A History Of The Imaginary. The Truth Of The Myths

CHAPTER I Structures and Methods An Ambiguous Condition What if the history of the imaginary did not exist? Beyond all paradox, the question deserves to be raised. Following a hectic and contorted history, this discipline is hindered by theoretical and ideological difficulties. Its heritage is ambiguous. Each ideology or view of the world has attempted to make its own part of the imaginary absolute, depreciating alternative forms. This was most of all the case of theology and of modern rationalism, to say nothing of totalitarian ideologies. The result is often a caricature: modern myths are rightist, wrote Roland Barthes in 1957 (in his Mythologies) and the left, especially the revolutionary left, was characterized by straight talk that rendered the mythological artifice useless1. The writer was unable to avoid the trap of a very common type of polarization: we have the Truth, the others are odd, namely stupid. This state of mind is in itself one of the essential traits of the imaginary. This prejudice did not stop the multiplication of particular themes, from the time that Greek historians began to interpret their own myths or to watch with curiosity the mores of the Barbarians, until this end of the 20th century, which is so much tempted by the invisible side of things. But the synthesis remains to be achieved. Today it has certain advantages. The sidelining of the imaginary, coming most of all from the scientific, rationalist and materialistic trends of the last centuries, is now history. People are beginning to re-discover the fact that history means, most of all, an adventure of the spirit. The imaginary permeates all fields: people are beginning to understand that their scientific research or political projects are touched by it to the same degree as art or mystical ecstasy. On the other hand, the withdrawal of ideologies and a mind that valorizes the diversity and relativity of values seem to be able to alleviate certain contradictions. Mythologies exist both on the right and on the left, with believers and atheists, with us and with the others. But there is a long way from premises to achievement. For now, historians are working on segments, on clear-cut issues. They come up with countless histories of the imaginary (in the plural) and no history of the imaginary (in the singular.) This contrast is visible in the history of mentalities, considered an autonomous discipline, carefully landmarked and jealously kept. This was one of the most specific contributions made by the school of the Annales or of the French Nouvelle histoire. A similar operation seeking to promote the imaginary stopped short of the desired effect. In 1978 La Nouvelle histoire presented, with this very title, its report, in an encyclopedic work edited by Jacques Le Goff (with Roger Cartier and Jacques Revel.) Le Goff, who has made remarkable contributions to the research of the Medieval imaginary, had reserved a chosen seat for this aspect of that history. Written by Byzantium scholar Évelyne Patlagean, the twenty pages of this essay on the history of the imaginary2 listed this field among the ten key-concepts considered the most characteristic of the Annales current (with historical anthropology, material culture, new history, immediate history, the long time, the history of the marginal, Marxism, the history of mentalities, history structures.) The surprise came a few years later. In the Dictionnaire des sciences historiques (1986), edited by André Burguière (in the name of the same historiographic current, centered on the Annales and the École des hautes études en sciences sociales), the imaginary was obviously absent, at the very time when studies on its various departments were multiplying3. Since then, the contrast between the multitude of research studies and works claiming their origin in the imaginary and the absence of a global and coherent discipline, with a recognized historiographic status, has been further augmented. Therefore, today we have to approach the imaginary in an empirical manner, somehow the way Molière's bourgeois used prose. Failure or hesitation owed (apart from traditional resistance) to several reasons. The scope and seeming heterogeneity of the territory do not make a synthesis easy. Through its very nature, the imaginary is harassed by several disciplines that have been established for a long time in historiography and in the intellectual life in general. The history of religions, art and literature history, the history of science, the history of ideologies, the history of mentalities, or, more recently, historical anthropology (to quote just a few examples) share the vast field of the imaginary, discouraging all attempts at "de-colonization." The very success of mentalities made it difficult for the imaginary, as their numerous areas of contact could create the impression of quasi-identity. Why make an alias of an already established discipline? The specialization of historical studies is also in question. A general theory of the imaginary should be based on comprehension rising above epochs and cultures, which the traditional education of the historian falls short of. Following the established categories (which, of course, have