Imaginal Machines: Autonomy & Self-Organization in the Revolutions of Everyday Life
by Stevphen Shukaitis
All power to the imagination? Over the past forty years to invoke the imagination as a basis for radical politics has become a cliché: a rhetorical utilization of ideas already in circulation, invoking the mythic unfolding of this self-institutionalizing process. But what exactly is radical imagination? Drawing from autonomist politics, class composition analysis, and avant-garde arts, Imaginal Machines explores the emergence, functioning, and constant breakdown of the embodied forms of radical imagination.
What does it mean to invoke the power of the imagination when it seems that the imagination has already seized power through the power of the spectacle? Does any subversive potentiality remain? Perhaps it is only honest to think in terms of a temporally-bounded subversive power. It might be that imaginal machines only work by breaking down. That is, their functioning is only possible, paradoxically, by their malfunctioning. By reopening the question of recuperation, the inevitable drive to integrate the power of social insurgency back into the working of capital and the state, we create possibilities for a politics continually reconstituted against and through the dynamics of recuperation: to keep open an antagonism without closure.
“Imaginal Machines explores with humor and wit the condition of art and politics in contemporary capitalism. It reviews the potentials and limits of liberatory art (from surrealism to Tom Waits) while charting the always-resurgent creations of the collective imagination. Shukaitis exhibits a remarkable theoretical breadth, bringing together the work of Castoriadis, the Situationists, and autonomous Marxism to define a new task for militant research: constructing imaginal machines that escape capitalism. Imaginal Machines is truly a book that makes a path by walking.” – Silvia Federici, author of Caliban and the Witch: Women the Body and Primitive Accumulation
“If you have ever had someone say to you, ‘okay it’s fine to criticize but what would you do?’ this is the book for you. Shukaitis takes us on a raucous ride through actually existing alternative organizations that are anarchic, loving, fun, and best of all they work. We meet people and organizations who imagine a completely different way of being together in the world. And we are never far from a sophisticated theoretical travelogue as we walk these roads with the author. What would you do? Try this, and this, and this!” – Stefano Harney, Chair in Strategy, Culture, and Organization, University of London
Stevphen Shukaitis is an editor at Autonomedia and lecturer at the University of Essex. He is the editor (with Erika Biddle and David Graeber) of Constituent Imagination: Militant Investigations // Collective Theorization (AK Press, 2007). His research focuses on the emergence of collective imagination in social movements and the changing compositions of cultural and artistic labor.
US: $18 / UK: 12 / £10 from this site
256 pages, 6 x 9
Release date October 29th, 2009
“This journey through the radical imagination of the left, written in a compelling and entertaining style, is definitely worth a read for everybody interested in radical and antagonistic politics. Shukaitis walks a tightrope, avoiding the two-sided abyss of either outdated notions of revolution as “seizing state power” and the more recent ‘tradition’ which knows only cultural politics and has thereby absented itself from the larger question of the transformation of the political economy. The book is fun to read because it is ‘open’ in the best sense of the word. It deals with heavy concepts but not in a frontal assault. It is rather like the author is on a lengthy reconnaissance mission, weaving in and out of sideways and dodgy allies, hacking himself through the underworld of zombified concepts.” – Armin Medosch, The Next Layer
“At every level, Imaginal Machines is a subversive text. Against the rising tide of complacency, Stevphen Shukaitis sketches out new possibilities for political engagement that are at once seditious and savvy. Resolutely anti-disciplinarian (in both senses of the word), he leaps recklessly from philosophy to art criticism to social movement studies… This is a unique and extraordinary text that deserves wide attention. Just as Spinoza famously posed the question ‘What can a body do?’ (i.e. what affective states and potentialities might be a body be capable of?), Shukaitis seems to ask ‘What can a book do?’ The answer, it appears, is far more than we think.” – Abe Walker, The Advocate
“Many people write books, the drier the better. But those who inspire their pages with the breath of living social movements are just a little more rare. Imaginal Machines is warm, it’s funny, it ranges widely in time and space, it hews close to lived experience and unlike many cultural histories of the Left, it raises no monuments to lost causes and dead labor. With a light touch and a Wobbly spirit, Stevphen Shukaitis tells stories of people who not only invented something new – a collective form, an art of living, an ‘imaginal machine’ – but also knew how to shed their radiant skin of solidarity and morph into a new guise when society changed gears and nothing could ever be the same again. Curiously, this is not about denying the importance of workerist traditions. It’s about letting the past teach you how to embrace the future, whenever it knocks on the door of the present and reminds people in dire straits that no one can repress the beckoning finger of undreamt possibilities.” – Brian Holmes, Half Letter Press
Chosen as part of the Half Letter Press Reading Room March-May 2010 Installment