Thursday, March 31, 2011

Memory vs. Imagination

I'm currently reading "Burn This Book," a collection of essays by numerous writers, edited by author Toni Morrison. In the third essay, David Grossman quotes the late writer Natalia Ginzburg when she says
At the moment someone is writing he is miraculously driven to forget the immediate circumstances of his life...But whether we are happy or unhappy leads us to write in one way or another. When we are happy, our imagination is stronger; when we are unhappy, our memory works with greater vitality. 
He goes on to say that "the power of memory is indeed great and heavy, and at times has a paralyzing effect." This to me was a crucial point and an intriguing thought to chew on. Is memory really the opposite of imagination? Enough so that it can debilitate writing ability or at the least, tone of voice? Thinking about it, it makes a lot of sense.

[photo courtesy of GangaSunshine via flickr]
Children, in their innocence and minimal life experience, show grand imagination. They draw pictures of trees in green, but also purple, orange, red and blue, depending on how they feel at the moment. Or they come up with clever games to amuse themselves, simply because nothing is inhibiting their thought patterns or better yet, no rules are guiding them. They create whole worlds of illusion, simply because there's nothing in their mind telling them that they way they imagine things isn't the way things really are.

Adults who struggle with imagination usually have a lot on their mind, at least in my experience. There's bills and jobs, news of the tragedies throughout the world or even the distractions of entertainment. For an adult to tap into their imagination, it takes forgetting every rule they live by. It takes breaking rules and reforming norms and taboos. Children imagine because there are no rules. You can't break something that doesn't exist.

In my own writing, I often look to other outlets of creativity to spur my own ideas. Whether it's other writing, art or listening to music, my imagination begins with the questions that others struggle to answer.

But what if I could imagine without those influences. How much more creative would I (or all of us really) be without the experiences I've/we've had or the rules to which we adhere? What problems could we solve if we just took them completely out of the context where they reside?

In his post on web design, Mark Boulton talks about how web content is design around the limitations of the page. But the idea of a page is from the traditional layout of print media, be it books, magazines or whatever. On the web, really these restraints do not exist, so he proposes reconsidering the design of websites to form around the content, rather than the constraints of a 2560 x 300 px page.

To me that's a fantastic start to thinking a different way. Shaping the object to the subject, instead of the other way around. I don't know how I'm going to use this yet but I think it is a unique way to go about creating, whatever it is you create.

Oh and btw, Burn This Book is fantastic. If you get the chance, pick it up. You won't be disappointed.