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Imagination and the mind in English-language writing

2018.11.15
Cy Mathews




Cy Mathews
Assistant professor, Faculty of Policy Studies, Chuo University
Area of Specialization: Literature and culture

I study English-language literature. My primary field of study is poetry, but I also look at other forms of writing such as essays, nonfiction, and journalism.

The Anglophone world

My focus is Anglophone (English-speaking) written culture: the writing of the UK and Ireland, the USA, Canada, Australasia, and anywhere where English is written.

My research is closely related to my teaching. In my courses, I teach how specific aspects of Anglophone thinking—political, social, aesthetic, even popular culture—have a deep and complex history.

Writing and literature

I’m interested in the history of words and the ideas those words express. The English philologist Richard Chenevix Trench wrote that words are like living things, “growing out of roots, clustering in families, connecting and intertwining” with everything people have been “doing and thinking and feeling from the beginning of the world till now.”[1] In my work, I trace the growth and the intertwining of those living things.

Historical influences

To do this, I take a long view of history. Modern English goes back around 500 years, and Anglophone culture has its roots long before that, primarily in the myths and philosophies of Ancient Greece and in the mysticism and divine laws of the Judeo-Christian religion. In the medieval era, there were also significant influences from Islam; later, ideas would flood in from Asia and the rest of the world.

The English diaspora

In Anglophone culture, there has long been an interest—at times an obsession—with the wider world. This has its origins in England’s development as a seagoing nation and the accompanying drive towards trade, exploration, and expansion. The establishment of English-speaking colonies and, later, nations around the world created a diaspora of Anglophone peoples—American, Canadian, and so-on—each of whom understood themselves and the world around them in different ways.

Imagination and the mind

At the same time as people were looking at the world around them, they were also looking inwards into their own minds. The 4th century theologian Augustine of Hippo described the mind as a “deep and boundless” place, like a landscape of caves and oceans which the thinker could explore forever.[2] This is echoed, much later in the 20th century, in the psychological theories of Sigmund Freud, who saw the conscious mind as largely controlled by the deeper and vaster unconscious.

I’m particularly interested in the ideas and legacies of the early 19th century English Romantic poets, who embraced mystery, uncertainty, and the power of the imagination. Humans know a lot of things, and when they don’t know something, they often invent and fantasise to fill in the blank spaces. Anglophone writing is full of such fantasies, both in literary genres and in popular culture. I’m researching the evolution of such fantastical elements in poetry, from their roots thousands of years ago to the development of new forms in the early 20th century.

  1. On the Study of Words. Macmillan and Co, 1867, pp. 33.
  2. The Confessions, Oxford, 1838, pp. 196.
Cy Mathews
Assistant professor, Faculty of Policy Studies, Chuo University
Area of Specialization: Literature and culture

Cy Mathews was born in New Zealand in 1979. He graduated from University of Otago Department of English and Linguistics in 2008 and received a PhD in English Literature from the University of Otago Graduate Research School in 2013. His past research has included cross-cultural literary exchange, representations of nationality in English writing, and the self-perceptions of Pakeha (non-indigenous) New Zealanders. He is currently researching the concepts of uncertainty and fantasy in late 19th century-early 20th century Anglophone poetry. His written works include “George Sterling’s ‘A Wine of Wizardry’: Romanticism, Decadence, and the Fantastic” (forthcoming in English Language and Literature 59, 2019), “Frontiers of Serbia: Representations of Serbia and the Serbs in the 18th and 19th century British imagination” (Japanese Slavic and East European Studies 38, 2017) and the thesis “Playing Games with Kenneth Koch: Poetry, Collaboration, Pedagogy” (2013).