Anticipation : Gary Wilder

Mathilde Roussel / Lives of Grass
Mathilde Roussel / Lives of Grass

Anticipation : Gary Wilder

1. The Question of the Future and the Problem of Progress

Theodor Adorno famously concluded Minima Moralia with the cryptic suggestion that “the only philosophy which can be responsibly practiced in face of despair is the attempt to contemplate all things from the standpoint of redemption . . . Perspectives must be fashioned that displace and estrange the world, reveal it to be, with its rifts and crevices, as indigent and distorted as it will appear one day in the messianic light.”1 This is a charter for dialectical thinking in a false and fallen world, where we nevertheless continue to envision and struggle for radical transformation. If we extend Adorno’s insight to acting from the standpoint of what “will appear,” it may serve as a starting point for treating “anticipation” as a political concept in the multivalent sense of preceding and preparing, expecting and enacting, calling for and calling forth, acting “as if” and inhabiting the future anterior space of “what will have been.”2

Adorno’s formulation reminds us that radical politics requires a standpoint of critique: it must posit some kind of gap between “is” and “ought,” some position from which to challenge existing arrangements in the name of a better alternative. Any claim about the relation between the actual, the possible, and the desirable must therefore posit some kind of relationship between the present and the future. Yet, particular understandings of futurity cannot be separated from a given social formation’s dominant ways of organizing time.

In the modern West, Reinhardt Koselleck describes “the temporalization of history,” whereby time assumed a different quality, and history assumed a temporal character.3 Koselleck identifies a contradiction within this “new time.” It figured history as a contingent human process whose outcome would always be unknown and unpredictable. Yet, at the same time it understood history as a systemically integrated and progressively unfolding process.

Any attempt by the Left to think the future or contest liberal conceptions of progress must therefore address both sides of this understanding of history as directional and contingent, meaningful and undetermined. On the one hand, it would have to insist that because humans make history, the given order is not the necessary or only possible set of arrangements. On the other, it would emphasize how, in the modern period, social practices have set in motion a quasi-autonomous process that compels a certain kind of systemic forward motion and provokes future-oriented activities, which are sources of alienation, destruction, and domination and over which individuals have no real control. Critical theory and Left politics must therefore challenge both the liberal idea of history as a process of automatic improvement and its demand that individuals improve themselves in order to perfect society.

Koselleck’s account also reminds us that this concept of historical progress and abstract clock time presupposed one another.4 Modern society and thought reduced heterogeneous temporal processes to a measurable, linear, unidirectional understanding of history. And diverse historical processes were treated in terms of a measurable, linear, and additive conception of time. The result was a conventional understanding of history as proceeding along a continuum, yet within which determinate distinctions exist between “past,” present,” and “future.”

Walter Benjamin famously rejected the bourgeois conception of progress as founded on a shallow and quantitative understanding of homogeneous empty time. Reformist Social Democrats, he explained, confused progress of knowledge and skills with progress of humankind, which they mistakenly assumed would follow an automatic course through time and as history. This erroneous assumption, according to Benjamin, was linked to academic “historicism,” which treated the present as a transition along a linear continuum. He thus criticized conventional historians for practicing an additive and positivist method of history whereby a mass of data is assembled simply to fill homogeneous empty time, events are aligned in sequences as if they were the beads of a rosary, and causal connections were posited between them. In contrast, Benjamin offered his famous image of progress as a storm blowing from paradise, piling wreckage upon wreckage within an unending catastrophe. He contended that bourgeois progress, defined as the technocratic mastery of nature, led to the “retrogression of society.”5 However differently, both Koselleck and Benjamin remind us that a quantitative understanding of time as abstract and measurable subtended the use of quantitative metrics to evaluate progress (in terms of knowledge, expertise, technology, power, accumulation, etc.).6

2. Anticipation as Domination

Once abstract time and historical progress were elevated into a second nature, futurity could function as an instrument of social reproduction, political legitimation, and normative regulation. State power, capital accumulation, and technological innovation came to depend increasingly on experts and administrators devoted to rational planning and statistical prediction – with knowing and controlling the future.7 These sciences of planning and predicting became entwined with invidious forms of expropriation and expansion, governmentality and technocracy, productivism and consumerism, the imperative to accelerate or perish, and growth for growth’s sake. Yet a liberal logic of deferral asked actors to sacrifice today for an idealized future that is both certain to come and will never arrive. Under these conditions, anticipation facilitated social domination.8

Recent critics have rightly examined how liberal assumptions about progressive futures (where improvement is figured as inevitable and incremental) still function to divert political critique and defer transformative action. Lauren Berlant has brilliantly analyzed how normative fantasies of “the good life” under liberal capitalism can create a disabling and depoliticizing structure of “cruel optimism” whereby people remain affectively attached to practices, identities, and ideals that obstruct their ability to achieve or obtain the very life or feeling thereby promised.9 Lee Edelman’s forceful critique of “reproductive futurism” contends that politics “works to affirm a structure, to authenticate a social order, which it then intends to transmit to the future in the form of its inner Child” which “remains the perpetual horizon of every acknowledged politics.”10 And from a different angle, David Scott argues that the failure of the 1983 Grenada Revolution was both a cause and symptom of the contemporary political situation whereby postcolonial peoples are “stranded” in a “prolonged and stagnant” present.11

