Samuel Taylor Coleridge Questions and Answers

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Critically discuss Coleridge's interest in the Psychology of artistic creation.

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Coleridge's idea of artistic creation functions as a synthesis. In fact, much of his discourse on the imagination and creativity involves an integration of parts to form a whole. In Chapter 14 of Biographia Literaria, he describes the poem as such: 

A poem is that species of composition, which is opposed to works of science, by proposing for its immediate object pleasure, not truth; and from all other species (having this object in common with it) it is discriminated by proposing to itself such delight from the whole, as is compatible with a distinct gratification from each component part

Just as the individual parts of a poem work in tandem with the poem as a whole, the artistic process of creation is also a synthesis of disparate things working together; therefore, a synthesis. 

Coleridge differentiated three components involved in poetic creation (similar to the Holy Trinity - he was a devout Christian - and similar at least in number to Freud's Id, Ego, and Superego). Since Coleridge predates Freud by a century, there was no influence there. But the Christian influence certainly played a role in Coleridge's unified (Trinity) notion of poetic creation as a holistic and spiritual act. 

Coleridge's three aspects are the primary imagination, the secondary imagination, and fancy. The primary is the "living Power and prime Agent of all human Perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM." (Chapter 13) Here, he links the idea of artistic creation with a spirituality, even comparing it to a repetition of the original creator: God ("I AM" comes from Exodus 3.14). So, the primary imagination is the spiritual ability to create; it is abstract but can be tapped into if the poet is in tune to this power while also being in tune to his own will (secondary imagination) and things in the world. Consider that the secondary imagination is "an echo" of the primary: "It dissolves, diffuses, dissipates, in order to recreate . . ." Fancy is a mode of memory "emancipated from the order of time and space." 

So, the process of creation is a combination of these three things. The poet taps into this eternal, spiritual creativity; he/she uses conscious will, thus being open to spiritual creation but also in tune with conscious experience on earth; and finally, the poet uses things from memory: abstract ideas and objects in the world from which to symbolize and exemplify his/her creations. In this trinity, Coleridge explains a holistic act of creation that is of this world (using objects and experiences, and dreams which hover between the real and the abstract), but also of a spiritual nature. For this and other reasons, he was an influence on Emerson and the American Transcendentalists. 

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