Commenting on Jean-Paul Sartre's theory of imagination, Paul Ricoeur argues that Sartre fails to address the productive nature of imaginative acts. According to Ricoeur, Sartre's examples show that he thinks of imagination in mimetic terms, neglecting its innovative and creative dimensions. Imagination, Ricoeur continues, manifests itself most clearly in fiction, wherein new meaning is created. By using fiction as the paradigm of imaginative activity, Ricoeur is able to argue against Sartre that the essence of imagination lies not in its ability to reproduce absent objects, but rather in the ability to transform reality through creative acts. Motivated by the intuition that Sartre the writer could not have forgotten to address such crucial dimensions of imagination, I examine Sartre's philosophical and literary work, showing that not only does he develop a notion of productive imagination, he also puts this notion to work by articulating the relationship between imagination, narrative, and identity formation, well before Ricoeur advanced his narrative-identity theory. I argue that Sartre, like Ricoeur and MacIntyre, another representative of narrative-theory whose criticism of Sartre I address in this essay, views imagination and narrativity as necessary conditions for the formation of a coherent and meaningful sense of self.
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