3/30/13

As If by Michael Saler

 
 Psychologist Paul Bloom's conclusion is borne out: "Our ambitions go beyond the acquisition of experiences; they extend outside the head . . . The pleasures of the imagination are a core part of life—but they are not enough." The imaginary provides us with experiences difficult or impossible to attain in real life, but at the same time makes us yearn for the real. H. P. Lovecraft derived as much pleasure from his visits to antiquarian sites as from his creation of an imaginary world; fans of the Cthulhu Mythos make pilgrimages to New England to encounter directly the mundane locales on which Lovecraft based his fantastic stories. Sherlock Holmes fans are often investigators of the quotidian in their lives, to say nothing of the minutiae of Holmesian texts. Many fans of Middle-earth have been inspired by Tolkien's evocatively detailed descriptions of its flora and fauna to become environmentalists. As we have seen, travelers to imaginary worlds at first rejoice in the wonders they experience in the Secondary World. They then seek others to share their enchantment, which in turn can become redirected to ordinary life. Escapism, this history demonstrates, is rarely unidirectional or without positive consequences. It resembles the account of a life's journey by the noted Sherlock Holmes scholar T. S. Eliot:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
In addition, modern imaginary worlds often foreground critical rationality and champion the methods and findings of science. Holmes made reason magical, the acts of inductive observation and deductive logic refreshing rather than arid. . . . Virtual imaginary worlds, from World of Warcraft to Second Life, also foster a quantitative and analytic mindset even as they stimulate creative thinking. Animistic reason permeates the atmosphere of imaginary worlds.