their own virtues), a Medievalist studies the Medieval imaginary, a Hellenist the Greek imaginary, a Sinologist the Chinese imaginary and a contemporary history expert may study the contemporary imaginary (if he does not deem it better to yield this task to a sociologist.) But the very definition of the imaginary is precisely its universal, and, to a certain extent, trans-historical character. A psychologist, an anthropologist, a philosopher will find issues of their own there. They come up with a global imaginary to oppose it to the fragmentary imaginary of the historians. A petrified imaginary and one which is very different from the fluid imaginary historians dig deep into, here and there. Anyway, an imaginary that is easier to see and establish in the numbered boxes of a solid and durable structure. Anthropologists, philosophers and sociologists have perhaps written less than historians on the imaginary, but they have undoubtedly made more theories about it. Unlike most historians, they have conceived of the imaginary as a separate field. Dozens of research Centers for the imaginary4 have been formed to follow in the footsteps of Gilbert Durand (born in 1921), who is himself a disciple of the great philosopher of the imaginary Gaston Bachelard (1884-1962). There are debates and publications bringing together philosophers, psychologists and psychoanalysts, literature professionals, sociologists, anthropologists. Sometimes, the fortuitous presence of an historian brings an exotic atmosphere to these events. Even at institutional level, the imaginary is cut into two: on this side, there is the imaginary of those who believe in structures and regularity, namely in what is permanent, on the other side, the imaginary of those who place emphasis on diversity and change. In Search of a Definition The first difficulty in dealing with the imaginary is defining it. How can anyone stand up for the rights of a discipline that does not even have a convincing definition? According to Évelyne Patlagean, the "field of the imaginary is made up of the entirety of the representations that overstep the limits established by experience and the deduction chains authorized by them."5 Therefore, everything outside the concrete, indisputable reality, which is perceived either directly, by logical deduction, or scientific experiment, belongs to the imaginary. The imaginary is, therefore, the domain of the false and of the non-verified (or of the non-verifiable), as well. This definition implies a rationalistic bet; it is no longer the worst imaginable bet (although one should be suspicious about the presence of Reason as much as about its absence; it has proven capable of begetting monsters no less frightening than those blamed on irrationalism and on the imaginary.) Unfortunately, the fragility of this reasoning is obvious. Where is the border-line between the real and the imaginary? From one individual to another and, even more, from one epoch to another and from one culture to another, this appreciation will always be different. Each culture proposes its own interpretation of the imaginary and of the relationships between it and tangible reality. It would be arrogant and rash to oppose our "knowledge" to other people's "beliefs." Let us better admit that our own knowledge of this world, our reason and our science are nourished by the imaginary just as much as any "primitive" superstition. Since the ultimate essence and purpose of the Universe is still hidden from us, all human projects and knowledge are actually part of the imaginary. Therefore, the imaginary is everywhere and nowhere to be found. As far as Jacques Le Goff is concerned, he avoids any and all definition in the Foreword to his collection called L'Imaginaire médiéval (1985). The great medievalist seems to be concerned with defining what is not part of the imaginary, rather than what is. So, despite the inevitable overlappings, the imaginary should not be assimilated with a representation of the outer reality, or with what is symbolic, or with an ideology6. Such a limitation could look draconian. Firstly, there is no representation identical to that of the represented object; all images, even the most "realistic" ones, imply an intervention – even if minimal – of the imaginary. On the other side, it seems that the universe of symbols fully belongs to the imaginary, even constituting its most concentrated and significant expression. And, finally, ideologies can be interpreted in all faith as secularized mythologies. Le Goff proposes an interesting and subtle distinction between the Medieval categories of the "marvelous," the "miraculous," and the "magic" (the second referring to God, the third to Satan, and the first being somehow neutral); he deals with the transfiguration of space and time, of dreams, of the world beyond. All these images belong to the imaginary, but, once again, what is the imaginary? To attempt an answer, we have to overcome the real-imaginary dichotomy and to give up using Reason as the measure of all things. The imaginary is a product of the spirit. Its conformity or non-conformity with what is out there is a secondary matter, although it is important to the historian. The holy obviously belongs to the imaginary, but the