Inspired by a recent conversation I had with my good friend Nora (see her text for the funambulist) about the recent UN vote in favor of the Palestinian Authority, I came to think about the notions of idealism and imagination. In substance, Nora was explaining that the idealist she is could not possibly be satisfied by such decision. As we all know, this vote crystallizes the post-1967 borders (which is a tremendous issue as far as East Jerusalem is concerned for example) eludes the problem introduced by the territorial separation between Gaza and the West Bank, abandons the right to return for refugees as well as judiciary prosecutions, and re-affirms a support to the Palestinian Authority which does not have any electoral legitimacy since it ended its term in 2009. What Nora pointed out however, is her disappointment to see extraordinary issues ‘solved’ with hyper-ordinary solutions, problems that have no real equivalent in history addressed through responses that had been already applied in the past. There was room for imagination, she claims, to invent a new form of democracy for a post-apartheid country whichever its future name might be.
Being a supporter of this thesis myself (although I am not quite able to articulate it that well), it reminded me of the recurrent answers we get when affirming an ideal. “This is unachievable”, they say or, “that will never happen.” The point they are missing is that being an idealist does not really mean that one believes that this ideal will be reached; rather it consists in the engagement in the continuous struggle that ‘walk’ towards this ideal, in the same way that one has to aim at the horizon in order to move forward.
Imagination is the thing that cynics lack of. It is important to differentiate here creative imagination from the imagination communicated through the advertising/Hollywood industry’s slogans which, undercover of messages like “nothing is impossible”, reiterate the same limited version of a certain vision of the possible. Slavoj Zizek often argues that capitalism succeeded in making us believe that it would be easier for us to live on Mars than to find an alternative to itself. Imagining living on Mars is not really hard indeed if we simply transpose our life on earth to a red background settings with the astronauts suits added. What is really hard to imagine and therefore deserve to be the object of much efforts, is to think of other societal models that would radically change from the one we have known and we still know.
Imagination has been captured by capitalism, not in the way that dictatorial regimes censored and prevented it but, by making us think that what we see every day is the product of imagination when, really, it all comes from the very same system of production of ideas. The end of the 20th century consecrated the fear of utopia as the latter seemed to be the motor of this same century’s atrocities, but again this is false inasmuch that imagination had been captured as well by the various dominant forces that were trying desperately to reach the horizon (we can think of the Nazi autodafe and the Sovietic censorship for example). We must, of course, refrain ourselves from any form of suppression just as much we must stay away from the ambient cynicism of an era that delusionally declared itself “post-ideological”. Imagination is the creative fuel for struggle, let’s not take it for granted.