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Imaginal Politics

Imaginal Politics: Images Beyond Imagination and the Imaginary

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  • Book Info
    Imaginal Politics
    Book Description:

    Between the radical, creative capacity of our imagination and the social imaginary we are immersed in is an intermediate space philosophers have termed the imaginal, populated by images or (re)presentations that are presences in themselves. Offering a new, systematic understanding of the imaginal and its nexus with the political, Chiara Bottici brings fresh insight into the formation of political and power relationships and the paradox of a world rich in imagery yet seemingly devoid of imagination.

    Bottici begins by defining the difference between the imaginal and the imaginary, locating the imaginal's root meaning in the image and its ability to both characterize a public and establish a set of activities within that public. She identifies the imaginal's critical role in powering representative democracies and its amplification through globalization. She then addresses the troublesome increase in images now mediating politics and the transformation of politics into empty spectacle. The spectacularization of politics has led to its virtualization, Bottici observes, transforming images into processes with an uncertain relationship to reality, and, while new media has democratized the image in a global society of the spectacle, the cloned image no longer mediates politics but does the act for us. Bottici concludes with politics' current search for legitimacy through an invented ideal of tradition, a turn to religion, and the incorporation of human rights language.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52781-1
    Subjects: Philosophy, Political Science, Sociology, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    We often hear that our politicians lack imagination. Indeed, in the current world of global governance, politics seems to have been reduced to simple administration, within a general neoliberal consensus. In such a world there seems to be no space for imagination understood as the radical capacity to envisage things differently and construct alternative political projects. Those who argue that “another world is possible”—to quote a slogan of the new global movements—are easily labeled unrealistic, if not fanatical, and thus are excluded from the spectrum of viable political options.¹

    Deprived of imagination, the political world we live in...

  5. Part 1. Imagining

    • [Part 1. Introduction]
      (pp. 13-14)

      In common language, the termsimaginationandimaginaryare usually associated with the unreal. This can be clearly seen in common expressions, such as: “this is the product of your imagination” or “this is purely imaginary.” Faced with such usages, philosophy can reply with a shrug and look for more complex meanings elsewhere by searching for illustrious antecedents in the history of ideas or by attempting to construct a different transcendental perspective. However, whether one tries to bring back the wheel of history through old authorities or attempts the transcendental leap, the result is the same: in either case, we...

    • 1 From Phantasia to Imagination
      (pp. 15-31)

      Imaginationderives fromimaginatio, the Latin term used to translate the Greekphantasia. Let us start by considering the latter. If we analyze the list of occurrences of the termphantasia,¹ we can immediately see that, besides a few disparate fragments and testimonies,² the first authors for whom we can speak of a fully fledged theory ofphantasiaare Plato and Aristotle. This may be the result of the fact that these are the only works that were transmitted to us, and a series of different contingencies could have given us different authors, perhaps even different theories.³ But for the...

    • 2 From Imagination to the Imaginary and Beyond?
      (pp. 32-53)

      We have seen that the first big rupture in the genealogy of imagination is signaled by the passage fromphantasiato an imagination without fantasy. The second break, one that cannot but strike the craftsman of words, is the appearance and increasing prominence of another term: theimaginary. The passage from imagination to the imaginary signals more than just the fact that imagination itself became imaginary, that is, associated with unreality. As I will try to show in this chapter, the problem is not only that of the reality or unreality of the imaginary. The passage from imagination to “the...

    • 3 Toward a Theory of the Imaginal
      (pp. 54-72)

      The genealogy of imagination has left us with a double tension: is imagination mere fantasy? Is it social or individual? After passing from the imagination to the more context-oriented category of the imaginary, we need to explore the possibilities of a theory of the imaginal.¹ The imaginal is a category that can lead us beyond the impasse of a choice between theories of the imagination as an individual faculty and theories of the imaginary as a social context. The English language clearly indicates what this is primarily about:imaginal, from Latinimaginalis, denotes what is made of images (imagines). As...

  6. Part 2. Politics

    • [Part 2. Introduction]
      (pp. 73-74)

      We have seen in part 1 that the genealogy of imagination left us with two tensions and that the concept of the imaginal provides us with the tools for addressing them. First, the imaginal, as that which is made of images, of pictorial (re)presentations that are always also presentations in themselves, can be more or less real, according to the different contexts and definitions of reality one refers to. Second, the category of the imaginal can be the result of both the individual imagination and the social imaginary—as well as of a complex yet to be determined interaction between...

