Constricted Imaginations

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I've been thinking a lot about the potency of the imagination. Sometimes I worry that an appeal to the unbridled imagination does not make for either a successful political position or even a effective art practice.

So I've been reading about Situationists.

The Situationist International was formed in 1957 by a merger of Guy Debord's Lettrist International and Asger Jorn's International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus, two post-war continental art groups. The Situationist International had a reputation for scandal and subversion. Its political theories were a blend of Marxism and anarchism. They criticized modern consumer society for alienating people and turning their lives into meaningless pursuits of commodities.

All right, so that's a mini history, but basically they were this art group that wanted to liberate the artist, university student and the worker from the limited roles they were assigned by consumer society. They tried to encourage people to start imagining possibilities beyond what society was capable of providing. Or at least that was the gimmick.

But was this group anything more than another radically anti-rationalist gesture? Besides, whose imagination needs to be liberated? Is this anything besides nonsense revolutionary speak?

Sometimes I too am a sucker for the stupid version of the critique of spectacular society. During my most miserable moments, I begin to focus strictly on the packaging and production of my life. I streamline the banalities out of my life and focus on what I somehow perceive as the romantic and heroic. What matters is how the films in my head compare to the popular dramatic dreams distributed at the multiplexes.

This is the realm of romance, not life. The air in which we nurture our desires is not everyday life.

I have dreams, however. As a freshman in college I thought I could take over some abandoned fraternity house and convert the basement into a printing press. I'd create a publishing house where students would work on book proposals or research projects; they'd print their projects by the end of their four-year undergraduate stay. This, of course, never happened.

Now that I'm no longer in college, a new equally unrealizable dream occupies by list of impossible happenings. I dream of organizing a group of millionaire engineers and architects interested in building a new city.

Why would I consider these desires any more legitimate than those that don't have such impossible airs?

The Situationists' critique is very appealing; the drawing power comes from encouraged resistance. Although they were interested in more than that which merely negated authority, the strength of their line of rhetoric rested in their appeal to resistance.

The experts say that magazines play a greater role in assigning cultural products value than reporting what culture responds to as meaningful. Any contemporary, culturally savvy youth, familiar with the latest offerings of the newsrack, will tell you that you can no longer deny how authentic culture has dissolved into print culture.

If print culture plays the role of assigning meaning (or at least generating hype, and at this point an event is meaningful only if it is coupled with a successful marketing campaign) and readers are not really in the position to assess things critically, then why are certain performances criticized for being solipsistic affairs? Besides, an article is not interesting because of the content, but rather because of the framework from which it hangs.

Nevertheless, there seems to be a divide between writers who pursue their own interests and those who imagine some social obligation to which they are committed to satisfy. But does this social obligation really exist? Or is this trope only employed by the lips of a person merely interested in assigning their own interests an illusory sense of importance?

Equally dubious, however, are the personal convictions-those wrapped up in the fervor of their personal visions do little more than hope that others will sympathize with their fantasies.

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