Armstrong and The Precedence of The Imagination

moonNeil Armstrong has often been criticized for his inability to explain sufficiently his profound experience of landing on the moon.  We have invested in him a heroic stature. He was our Orpheus sent to the underworld to bring back  the great “mystery” of what lies beyond our human consciousness. I think what gives Armstrong such  heroic stature is not that he landed on the moon, although one cannot deny this incredible feat, but his ability to imagine it first. Like all explorers, they had to imagine the quest. Armstrong’s imagination provided the groundwork or framework for the journey. He allowed the profoundness and beauty of what was possible to manifest itself within him prior to his actual physical launch to the moon.  William Blake, visionary artist and poet, states that, “Enthusiastic Admiration is the first Principle of Knowledge and the last.” (William Blake, Marginalia to Reynolds’ Discourses, Discourse III)  The quest of the explorer is not possible unless his imagination can grasp the fullness of all that the journey  entails. It was only when his spirit, through his imagination, traveled to the moon first could matter itself then make the journey.

Swedenborg believed that matter and spirit are intertwined. There is a direct “correspondence” between the two worlds, one reflecting the other. Baudelaire took this idea further and allowed  the imagination the power to materialize ideas or emotions- traveling with ease from the imagination to the world and back again.  And subsequently, the reader or viewer could partake of the same experience through a correspondence of spirit. Armstrong became the symbol of all our longings to see beyond the blue sky overhead. He captured in his singular flight that inherent desire in the human will to surpass our physical boundaries and let loose the spirit and through the spirit  pure imagination.

Armstrong’s experience mirrored his inner life. It was how he could take it all in stride. Otherwise, his epic journey would have been too great. This inner life, that we have witnessed, gives him his epic status. When Orpheus returns from the underworld, he finds it difficult to return to the same thing. He is a changed man. He becomes profoundly absorbed, internalizing what cannot be spoken of- it is too deep for mere words. An abyss lies between him and the surface world.

When we look up at the blue sky we know in some way that it is infinite space- vastness itself.  But Armstrong knows for certain and that it is more than any man can grasp. It is an experience few will ever know as he did. The first to set foot on a place only artists and poets have imagined.

Author: Judith Reeve

For nearly 30 years I've developed my painting practice in the studio, building on what I leaned from my student days at the Lyme Academy of Fine Art. Along with my daily journey creating images which I write about here on this blog, I am also currently writing a book on the color practice of Robert Henri.

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