My dissertation explores the relationship between, on the one hand, culture and imaginative practices and, on the other hand, the politics of intercultural understanding. I contest the wide-spread view that imagination is necessarily irrational, manipulative, and dangerous, as well as a source of totalitarian politics. Instead, I argue that imagination can be responsible and civil, and that intercultural understanding requires creative imagination. The focus is twofold. The first is to enrich Habermas’ discourse ethics, by making aesthetic imagination more central to communication and dialogue. The second is to develop Arendt’s performance model of democracy, by making rhetoric and creative imagination more central to the making of a common world with a cultural core. In view of this I interrogate Kant, Schiller, Herder, Vico, Nietzsche, and Heidegger.
I argue that the philosophical and political project of the Enlightenment needs to be critically enlarged by recognizing that aesthetic imagination is politically relevant because it is a key element of shared culture and language. Rather than in contractual agreements or in a centralized and bureaucratic state, it is here that we find the political capacities of collectivities. I argue that cultures are not monolithic wholes, but originate in the capacity that creative imagination has to dialogue with the foreign. The challenge for modern democracies is to engage creative imagination in the expansion and transformation of given cultural horizons. Such an engagement of creative imagination would prevent transforming culture into ideology and politics into nationalism and political aestheticism.
I conclude by prescribing a form of symbolic (democratic) politics where imagination is publicly used in a responsible way, namely, in a way that does not fail to answer to the other’s unique presence, and where cultural products are understood not as expressions of authentic traditions, but as caring for the world. As a result of this, cultural differences would not be turned into oppositions between ‘us’ and ‘them.’
I interpret the conception of Orhan Pamuk about a “novelist’s politics” as providing, in the European context, an example of such a responsible and creative political engagement of imagination and culture, in the service of creating a non-Christian and post-national, open idea of Europe. This is possible, because, similar to Bonnie Honig’s interpretation of the “myth of an immigrant America,” Pamuk’s “novelist’s politics” employs narratives as “myths of denationalization.”