fact that people believe in God is not an argument against the existence of God. In fact, it is also no argument in favor of God's existence. Some people believe in aliens: one of the most picturesque expressions of the contemporary imaginary. This belief has nothing to do with the existence or non-existence of the aliens. Even the visit of a cosmic delegation would not change its purely imaginary character. Imagination is blended with outer reality and it is confronted with it: there, it finds support or, on the contrary, a hostile environment. The imaginary can be either confirmed or rejected. It acts upon the world and the world acts upon it. But, in its essence, it is an independent reality, having its own structures and its own dynamics. The image-imagination-imaginary relation also raises difficulties. According to Jean Jacques Wunenburger, "in French, the word imagination means a mental production of sensitive representations, different from sensory perception, of concrete realities and of the conceptualization of abstract ideas."7 Starting out from this trio, perception, imagination, conceptualization, the issue is to know whether we should or should not leave the imaginary exclusively confined to the area of imagination and the imagination exclusively confined to the area of images. Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980) was right to see the essential difference between perception and image, the fact that the latter is intentional, as a projection of the mind. (L'Imagination, 1936; L'Imaginaire, 1940). But, on the other hand, the same philosopher depreciated the image, considering it the poor relative of true knowledge, a degraded kind of knowledge, some sort of a "shadow," or a "ghost." This led to an impasse, which was avoided owing, most of all, to the contributions of Gaston Bachelard and his disciple Gilbert Durand, who placed emphasis on the symbolic dimension of the image and on the organizing dynamism of the imagination. So, the image is more than just a "shadow" and the imagination more than a warehouse of images. As far as the imaginary is concerned, its products prove very complex and even extremely rigorous from the theoretical point of view. What can be more complex and more rigorous than a utopia or a religion? To reach the imaginary (or at least its best structured expressions), the imagination must be fecundated by reason. This way, the imagination goes further than the exclusive field of sensory representations. It includes both perceived images (which are inevitably "adjusted," because there is no such thing as an image that is identical to the object), elaborated images, and abstract ideas that structure such images. For now, although we cannot see the substance of the imaginary, we can very well notice its ambiguous status, split between very (or too) restrictive interpretations and, on the contrary, extremely generous interpretations that allow it to incorporate everything (can anyone swear that our very existence is more than just imaginary?) To cut the Gordian knot, we propose to go to the archetypes, as component elements of the imaginary. The history of the imaginary can be defined as the history of archetypes. We know fairly well that this term – forged by Plato and taken up by Carl G. Jung – is very often regarded with suspicion and even contested. But we do not wish to ascribe a transcendent meaning to it, nor to apply it, like Jung, to a vague collective unconscious, by way of a psychoanalytical justification. It just seems to us that man is "programmed" to think, feel, and dream in a very well defined manner. His mental constants get crystallized into what can be called "archetypes." So let us define the archetype as a constant or an essential bent of the human spirit. It is an organization scheme, a mold, whose matter changes, but whose contours stay the same. The historian always watches out for differences, but, still, he has to acknowledge the fact that throughout epochs and cultures human beings and communities react in a rather similar manner when faced with life, the world, history. The differences attract everybody's eyes, of course, but they prove minimal as compared to the fundamental unity of the spirit, structured by archetypes. The history of the imaginary is structural because even the most sophisticated constructions of the spirit can be simplified, decomposed and reduced to an archetype. But it is also very dynamic, precisely because archetypes are open structures, which evolve, are combined among themselves, and whose contents is incessantly adjusted to the changing social environment. Structural and dynamic history of archetypes: no contradiction between these terms. Any imbalance in favor or against one or the other elements would seriously affect the accuracy of the perspective. Here, the hostilities between pure and tough structural thinkers and the supporters of historicity are left hot. The battle is symbolized by the two great patrons of the imaginary in France, Gilbert Durand and Jacques Le Goff. The former says directly in his classical book Les structures anthropologiques de l'imaginaire (1960) that "we feel all evolutionist or historical interpretations of the myths must be trashed (...) History cannot