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00173--S.T.Coleridge—BIOGRAPHIA LITERARIA Primary Imagination/Secondary Imagination/Organic Wholes/Symbols/Concrete Universals

 In his work Biographia Literaria Coleridge discusses the following titles:

1.  Primary Imagination

2.  Secondary Imagination
a.     Organic  Wholes,
b.    Symbols, and,
c.      Concrete Universals

Primary Imagination

In the primary imagination, that infinite self-consciousness of God is echoed in our finite self-consciousness.  Now artists who make use of this creative power are divine ventriloquists: poet prophets who receive direct inspiration from above and respond passively with the song or the poem. 

Secondary Imagination

Coleridge hails the secondary imagination rather as the true source of poetry.  Whereas the primary imagination is passive, the secondary imagination is active.                                               

 The goal of secondary imagination = to dissolve, dissipate and diffuse in order to recreate.

What it does = the secondary imagination takes the raw material given it by inspiration, and breaks down that raw material and then reshapes it into a new and a vital form.

The esemplastic power (= shaping power) of the secondary imagination enables poets to create three things: a) Organic Wholes, Symbols and Concrete Universals.

Organic Wholes
Working from the philosophical aesthetic theories of Aristotle, Kant and Schiller and many others, Coleridge fashioned an organic theory of poetry.  He viewed a poem as an almost living organism in which the whole not only contains each part but each part contains within itself the whole.   Just as the seed within an apple contains within itself the potential not only for another apple but for an entire growth of apple trees, the part contains the whole within it.  That is true organic theory. 
Coleridge’s definition of what a poem is includes the criterion that it gives equal pleasure in the whole as it does in each part.  In an organic whole there is a dynamic incarnational relationship between its form and its content.  Ideas and images are fused.  Dissimilitude is resolved into similitude.
How can we know a poem is truly an organic whole?  Examine whether anything can be added or taken away from it.  If either of this action is possible then the poet has failed to achieve a complete fusion of parts and whole.

Unlike many theorists before him Coleridge previlaged symbols over allegories for he felt symbols come closer to the ideal of the organic whole.  In an allegory an abstract notion is merely translated into a picture language.  For instance in the middle ages an allegory of the inner struggle between good and evil could be of a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other shoulder.  It is a picture language that tries to capture something abstract.
Coleridge felt in an allegory there is no essential link between the idea and the picture.  One simply stands in for the other.  But n a symbol the abstract notion is seen in and through the physical symbol. 
In the symbol SPECIFIC AND GENERAL, TEMPERAL AND ETERNAL, and, CONCRETE AND UNIVERSAL meet and fuse in an almost mystical, incarnational way.  This is why Coleridge privileged symbol over allegory.

Concrete Universals
Coleridge again echoing Aristotle and Kant uses the phrase Concrete Universals to denote the highest forms of organic wholes and symbols.  Within the microcosm of the poem a universal idea has been fully realized in a concrete form.  The Concrete Universals effect a full fusion of an abstract non-physical idea and a specific special image.  Just as Christ via essemplastic power of incarnation became both fully man and fully God.
The mystical reciprocal relationship that forms within such poems, such concrete universals is timeless.  It is as if the concrete image had been carried up into the realm of idea, even as the idea descends and dwells within the image.  In other words a concrete universal is coming down and at the same time the concrete is moving up and losing itself in the universal.


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