than theirs. Why? Because we mortals have the choice to love one another, and to love the world, despite death. Eucatastrophe, it seems, is the highest of the Arts. Only by incarnating into the physical world and passing through the finitude of death could God’s Love become truly infinite. This is the Creator’s great secret, kept even from the angels until (if I might risk an allegorical translation) the Christ Event. Until that “turning point in time,” the Drama had remained incomplete…

“incomplete in each individual ‘god,’ and incomplete if all the knowledge of the pantheon were pooled…For the Creator had not revealed all.” (xiv)

Embracing death lovingly despite not being certain of its meaning requires a redemptive act of Imagination. As such it depends upon a sort of faith, since for Imagination believing is seeing. 

The same sort of imaginal faith is required to appreciate the moral of Tolkien’s cosmogony. I realize that here I risk another allegorical interpretation despite Tolkien’s “cordial dislike” of allegory. But even Tolkien admitted that “any attempt to explain the purport of myth or fairytale must use allegorical language,” and that “the more ‘life’ a story has the more readily will it be susceptible of allegorical interpretations” (xiii). Tolkien recounts the creation of the world through the musical call and response of Ilúvatar, the One, and his noetic offspring, the Ainur, or Holy Ones. Together, all the Ainur sang in accord with Ilúvatar’s theme:

…a sound arose of endless interchanging melodies woven in harmony that passed beyond hearing into the depths and into the heights, and the places of the dwelling of Ilúvatar were filled to overflowing, and the music and the echo of the music went out into the Void, and it was not void.

But then, Melkor, the Ainur with the greatest gifts of power and knowledge, began to

interweave matters of his own imagining that were not in accord with the theme of Ilúvatar; for he sought therein to increase the power and glory of the part assigned to himself. (16)

Not only Elves and Humans, but even Angels are subject to the mythic law of the Fall. Like all evil, Melkor’s fallenness stems from a good root. He only began to sing out of tune with the other Ainur after going off alone in an effort to fill in the emptiness of the Void where Ilúvatar’s song had not yet reached. His efforts made his heart grow hot with possessiveness. Alas, his will was lost to the lure of Ilúvatar’s music and he turned selfward, instead. Melkor’s rebellion caused heaven’s harmony to falter as many of the other Ainur began attuning with him. Soon, all about the throne of Ilúvatar “there was a raging storm, as of dark waters that made war upon one another in an endless wrath.” Ilúvatar contended with Melkor, not by negating his “loud and vain” improvisations, but by weaving even the most triumphant of Melkor’s notes into the deeply solemn and for that reason immeasurably beautiful pattern of His cosmic melody.

“Might are the Ainur,” said Ilúvatar,

and mightiest among them is Melkor; but that he may know, and all the Ainur, that I am Ilúvatar…And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined. (17)

The moral, then? It seems simple enough: trust the creative process, even when its path seems dark, even when its products seem measly and powerless before the weight of the primary world. Embrace mortal sub-creation without ressentiment for the task. Realize that death only appears to the fallen ego as an enemy. To the redeemed Imagination, death is revealed as God’s greatest gift to Creation, a sacred secret entrusted not to gods but to humans, those made in His Image and after His likeness.

“The great policies of world history, ‘the wheels of the world,’” wrote Tolkien,

are often turned not by the Lords and Governors, even gods, but by the seemingly unknown and weak–owing to the secret life in creation, and the part unknowable to all wisdom but One, that resides in the intrusions of the Children of God into the Drama. (xvii)

*All citations from second edition of The Silmarillion ed. by Christopher Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin, 1999).




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5 responses to “Love, Death, and the Sub-Creative Imagination in J. R. R. Tolkien”

  1. symphaedo Avatar


  2. Thomas Matus Avatar

    Matt, this is an excellent summary of Tolkien’s understanding of sub-creation, and I agree with you that a bit of allegory is permissible (even though Tolkien warned against allegorizing his works — right, they are parables, not allegories). I’ll be looking forward to your future posts on The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings.

