14: Imagination vs. reality: how Dark Souls teaches us to 'Praise the Sun'

Praise the Sun

Imagination knows no boundaries, while the world of daily life is frought with limitations and obstacles. When these worlds collide, disappointment, despair, or worse may be born from the conflagration. So, we tend to sacrifice one world on the altar of the other, lopping off half of life in the process. Half is enough for many, but what are we who seek the whole of life to do? The quest of Solaire of Astora, of Dark Souls fame, provides a clue.

The life half full

Faced with the tension between boundless imagination and the hard realities of life, the simplest solution is compromise. Generally, compromising with the limits of reality is preferred, given our overall preference for surviving rather than not. Yet, this comes at the cost of life, which is more than a mere biomechanical operation of matter. Brokering such a deal tends to lead to an overall feeling of incompleteness, a sense that life is only half full, or perhaps even less.

Nonetheless, it is all too easy to choose to be a dullard, numbing oneself to imagination on the pretense of its uselessness and listlessly going through the motions of material existence until death. Indeed, imagination is a diagnosable condition these days, or rather textbooks worth of such conditions. To seek or find aught in life beyond crude materiality is considered false and foolish at best, and a punishable offense at worst. [1]

On the other hand, we can opt to refuse reality in favor of a life of fantasy, provided our base material needs are met. This can be done in many ways, notably through manifold forms of addiction. In each case, we escape into a virtual world and inhabit a semblance of material reality, albeit with the hard, icky parts removed.

This sounds like a win for imagination, but this is only a superficial appearance. Rather, such a life of fantasy lacks the spontaneous, often intrusive character of imagination, instead providing a constructed, controlled, and generally comfortable experience.

The usual compromise is to submit to material reality sufficiently to ensure survival, then spend the rest of the time in a fantasy of one kind or another. Despite appearances, this doesn’t reconcile imagination and materiality, but merely dilutes both in a precarious kind of comfort. Net-net, we still end up with a life half full.

The danger of mere fantasy

While becoming a dullard sounds quite lame, it has its virtues compared to the alternative. For one, it is more reliable and less error-prone, though much more boring. The half-life of fantasy, on the other hand, has all the dangers of delusion. The most nefarious of these is the fantasy that one has in fact reconciled with reality when one, in fact, has not.

It’s now commonplace for those seeking a life change to peruse YouTube and other resources for information, tips, and tricks for facilitating that change. While such resources can be useful, they all too often seduce us into a false sense of progress. In seeing others do or talk about changes we desire, we often feel like we have made these changes ourselves - all from the comfort of the couch or computer chair. That is, the glut of ostensibly useful information available to us ends up serving pornographic ends rather than productive ones.

Thus, even when we seek to make concrete life changes, we are apt to get trapped in a web of fantasy and delusion. Rather than the spontaneity generation of genuine imagination, we are left with the predictable constructions of fantasy, as construed by ourselves or others seeking to lay claim to our time and attention. In our aspirational fantasies we vindicate the dullard’s mindset, seducing ourselves into the escapist compromise.

The lesson here is that the demands of imagination are far greater than those of fantasy. Where imagination calls us to witness or create something beyond ourselves, often in or through the limitations of material reality, fantasy asks only that we find a cozy place to escape into ourselves and leave the world behind. [2]

If we are to live the whole of life, we must yet reconcile imagination and finitude.

Find your “Sun”

How, then, are we to satisfy the demands of the imagination and the material world, which are ever at odds with each other? To help answer this, let us call on our friend Solaire of Astora.

In the lore of Dark Souls, our man Solaire is on a quest to “find his own Sun”. As we know, a Sun provides light to a world and an orienting center. To “find a Sun” means to discover such an illuminating center for life, and to bring light to the dark world of mere matter.

In other words, we may reconcile imagination and material limitation by discovering a guiding star whose light transfigures mundane reality on contact. In the light of a “Sun”, obstacles become opportunities and limitations become liberties. [3]

Like Solaire, we each must seek our own “Sun.” We cannot expect the world to be transfigured and opposites reconciled for us and without further adieu. Indeed, to find a “Sun” is itself a quest, and one that no doubt leads to more quests. This also means that we cannot simply borrow another’s guiding light, for the light that guides one may mislead another, each of us having our own unique possibilies and tasks in life.

Note the double meaning of “finding a Sun”: on the one hand, we must find a “Sun” to seek in the first place, while on the other we must then find the “Sun” we are seeking, or at least try. Succeeding in the former alone is more than most achieve, and invaluable in itself.

Thus, Solaire is able to “Praise the Sun” even as he seeks it, for it illuminates his quest even in its absence. So too for those who would seek a life of wholeness, reconciling imagination and limitation: find your “Sun” and the limitations of reality will be transfigured in the light of imagination, their tension reconciled by the quest thus granted.

Notes

[1] If you doubt this hypothesis, you can easily verify it by checking yourself into your local mental institution. If there’s no looney bin nearby, your local ER will likely suffice.

[2] Using the lingo of William Blake, we might say that, in this context, imagination is Energy and fantasy is merely cold Reason in disguise.

[3] Souls fans may recognize this gesture as something like this