Ursula K. Le Guin on imagination as ‘an essential tool of the mind’

When I think about what imagination means to me, I remember running home from school to write my fantastical novels, with cutesy titles such as The Weather Wizard and The Warlock’s Ring. Any guesses on my main influences?

Creativity was more than just a course in junior high school, a curriculum notch to check off. I was hungry to feed my pages with ideas swirling around my head that needed to be given life. I wanted to write every night. And I did.

So when I came across the below passage from the Ursula K. Le Guin memoir Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000–2016, with a Journal of a Writer’s Week, I couldn’t help but feel some emotions stir within my ribcage. The fantasy author perfectly summed up my view on the value of imagination, how it’s been co-opted by Corporate America (and by association, Corporate Canada), how it’s an “essential tool of the mind” and why it’s vital to learning more about the human condition.

Here is Le Guin’s look at imagination:

In America the imagination is generally looked on as something that might be useful when the TV is out of order. Poetry and plays have no relation to practical politics. Novels are for students, housewives, and other people who don’t work. Fantasy is for children and primitive peoples. Literacy is so you can read the operating instructions.
I think the imagination is the single most useful tool mankind possesses. It beats the opposable thumb. I can imagine living without my thumbs, but not without my imagination.
I hear voices agreeing with me. “Yes, yes!” they cry. “The creative imagination is a tremendous plus in business! We value creativity, we reward it!” In the marketplace, the word creativity has come to mean the generation of ideas applicable to practical strategies to make larger profits. This reduction has gone on so long that the word creative can hardly be degraded further. I don’t use it any more, yielding it to capitalists and academics to abuse as they like. But they can’t have imagination.

Imagination is not a means of making money. It has no place in the vocabulary of profit-making. It is not a weapon, though all weapons originate from it, and their use, or non-use, depends on it, as with all tools and their uses. The imagination is an essential tool of the mind, a fundamental way of thinking, an indispensable means of becoming and remaining human.
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