  3. ashramdiary Avatar

    Matt, this is an excellent insight into Toliken’s understanding of sub-creation, and I agree that a bit of allegory is permissible, now and then, even though Tolkien warned against allegorizing his work (right, he offers us parables, not allegories). I’ll be looking forward to your future posts on The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings.

  4. bobby richards Avatar
    bobby richards


    Logic of Imagination: The Expanse of the Elemental
    John Sallis, Logic of Imagination: The Expanse of the Elemental, Indiana University Press, 2012, 302pp., $30.00 (pbk), ISBN 9780253005908.

    Reviewed by Janae Sholtz, Alvernia University
    Mature, poetic, erudite, fantastical — John Sallis’ new book is a concrescence of all these, appropriately so, given the characterization therein of imagination as a gathering force which allows the simultaneity of disparates and eludes the logic of non-contradiction. Whereas too often the conversation concerning Heidegger’s legacy ends in explaining the necessity of another beginning, Sallis takes us there, offering rich descriptions and creating new concepts, essentially, giving us food for thought and a new vision for Da-sein. This book records the maturation of a philosophical path, the uniqueness of that journey, and the realization of a lifelong encounter with Heideggerian phenomenology. One can detect residues of Sallis’ entire oeuvre, perhaps the clearest attempt to articulate a “third kind” [the chora] begun in Chorology, continuing the interrogation of imagination’s role in thought initiated in Spacings: of Reason and Imagination and, most explicitly, expanding upon the analysis of self-showing found in The Force of Imagination.[1]

    Another Beginning, Another Logic could very well be the subtitle of this book, as it seems clear from his emphasis on Socrates’ second sailing and acceptance of the Nietzschean-inflected Heideggerian diagnosis of the end of philosophy that Sallis is initiating what might be a third or fourth sailing. Sallis takes on the task of articulating another beginning for philosophy with a lucid analysis of the metaphysical paradigms that have circumscribed philosophy and now serve as its impasse. He sets the tone by utilizing Shakespeare’s The Tempest to invoke a twofold, the relation between logos and physis, which marks the inceptive moments of philosophy. The Tempest also doubles as a metaphor for the movement of the book and an image of elementality, as Sallis poetically weaves logic, metaphysics, art, imagination, the sensible and the cosmic, which, like the concurrence of the elements that form a tempest, presents us finally with a vision of the elemental and the place of the human within it.

    The book is divided into seven chapters and a prelude. Aptly, the book has its own spatial dynamic, which effectively folds logic and imagination together, doubling our vision and compelling the reader to consider their belonging. The book also enacts the figural cadence indicative of the logic of imagination, a spiraling motion that returns to beginnings only to unearth their supports in order to draw together and elevate the abyssal moments which then propel us further into the matter of thought. Each chapter is preparatory, attuning the reader towards an open receptiveness to anterior attestations (191), not once but severally. In the first half, Sallis articulates a logic of things, yet also works to undo this history, excavating the sense of logic, its development and its excess or residual, culminating in chapter three, where he develops the productive nature of imagination via the elaboration of an exorbitant logic loosened [or intensified] by thinking through the Freudian dream-work. In these first chapters, Sallis prepares the idea that what lies underneath, imagination as a logos before the sedimentation of logos as logic, has done so all along, an echo of the emphasis on anteriority to come. Essentially, we belong to imagination, and it is always operative in our apprehension, drawing together the enchorial spacings that provide for the manifestation of things in the first place. Thus, Sallis has primed the reader from the start for its centrality.

    In the second half, the force of imagination underwrites the text. In what follows, and which may be considered the most provocative sections of the text, Sallis crafts a lexicon of figuration and elementality, as well as offering an image of the human as a relational and open corporeal event. Based on the implications of understanding the fundamental power of imagination as gathering contradictory elements, the logic of imagination opens up vistas hitherto unthinkable, at least not by a tradition dominated by the rule of non-contradiction. In the last chapter, Sallis presents a challenge to philosophy, to engage with speculative physics and the most radical scientific hypotheses concerning the cosmos. In doing so, as the thesis goes, philosophy may discover a new humanity as well as a new earth. Readers will be best prepared if they have previous knowledge of Sallis’s work, as he understandably relies upon the interpretive schema produced through the immense body of his earlier writings.