explain the archetypal mental contents, as history itself partakes of the imaginary. And, most of all, in each historical phase, imagination is there with a double and antagonistic motivation: pedagogy of the imitation, of the imperialism of images and archetypes, tolerated by the social environment, but also opposed fantasies of rebellion, owed to the repression of the various regimes of the image by the environment and the historical moment." Anyway, there is no question about the "universality (...), both psychological and social, of the great 'archetypes.'" There can be no such thing as a "progressive view of the human imagination."8 Such a statement actually annuls all history or lets history deal with anecdotal details only. This is, most of all, the view of structural anthropology and psychoanalysis. Carl G. Jung, Claude Lévi-Strauss (Anthropologie structurale, 1958; La Pensée sauvage, 1962), and Gilbert Durand, despite the differences separating their analyses, place heavy emphasis on crystallized forms of the imaginary, produced by the constants of the human mind. How can anyone require of an historian to trust a method that may devalue his vision of the world and destroy his profession? In the meantime, Gilbert Durand brought more nuances to his "anti-history" judgment of 1960. He and his school tried to partially fill the gap that separated them from history.9 Generally, anthropology became more open to the historical method. On the other hand, historians, tempted by the "long duration," began to consider durable structures more closely. But the encounter between the two orientations will not happen overnight. The former will never give up the archetypal tendencies that the latter tends to annihilate in favor of historically determined "models." The "long duration" is still part of time, it has nothing to do with a-temporality. Le Goff attacks, without the slightest concession, "the suspect ideology of the archetypes" (with reference to Gilbert Durand), explaining that "the models of the imaginary come from science, the archetypes – from mystifying delusions."10 Models versus archetypes. According to Le Goff, the Purgatory, studied in one of his books (La Naissance du Purgatoire, 1981) is such a model. The origin of these waiting rooms to Paradise is historically dated (definitive crystallization in the 12th and 13th centuries) and strongly tied to a complex of social, political and mental evolutionary processes (the decline of the temporal power of the Church, now trying to recuperate its lost influence in the space-time of afterlife, the valorizing of the individual responsibility concept, etc.) The fading of the Inferno today, in the space of western Christianity, could be approached with a similar methodology. The structures of the world beyond change the way the structures of our world change. (But let us notice that an interpretation of the imaginary uniquely centered on historically defined models makes it significantly dependent on social structures and material conditions, which is in tune with the Annales school and, mostly, with Jacques Le Goff's method.) The model proposed by Alain Corbin in his 1988 work on the "maritime imaginary" (Le Territoire du vide. L'Occident et le désir du rivage, 1750-1840) is even more strongly marked by time. The author announces a methodological debate, making a powerful statement against the tendency to despise every temporal insertion in the analysis of mental structures. "This is not a question of adhering to the belief in the anthropological structures of the imaginary regardless of duration."11 The attack against Gilbert Durand's school is explicit. Not even the "long duration" concept, coined by historian Fernand Braudel, seems to him sophisticated enough to grasp the decisive turning points. In search of "datable mechanisms," with a maximum chronological accuracy, Alain Corbin places by 1660-1675 the beginning of an evolution that had to end by dissipating the old abhorrence provoked by the maritime space in favor of a totally new "desire for a shore." The historical method (in history as well as in anthropology) also warns against the trap laid by superficial similarities. Apparently unchanged images can have different functions. Nobody has the right to diffuse the historical and cultural diversity. This is a reproach against James George Frazer (1854-1941), the great classic of this genre, author of the famous Golden Bough (1891-1918); his "primitives" are all alike, none being marked by time or by space; they think and act in an absolutely identical manner. But the justified reaction against such a leveling sometimes leads to a broken universe, where man becomes an alien to man. Rejection or valorization of time? Rejection or valorization of spatial departments? Long duration or breaking phases belonging to a more or less restrained temporal framework? In fact, everybody is right. Contradictory theses can be endorsed with equally convincing arguments. Everybody will find their own reasons there, except for the interpretation of the imaginary that impoverishes and deforms it. Because, to tell the truth, the issue must not be defined in terms of a choice between immutability and movement, between uniformity and diversity. Despite