What is the difference between primary imagination and secondary imagination? Bring out the elements of secondary imagination.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In his Biographia Literaria, Samuel Taylor Coleridge draws a contrast between primary and secondary imagination. A creative person needs both types, he says, as they are aspects of the same innate power of interpreting the world, which together enable creativity.

The primary imagination, Coleridge states, is what underlies human perception and in turn can lead an individual to “the eternal creation.” This aspect of imagination 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.

The secondary imagination, he continues, co-exists with the conscious will but is identical to the primary imagination in that both have the same kind of agency. The only differences—and though few, they are significant—are

in degree and in the mode of its operation. [The secondary imagination] dissolves, diffuses, dissipates in order to recreate; or where this process is rendered impossible yet still at all events it struggles to idealize and to unify. It is essentially vital, even as all objects (as objects) are essentially fixed and dead.

Through the secondary imagination, a person takes the unified image or idea before them and “dissolves” it, breaking it into its components. The person then “diffuses” and “dissipates” what they have dissolved, and “recreates” it, or reassembles it according to their unique perspectives and abilities. In this respect, reality continues to exist, but it seems entirely different because the creative person has rendered it in a different way.

Even though it might be “impossible” to dissolve and recreate in this way, the human mind always endeavors to do so: the secondary imagination “struggles to idealize and to unify.” This process of struggle is likely to happen when regarding objects, which “are essentially fixed and dead.” The human mind endows objects with meaning; this is manifested in making and using symbols, such as through language or art.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I’m not sure if this is what you are seeking information about, but hopefully it will answer your questions. Samuel Taylor Coleridge proposed the notion that there were two types of imagination. The primary imagination is the way a mind perceives and understands situations exactly as they are or appear to be. The secondary imagination is the way our minds reconstruct events and situations in relationship to our own worlds and understandings of that world. The idea is kind of synergetic in that the parts and pieces when put together have a greater value than their individual worth.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team