This week, we will read three authors who speak toward the power of the imagination and expanding the definition of what constitutes reality. This, we believe, helps destabilize capitalism, which is today often assumed as the only, total, or hegemonic economic order.

First, you will readImagination and Reality” by Jeanette Winterson, a contemporary author who is perhaps best known for her semi-autobiographical novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit which explores gender polarities and sexual identity. As a two-time Lambda Award winner (which celebrates LGBT literature), Winterson is constantly challenging the world to expand its definition of what’s normal and what’s real. “Imagination and Reality” does precisely that while identifying the visionary role art has in the process of reshaping society.

Second, you will read a pair of essays, Why . . .” and “How I Wrote Looking Backward,” by Edward Bellamy, an American author and socialist writing at the end of the nineteenth century. Looking Backward (published 1888) is a socialist utopia set in the distant year 2000 and extends the logic and promise of America’s political equality to the economy. His essays “Why” and “How” reflect on the experience of imagining this world into existence and how writing it led to Bellamy’s discovery that a new social order is indeed possible.

Finally, you will read a chapter from the book Revolutions in Reverse” by David Graeber, a contemporary anthropologist and anarchist activist who was a leading figure in the Occupy Wall Street movement. In “Revolutions in Reverse,” Graeber problematizes the idea of “being realistic,” seeing it as a regulatory and violent instrument of control. Graeber then uses his on-the-ground organizing and protest experience to theorize the hostile relationship between violence and imagination, ultimately aiming to understand how we might institutionalize creativity and liberation “without creating new, often even more violent and alienating structures.”

Together, this trio of thinkers will help us discuss the power of imagination and the role that art, literature, and creativity have in bringing new worlds into being. Winterson, Bellamy, and Graeber each point to tears in the fabric of today’s alleged capitalist hegemony, and each of these ruptures represents a possibility of something else, something new and no longer invisible.

Discussion Questions

  • What are the problems with “reality” and “being realistic” that the authors present in their essays? Do you agree? Is “real” politically neutral? To what extent do we have to think practically, and to what extent is the impulse to think practically actually limiting/confining us to a particular worldview? How does imagination help us push these boundaries?
  • Where does this type of critical imagination come from? Does it have to be fostered or created? What impedes our ability to imagine non-capitalist futures? What role does art (generall), or writing (more specifically) play in this process? Alternatively, how do acts of imagination manifest in other disciplines and non-artistic projects?
  • If, as Graeber suggests, “the world is that it is something that we make, and could just as easily make differently” then why do we struggle so much to imagine alternatives? Why does there feel like there is no alternative? Was capitalism inevitable?
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