this apparent contradiction, the same credit should be given to opposed principles. This way, the model of the purgatory is in perfect tuning with the archetypal space-time of the world beyond. Archetypes, models and specific manifestations are but three levels of the same construction. Two examples of the contemporary imaginary will help us see this matter more clearly. For this brief demonstration, we will study the end of the world as a totalitarian phenomenon. Nothing Is New, Everything Is New: the Imaginary Throughout History Our time has a wide range of means to blow the world to pieces. Dangers (real or imaginary, that matters very little) play a decisive role in the contemporary psychodrama. Their emergence is datable, sometimes even extremely accurately. Nuclear warfare with its multiple possible scenarios begins with a very real event: the Americans dropped the A-bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. The imminence of an ecological catastrophe became dominant in the minds of people in the 60s. At the same time came the demographic anxiety triggered by the accelerated growth of the world population (more exactly, of the Third World population, a phenomenon paralleled by the demographic stagnation or decrease in the West.) In 1972 the Club of Rome identified in a famous report the ingredients of an explosive cocktail; the five factors described then were food, population, production, resources and pollution. The population grew too fast, food and raw materials became insufficient, the pollution – owing to badly planned production – was increasingly violent in its aggression against the natural environment. Cosmic perils were also there, such as clashing with a comet or a meteorite. The dinosaur business – their "sudden" disappearance sixty-five million years ago – came forth by 1980 and it is still a star subject. The two masters of the earth, the dinosaur a long time ago and man today may have a similar fate, to dominate the world and to perish stupidly at the climax of their power. These solutions seem undoubtedly modern. All the scientific, technological and political ingredients of our time are gathered here. Nobody could have imagined before the end of the 19th century – and even less in the Antiquity or in the Middle Ages – a nuclear war or an environment degraded by pollution. But people had already made other scenarios to serve the same project: the destruction of the world. One of the most ancient and most universally invoked is that of the Deluge. This myth, in different variants, tells the story of how mankind was destroyed, followed by the story of its rebirth due to a small number of individuals. Nuclear war is the Deluge of our time. With few exceptions, the scenarios about it (strategic simulation, scientific studies, literary or motion picture fiction) place it in the perspective of an incomplete end of the world, just like the Deluge. Most of humankind disappears, civilization collapses, but the human adventure continues, inaugurating a new historical cycle. The same is true of the ecological disaster: this would be the end of civilization (of the modern technological and polluting civilization), but not the end of man. Here we find a very ancient imaginary about ends of the world, which is part of the eternal return pattern (studied by Mircea Eliade, 1907-1986, in his Mythe de l'éternel retour, 1949.) Ends and rebirths alternate throughout a (cosmic and human) cyclic history. The constituent elements of this archetype are borrowed from obvious cosmic and natural cycles: the succession of days and nights, of the Lunar phases, of the seasons, of vegetation. Deluge or nuclear war are secondary images, derived from this original pattern of the world. But the archetypal image of the circle competes with the no less archetypal image of the straight line. The latter, applied to the march of humanity, can point either to a continuous route or, on the contrary, to a brutal and definitive end. In the case of a brutal end, the image of death – one of the permanent obsessions of the imaginary – is projected over the destiny of mankind. Individual death becomes collective death, the extinction of the species. Nuclear war can signify, according to some scenarios, the absolute end of mankind. Without any chance of survival. This alternative has its own precedents, too. All we have to do is go to the Apocalypse – the apocalypses –where the end of the world is orchestrated by a giant conflagration. Still, a religious Apocalypse associates the end of terrestrial existence to a new reality, situated in a transfigured universe. This is often missing with the nuclear Apocalypse or with other contemporary apocalypses that are characteristic of a partially desecrated civilization. The end, if it is really "complete," does not seem to be accompanied by any compensatory solution. It is the end.12 So, under new "clothes," we find obviously ancient structures. Therefore, it is perfectly justified to reduce modern end of the world scenarios to archetypal formulas. But, on the other hand, the historian has the right to place emphasis on the novelty of phenomena and on the new relationships between the "real" history and the structures of the imaginary. No one should minimize