Today I went to a talk given by Jackie Wang, author of the book Carceral Capitalism. She read from the final chapter of the book entitled The Prison Abolitionist Imagination: A Conversation. She began by quoting Mark Fisher saying something along the lines of “it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism,” and then applied this to prisons. From this starting point, She imagined a series of almost enchanted conversations (outside the realism of the present) to challenge the idea that abolition is “unrealistic”- she takes up this critique to use poetic language to make the conditions of unrealism in which abolition becomes the only possible logic. She does this by engaging in conversations across time with Rosa Luxemborg, Mahmoud Darwish, Mike Brown’s mother, Heather Ann Thompson, W.E.B. Du Bois, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Assata Shakur, Huey P. Newton and more. Putting these voices alongside each other and her own images of roses made for a kind of fever dream of possibility.
Listening to her read these poetic conversations felt enormous, even in a cramped and boiling room. Her project, to denaturalize prison through poetic language, touched on imagination as a shield, a politic, a desire, a threat, a freedom, and a form of interdependence. The vector of this imagination was poetry, which Wang at one point described as [paraphrased] a vibrational experience to create desire for another world.
I feel like the question of “realism” seems to come up a lot whenever abolition or other radical politics are mentioned. Deeming it unrealistic becomes a self fulfilling prophecy- once spoken as unrealistic, the space of its reality is shut down. It strikes me that the burden of imagination is always on those trying to make radical change- it’s easy to ask people to imagine the world staying the same, or even ending entirely. The work of fully feeling an imagined world inside your body is much harder. Imagination is work, and the burden of this imaginative work falls onto those most affected (and of course, the world should be remade by and for those who experience directly and therefore know best its harms). But giving legitimacy to imagination as a mode of labor, of resistance, and of abolition was both deeply inspiring and made me think about who is forced to imagine, because the world has precluded a livable reality.
In my life, I’ve often labeled imagination as escapism. But Jackie Wang’s talk made me want to challenge myself to view imagination as labor and escapism/dissociation as an embodied desire for another world.