    In the prelude, “Precursions”, Sallis’ navigates the reader through the inceptive decisions that set the parameters of Western thought. Referring to Socrates’ second sailing, he locates the founding differentiation between the intelligible and the sensible. Socrates’ turn to logos in order to make sense of things represents a deferral of vision, a priority which remains active, regardless of the fact that this deferral is momentary. Yet, claims Sallis, both logical and imaginal moments persist within the history of philosophy, beginning from Plato’s eikasticimplementation in the service of empowering the upward movement of thought. The crux of Sallis’ argument is that the “sensible must be understood otherwise than as a remote image of the intelligible . . . [which necessitates that] the logical moment of philosophy must be reoriented to the sensible” (13), without merely repeating the Nietzschean reversal of priority between the sensible and the suprasensible. Strictly speaking, this is what Logic of the Imagination does. As anyone familiar with Sallis’ work would know, the Heideggerian undertones are unmistakable; Sallis means to launch another beginning at the limit or end of philosophy, twisting free of certain decisive metaphysical preconditions.

    In order to do this, he must engage in serious historical excavation, which he accomplishes with precision and rigor, providing a forceful summary of the developments of logic from ancient into modern philosophy. “The Logic of Contradiction” (Chapter 1) begins soberly with an account of the Platonic and Aristotelian origins of logic. In terms of discourse about being, the primary consideration is determination, arresting the flow of the immediate by locating beings as this and not that. Thus logos is circumscribed by contradiction, and “the discipline that will be called logic will be a logic of contradiction” (39). Moving from Kant to Hegel, Sallis draws out significant moments for the evolution of logic, while showing how each maintains the thread of contradiction. In particular, Sallis explains that the Hegelian Aufhebung re-instantiates contradiction into the heart of being as the most extreme possibility of Aristotelian logic, its inversion, a thinking that places being and thinking at the limit of contradiction rather than being prohibited by it.

    Following Heidegger, Sallis avers that what is required is the rethinking of the limit [of contradiction], rather than either persisting with opposites or progressing to their unity. In “Formal Logic and Beyond” (Chapter 2) this aim is deferred as Sallis traces the Husserlian project of the philosophic grounding of logic, beginning with a pure logic “that would formulate laws that govern the ideal relations pertaining to the object of thought” (69). Leading us through Husserl’s phenomenological critique of formal logic, Sallis identifies the double movement between formal and transcendental logic, which demands a genetic tracing of predicative structures to their pre-predicative origins, or receptive experience (84). Sallis explains that it is Heidegger who recognizes the need to expand beyond the traditional Platonic parameters of logic, thus deconstructing logic through a more originary thinking of poetic logos.

    “Exorbitant Logic” (Chapter 3) traces the limits of logic. This investigation returns once again to the beginning, to Aristotle in particular, and the implicit connection between two parallel developments in Western philosophy — metaphysics and logic — as decisive clues for how to begin again. What is discovered is the need for a logic that twists free of the covert demands of the “ontological paradigm of things” (105); what is needed is a logic that addresses the originary openings in which things first come to show themselves, a logic of schemata, spacing, and imagining. Sallis develops what he calls an exorbitant logic through a surprising twist, a discussion of Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams. Dream-work illuminates a kind of thinking that allows and maintains contradiction. Analyzing the transformation of dream-thoughts into dream-content, Sallis identifies several schemata (spatio-temporal determinations) such as simultaneity and spatial proximity that correspond to various logical categories. In each case the key feature is the yoking together of contradictory terms in a unity that neither destroys the terms nor cancels either of them. Such a logic is exorbitant with respect to Aristotelian logic and is definitively connected to phantasy as that which permits contradictory belonging. As it turns out, this is decisive not just for psychoanalysis, but also provides Sallis with a model for what must be thought, a thinking to come.