the specific function of the contemporary "great fears," their connection with politics, science or religion, which are considerably different from those of the Deluge or of the strictly religious Apocalypse. The desecrated end, the technological anxiety, the decline of the west and the rise of the "others" are new images, even if they, too, can be decomposed into archetypal elements. While the end of the world comes from far back in time, the totalitarian phenomenon seems to be a characteristic element of the 20th century. It is but vaguely suggested by traditional tyrannies; the Jacobin terror alone anticipates it, owing to its "single party" system, its ideologizing work and general mobilization, its "industrial" organization of repression. An incomplete and evanescent experience as compared to the accomplished totalitarian model of our time. The quasi-perfection of totalitarianism is explained by the existence of a material capacity for organization, propaganda, surveillance and repression that were not in place in preceding epochs, but, to the same extent, by the affirmation of an extremely virulent "totalitarian imaginary." The crisis of the 20th century – one of the most profound rifts in the history of civilizations – the failures of the technological civilization but also its real or presumed potential have been sublimated into an ideal of surpassing history by creating a new world and a new human being. Fascism, Nazism and Communism planned not only to control people as any ordinary tyranny does, but, first and foremost, to change the course of history and to change human nature. The totalitarian experience may essentially belong to recent history, but its components come from far back. Without claiming to do a complete review, let us quickly point to a few archetypal elements. The rejection of history and the desire to egress one's own condition seem to define the universal reaction of humans confronted with history and with the limits of the human condition. This project has to do with the evasion from a turbulent and unpredictable space and the refuge to a protected area that can ensure harmony and happiness. This one is symbolized, at the most basic level, by archetypal images such as the island or the cave (and, even more basic, the maternal womb.) It is the recurrent dream of a closed, tribal society, to refer to the well-known theory of Karl Popper (1902-1994) put forth in La société ouverte et ses ennemis (1945). On the religious plane, the struggle against the real world and history has been manifest in the millenarian ideologies and movements (teaching about the establishment of a one-thousand year Messianic Kingdom.) The totalitarian solutions of the 20th century – most of all Nazism and Communism – are in some way nothing but secularized millenarianism. The charismatic leader (Mussolini, Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, etc.), an indispensable image in the system of the totalitarian imaginary, also belongs to an archetypal lineage, personified by the Messiah or the Savior (or by the Antichrist, to his adversaries.) So, we come close to the sacred, despite secular, materialist and scientific appearances, a deformed and corrupted sacred, but one which is very much present in the ideologies structured as religions (dichotomy between Good and Evil, triumph of an absolute truth, flourishing of the human spirit, universal harmony), in the cult of the leader, or in the ritual of ceremonies. The rejection of the Other (the class enemy in the Communist system, the biologically impure being according to the Nazi doctrine) and the cohesion of a community freed from its undesirable elements also belong to an archetypal structure: the quest of Unity and the dialectics of the relations between Us and the Others.13 New construction, archaic materials. Archaic materials, new construction. The fabrics incessantly evolve and generally become more complex as mankind continues its journey forward on the road of history, but the constituent molecules are the same. The end of the world is by far more diversified and sophisticated today than the flood or the universal fire, to quote the two most common traditional solutions. The contemporary totalitarian regimes are far more complex than the simple pattern of traditional millenarianism or utopias (to say nothing of the archaic symbols.) But, if we want to focus on essence alone, the end of the world is always the same end of the world and the evasion of history is inspired from the same fantasies, one epoch after another. The words of the Ecclesiastes: "nothing new under the sun" and "Pantha rhei," the famous phrase attributed to Heraclitus, do not exclude each other at all. They are the two basic principles of the Universe, also shedding light, better than any demonstration, on the rules and logic of the imaginary. The Imaginary and Reality At the beginning of this century, the French Hellenist Victor Bérard (1864-1931) attempted to track Ulysses. He found in the shores and islands of the Mediterranean Sea all the places described by Homer and gathered into a beautiful album a rich collection of photos proving a striking correspondence between the descriptions in the poem and the landscape as it is today (see the