As a teenager (and, let’s face it, as an adult) I read science fiction. Perhaps as a result, for a long time I thought that in order to write fiction you had to be imaginative in the sense that you ‘made something up’. I thought being creative had to do with ‘letting go’ and moving beyond myself, the present, this world. But I’m slowly realising that being creative has a lot to do with disciplined mastery and that being imaginative is all about seeing clearly and unveiling reality.
That is, if you are trying to figure out why the custard is curdling, or why the car won’t start, or why the community isn’t using public transport, you are in the process of using your imagination to try and unveil what is really going on. As Matthew Crawford insists (Shop Class As Soul Craft p 100), both the artist and the mechanic get outside their head — use their imagination — not to escape the world but to join it.
In short, even when it’s set on an alien planet, good fiction will help you see reality more clearly.
Literature is not simply a replica of reality; it penetrates the surface layers and reaches deep into the inner workings of reality. It removes false illusions, looks down from great heights at ordinary happenings and, with broad perspective, reveals these happenings in their entirety.
Of course, literature also relies on imagination, but this sort of journey in the mind is not just putting together a whole lot of rubbish. Imagination that is divorced from authentic feelings, and fabrications that are divorced from life experiences, can only end up insipid and weak.
Gao Xingjian (translated by Mabel Lee) (2006), The Case For Literature, Fourth Estate, p43.