    • 4 A Genealogy of Politics: From Its Invention to the Biopolitical Turn
      (pp. 75-89)

      It is well known that the meaning of the termpoliticshas significantly changed from one epoch to another. While Arendt could write in the 1960s that the experience of the Greek city-state (polis), from which the wordpolitikosderives, will stay with us as long as we keep using the wordpolitics(Arendt 1969:49), other authors have identified major ruptures in our understanding of politics, which have brought the term far afield of the Greek meaning. Following the genealogical method described in part 1, I would like to focus here on two major ruptures in the genealogy of politics....

    • 5 Imaginal Politics
      (pp. 90-105)

      The previous genealogy ofpoliticsshowed us that the semantic core of this concept went through a process of shrinkage and that the emergence of the notions of the political and of biopolitics points to an attempt to broaden it. What is then the relationship between this semantic ambit and the notion of imaginal introduced in part 1? The task of this chapter is to address such a central question.

      Let us begin with the broadest meaning. If we understand politics as whatever pertains to life in common and the decisions concerning its fate, the link is quite clear. Politics...

    • 6 Contemporary Transformations Between Spectacle and Virtuality
      (pp. 106-124)

      We have seen why politics is imaginal; there can be no politics, either in its narrowest or broadest senses, without the imaginal. We need now to analyze how the nexus of politics and the imaginal changes within contemporary conditions. If we look at the political role of the imaginal—understood to be what is made of images, of (re)presentations that are always presences in themselves—we cannot but perceive a puzzling tension: the imaginal has been both exponentially inflated as well as paralyzed at present.

      On the one hand, contemporary politics is overwhelmed by the imaginal. It depends on images...

  7. Part 3. The Global Spectacle

    • [Part 3. Introduction]
      (pp. 125-126)

      We have seen in parts 1 and 2 that the concept of the imaginal can help us make sense of a profound transformation in the nature of politics itself. If Weber could still think of political power as being uniquely characterized by the possibility of taking recourse to legitimate coercion, this possibility seems to be lost for us. Politics is not (or no longer) a struggle for the distribution of power and the use of legitimate coercion, but has become increasingly a struggle for people’s imagination. Power has always depended on the imaginal. If power is the capacity to influence...

    • 7 The Politics of the Past: The Myth of the Clash of Civilizations
      (pp. 127-142)

      The idea that history could ever be the simple reconstruction of how things have actually happened has been abandoned for a long time.¹ The past has always been at the service of the present. Friedrich Schlegel pointed to this when he observed that the “historian is a turned-back prophet” (Schlegel and Schlegel 1992:fragment 80). But if the past is always subject to the construction of an identity in the present, what is the difference between historical and purely mythical accounts of the past? If not even professional historians are immune from the temptation to subject the past to their vision...

    • 8 The Repositioning of Religion in the Public Sphere: Imaginal Consequences
      (pp. 143-160)

      In the previous chapter, we focused on the politics of the past as a way to assess changes in contemporary politics, with its search for legitimacy in a more or less invented tradition. In this chapter I want to focus instead on religion and faith from the point of view of the notion of the imaginal. In the last few years there has been a diffuse perception of a resurgence of religion in the public sphere; given that faith has always been one of the crucial sources of legitimacy, it is paramount to examine the way in which this change...

    • 9 Imagining Human Rights: Gender, Race, and Class
      (pp. 161-177)

      We live in an epoch of accelerated changes that often generate striking paradoxes. Human rights are one of them. The language of human rights is used by the mighty of the world, but also abounds in the mouths of the wretched of the earth. Notwithstanding its massive use, the emancipative potential of the language of rights has not diminished. To put it bluntly, they are simultaneously a means both for theideologicaljustification of the status quo and for itsutopiansubversion. If we agree with Karl Mannheim (1966) that utopia differs from ideology—the former breaks the bonds of...

    • THE FREEDOM OF EQUALS: A Conclusion and a New Beginning
      (pp. 178-202)

      We have seen in this book that politics has always been imaginal. The technical transformations of contemporary capitalism have tightened the link between politics and the imaginal to such a degree that we can no longer ignore this fact. We have reached a critical threshold: the quantitative and qualitative changes to the imaginal are such that images are no longer what mediate our doing politics, but that which risks doing politics in our stead.

      If Hölderlin is right in the passage quoted above, that where there is a danger the rescue grows as well, a question emerges: what are the...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 203-232)
    (pp. 233-252)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 253-258)