four volumes of Navigations d'Ulysse, 1927-1933 and its iconographic supplement Dans le sillage d'Ulysse, 1933.) A seducing inquiry, but one which is basically wrong, the perfect example of what should not be done to the imaginary. The imaginary has its own structures and evolution principles. It would be absurd, of course, to deny its relations with the "reality." Nobody will ever invent new colors, but only combinations of the existing ones. A new face will most probably be drawn starting from very well known traits of the human face. A utopia will do nothing but arrange otherwise certain components of the real relationships between people. An historical myth will include characters, landscapes and situations that should fit the concrete world. The sensory material used by the imaginary is not essentially different from the material of tangible matter, but it is re-forged and poured into a specific mold. It is not the matter, but the structures that count, and they have an incontestable degree of autonomy. How can anyone take a sacred tree for an ordinary one? How can anyone mistake the terrifying octopus imagined by the Europeans or the erotic octopus of the Japanese for the very common "real" octopus? Roger Caillois (1913-1978) described everything that separates them in an exemplary study: La Pieuvre. Essai sur la logique de l'imaginaire (1973). Therefore, the worst caricature is to consider the imaginary just another disguise of reality. More than two thousand years ago, Greek historians and philosophers began to rationalize myths. Their method was not very sophisticated: they just evacuated the supernatural and kept the rest. To them, "the Trojan War had taken place because a war had nothing supernatural in it: if the supernatural is taken out of Homer's work, this war will be left."14 The historians of our time sometimes fall into the same trap the moment they try to identify historical facts under the polish of legends, be they the Trojan War or the foundation of Rome. Of course, a legend can include bits of real historical information. But it can also be exclusively nourished by archetypes. This is what Georges Dumézil demonstrates regarding the foundation of Rome, a subject we will come back to. Suppose the historians only have, for a few thousand years, a corpus of "nuclei" stories as the only pieces of information about the second half of the 20th century. Will they have the right to infer from our evident obsession that a real catastrophe has taken place? As far as the imaginary is concerned, the starting point remains, in fact, a secondary matter. Real or invented, partially invented or composite, the facts and the characters are actually part of an ideal typology. Whoever wishes, at any price, to interpret the imaginary by way of the concrete reality, or to recompose that concrete reality starting out from the imaginary, confines himself into a false question. There are numerous interdependencies and permanent exchanges between those two realms, but these are very sophisticated relationships that are established through "mental climates" rather than by the brutal invasion of facts into the ethereal domain of the spirit. On the one hand, it is easy to see the persistence of structures, themes and models in the rhythms of historical life, changing them, bringing them to stardom, or, on the contrary, withdrawing them from center-stage. The resistance against the "real" and the dialogue with that same "real" coexist. The resistance against the "real" sometimes acts by way of a remarkable capacity to deny what is obvious or to reverse its meaning, which proves the autonomy of the imaginary and the durability of its models. People generally see what they want to see and learn what they already know. The exploration of this planet at the beginning of the modern epoch offers a striking example. Columbus, the discoverer of America, defiantly ignored his own discovery because it was not in tune with the accepted image of the world (where the American continent did not exist.) An imaginary geography handed over from the Antiquity proved stronger than the real geographical facts. Following the same inherited pattern, navigators searched in vain, for two or three centuries, the great southern continent that had to occupy the southern hemisphere of the earth. Contrary arguments were systematically turned into favorable ones (each discovered isle became a fragment of the searched sea shore), for the only reason that the ideal pattern presumed there was a southern continental mass which was allegedly symmetrical to the northern world.15 The purpose of the imaginary is not, however, to annihilate the real in order to take its place. Its strategies pursue the checking of the concrete world by adjusting the ideal models to the heaviness of matter and to the changing circumstances of history. In a real world that can only be deceiving, the imaginary plays a compensatory role. It is at work everywhere and permanently, but most of all, the periods of crisis augment its manifestation, as it is summoned to compensate for disappointment, to build a screen against fears and invent alternative solutions. Ends of the world, millenarianism, utopias, exacerbated contrasts, providential characters, occult