The Problem of Imagination: Aesthetic Education in the 21st Century
In the oft-referenced but rarely read 9/11 Commission Report we find a startling conclusion in the findings of the committee tasked with critical evaluation of the government in the lead-up to the catastrophe; namely, that the single most important failure of leadership was a "failure of imagination." The meaning of this statement in the context of the report might be understood cynically as something like insufficient paranoia, yet the idea that an individual, a collectivity, or an entire culture could suffer a failure of imagination, variously interpreted, suffuses many of our problems today: from our difficulties with re-imagining all sorts of institutions and important concepts to our inability to "see" that which does not show up on balance sheets or body scans. The invocation of the term "imagination" is also used frequently to describe a socially positive human activity, often in conjunction with "innovation" and "creativity." What underlies these formulations is an interesting and problematic history of the idea of imagination, one filled with commonplaces about the function of imaginative works that too often evade productive scrutiny. This course will provide some historical context for these issues, highlighting the significance of imaginative works and the development of the imagination generally for making sense of and addressing the problems of our current moment - one characterized by political and economic imperatives to "re-imagine" just about everything.