    “The Look of Things” (Chapter 4), the book’s crease, identifies, in the look, an exchange between speech and imagination that enacts a folding of the two which characterizes the logic of imagination. The look is more than merely sensible apprehension; it a “crystallizing and intensifying [of the] antecedent manifestation” (127) brought about through the supplements of determinateness, enacted by speech, and of horizonality, enacted through the capacity of the imagination to hover between opposites. The unity of the look is itself a kind of doubling. “Thematizing the exchange [between speech and imagination] is to engage in the logic of imagination” (140), and is preparatory for moving beyond the look as a gathering of things to the elemental antecedents making self-showing possible in the first place.

    From there, proceeds the fantastical — in “Schematism” (Chapter 5), Sallis launches the reader into a vision of the future of thought, indeed the future for philosophy: the “beyond” of the sensible (147). As he has insisted throughout, this is a thinking of the sensible that is not reduced to it — now understood as elementality. Elementals are neither things nor properties, thus “the law [traditional logic] that would govern the belonging of properties to things has no bearing” (151). Instead elementals provide jointures and horizons of things, disclosing their fundamental event-like nature. Thus the elementals and imagination share a special bond, as the imagination gathers and holds together the spatio-temporal dynamics of the elementals, opening spaces, which Sallis refers to as schemata, for the self-showing of things. Sallis launches into a discussion of the geometric figures indicative of certain schemata, linking the spiral to the manifold of schemata as indicative of open, unlimited extension. This is perhaps the most difficult section to follow in the book, but warranted given the implication that it is facility with the modes of imaginative thinking that we lack.

    “Proper Elementals” (Chapter 6) begins with the question of finitude, which, Sallis counters, can only begin by addressing the infinite and, moreover, by framing a third concept of the infinite that is neither the infinite of [mathematical] progression nor the infinite of sublation [of the finite]. The resulting determination of the philosophical [concrete] infinite as indefinite excess allows Sallis to posit a coherent structure by which to determine and differentiate the elementals, as well as position the human in relation to them. A formula emerges: locate the concrete infinite by identifying that which exceeds indefinitely, the othermost, and look for the reversion that discloses the properly human, our ownmost. Thus, our ownmost is tethered by the excess of the plurality of the infinities/elementals and reversion from them, a bi-directional relatedness to the elementals, which opens the primary site of the proper (206). This plurality is a fourfold, the most manifest being the natural elementals, “set within the enchorial spacing bounded by sky, earth, sea” (212) and returning us to ourselves as encompassed and exposed.

    Next, there is sheltering retreat, a developed account of Heideggerian concealment as seclusion and depth that discloses the unforeseeable moment of sheer advent. These represent two complex opposed directionalities on an axis of verticality. Completing the schema are the horizontal dimensions of birth, as that which can never be reached but which provides the texture of our being-in-the-world; and death, submitting us to the absolute and necessary contingency, uncertainty and fragility of our existence. These elementals are held open through the hovering gathering of imagination, which discloses the in-between space of human finitude. Sallis’ development of the regions of elementality maps nicely onto the Heideggerianfourfold and helps us understand what Heidegger meant, while at the same time going beyond the elusiveness of Heidegger’s schema. Thus, Sallis does us the favor of envisioning the possibilities of Heidegger’s fourfold; though, and perhaps redundantly, a familiarity with Heidegger would greatly aid in what Sallis is trying to do.

    In the final chapter, “Elemental Cosmology”, Sallis traces transformations in our view of the cosmos, from Ptolemaic to the modern view initiated by the discoveries of Copernicus,Kepler, and Galileo. These discoveries shattered the view of the celestial spheres and the uniform distance of the stars to the earth, providing for advances in understanding the sheer magnitude of the expansiveness of the universe, the presence of billions of galaxies and stars as big as a million suns. Thus this all-encompassing vastness bordering on the incomprehensible surpasses all the indefiniteness and contradictions of the natural elementals. The cosmos makes the elementals contradictory, thus engaging the force of imagination. So powerful is this vision of the beyond that the natural elementals themselves are reconfigured through these cosmological supplements: “As vision opens to the expansive cosmos, there is a reflexive effect on the self-showing of the natural elements” (252); and, by extension, the space of propriety is likewise reconfigured.

    Reminding us that it was the Greeks who operated from the original insight that the question of space is essentially related to our understanding of nature, Sallis next considers the traditional vision of the universe as endless void, with its underlying supposition of empty, immovable [Newtonian] space, in light of phenomena such as dark matter, cosmic radiation, and dark energy. These phenomena suggest that vast expanses of what was hitherto considered empty space are thoroughly permeated, dismantling the Newtonian vision of the cosmos and opening a possible re-imagining of the relatedness of matter and space. The final question of the book, one that is most essential given the relation of self-showing to the elementals, the cosmic, and our transformed understanding of space, is how to take up these discoveries philosophically. By stretching imagination toward cosmic infinities, we may also accomplish the reversion indicative of the self-disclosure of human finitude, but, Sallis admonishes, if we merely maintain the inversion of the sensible/supersensible, we may be left with a view of the utter insignificance of humankind, nihilism. Rather, we must deconstruct this opposition and, through the vantage of the logic of imagination, reorient ourselves to the sensible, in order that “the elementality of the cosmos, its higher orders of infinity, may prove to have the capacity . . . to elevate the human, to draw the human up to a new sense of propriety” (278).

    There are many little jewels in this book, for example, re-envisioning Hume’s theatre as a model of the coming to pass of self-showing (208), employing Bataille to broach the utter excessiveness of the secluded as inassimilable depth and darkness (220), and using Freud’s psychical model of the preconscious and the unconscious to illuminate the concealedness of seclusion (222), while resisting the interiority associated with it. Additionally, Sallis’ dismantling of the concept of consciousness opens the Freudian discoveries anew, demanding a rethinking of the body (229). The book also strikes this reader as providing fruitful opportunities for engaging post-phenomenological projects of elaborating the real conditions of experience, since both are concerned with reworking our understanding of the relation between the sensible and sense and attempt to uncover that which remains opaque to thought as the condition of its anterior genesis.

    Principally, Sallis does an exceptional job in striking a balance between his fidelity to the Heideggerian call for another beginning, and his imaginative projection beyond Heidegger. He augments Heidegger’s characterization of the belonging together of Dasein and Being with the double relatedness of the [properly] human to the elementals. Ereignis becomes vividly palpable through the elementals of the natural (sheltering, birth and death), and the exceeding depth of the sensible is revealed and made manifest. Incorporating the link between infinities and human finitude into our understanding of Dasein as an opening or clearing helps us understand just how that clearing comes about. As a space of propriety, always already extended and determined through the relation to the elemental as impropriety, our “proper” requires the resonating, hovering capability of the logic of imagination. Perhaps, Heidegger’s project cannot be accomplished without the logic of imagination. I will leave it to the reader to determine whether Sallis has completed this project. For my part, I am interested to pursue Sallis’ other beginning.

    [1] John Sallis. Chorology: On Beginning in Plato’s “Timaeus” (Indiana University Press, 1999); Spacings — Of Reason and Imagination. In Texts of Kant, Fichte, Hegel (University of Chicago Press, 1987); Force of Imagination: The Sense of the Elemental (Indiana University Press, 2000); other conceptual parallels include his work in Being and Logos: The Way of Platonic Dialogue (Indiana University Press, 1975) and, of course, Sallis’ hallmark strategy developed in Phenomenology and the Return to Beginnings (1973) is clearly evidenced.

  5. […] Love, Death, and the Sub-Creative Imagination in J. R. R. Tolkien […]

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