The flipside of cruel optimism is what we might call benevolent pessimism. Vincanne Adams, Michelle Murphy, and Adele Clarke describe how “anticipatory regimes” are produced through “speculative forecasts” that  “offer a future that may or may not arrive, is always uncertain, yet is necessarily coming and . . . therefore always demanding a response.”12 By transforming life into risk, they argue, these anticipatory regimes create an injunction to optimize and a compulsion to prepare. They compel individuals to accept expert knowledge as truth, to accede to preventive measures, and to defer political resistance.13 Wendy Brown’s recent account of neoliberalism’s de-democratizing imperative indicates how optimistic and pessimistic modes of disabling anticipation can be combined within a political logic.14

There is no doubt that cruel optimism and benevolent pessimism have produced, and leveraged the concept of anticipation in order to prohibit or require certain kinds of citizen action, to legitimize or exempt certain state interventions, to produce docile and anxious subjects who become trapped in states of what Berlant has nicely phrased “animated suspension.”15 The constant exhortation to self-manage, improve, and promote is accompanied by precarity and exhaustion, uncertainty and anxiety, disorientation and meaninglessness.

But does this mean that all future-oriented thinking or action is intrinsically disabling, normalizing, and depoliticizing? It would be a mistake to reduce futurity as such to a liberal conception of progress, or anticipation to a liberal ideology or affect. Doing so is precisely what has led some of these scholars to draw dubious political conclusions from their own important insights. Think here of Berlant’s assertion of the present as an impasse in relation to which affective beings must focus on survival, maintenance, and adaptation, “without futurity.”16 She dismisses the wish for new images of the good life as a symptom of the current situation.17 Or, consider David Scott’s melancholic ruminations about our being tragically stranded in a post-socialist political present. Adams, Murphy, and Clarke ask us to refuse anticipation as such.18 And Edelman promotes an anti-political opposition to “every realization of futurity,” any aspiration to forge “some more perfect social order,” any action oriented toward future “good.”19 Instead he celebrates jouissance as bound up with the death drive and an absolutist negation of social form.20

By treating the present as one-dimensional and unsurpassable, such criticism accedes to existing arrangements and discounts politics oriented toward a future good life as intrinsically delusional, self-undermining, or conservative. But to abandon good-life imaginaries and future-oriented practices is to erase the crucial space between how things are and how they ought to be. It is no surprise, therefore, that such thinking often turns to (post-political understandings of) affect, bodies, objects, or deep history as the only way to think outside or against existing conditions and ideologies.

How then are we to pursue progressive politics when relations of domination are mediated by the idea and reality of progress itself?21 Against the liberal tendency to plan and predict we must insist on a radically open future, and refuse to define that which it might hold. But against the liberal tendency to project present arrangements, forward, we must also fashion images of the good life. Of course this imperative leads immediately to a further challenge. How are we to envision alternative social arrangements when the concepts, frameworks, and forms with which to do so can only really be furnished by an open future that has not yet arrived? This is the very dilemma implied by Marx’s claim that “the social revolution of the nineteenth century cannot take its poetry from the past but only from the future.”22 Radical politics is thereby fated to imagine the unimaginable. And this is the challenge posed by Adorno’s call to contemplate the world from the standpoint of redemption.

3. The Price of Messianism

Some thinkers have attempted to challenge liberal progressivism without abandoning futurity by turning to ungrounded utopianism, blank futurism, or Messianic apocalypticism. But such moves also tend to leave present arrangements undisturbed—whether by idly fantasizing about ideal worlds, refusing to name possible alternatives, or either fetishizing or waiting for the sudden event that will produce an absolute rupture. Think here of Bloch’s “principle of hope,” Derrida’s “waiting without expectation,” and Badiou’s “fidelity to the event.”23

We might usefully recall Gershom Scholem’s remarks on “the paradoxical nature” of the Messianic idea in Judaism whereby the wished-for redemption can have no concrete relationship to previous history. As a “transcendence breaking in upon history . . . from an outside source,” he explains, Jewish redemption rejects the Enlightenment idea of historical progress. But it also rules out the possibility of immanent developments or history-making practices. Scholem thus suggests that the “price demanded by Messianism” has been “endless powerlessness in Jewish history . . . There is something grand about living in hope, but at the same time there is something profoundly unreal about it . . . in Judaism the Messianic idea has compelled a life lived in deferment.”24

Although Benjamin invoked this Messianic tradition, his reflections “On the Concept of History” do not imply powerlessness, pessimism, or deferment. Noting the Jewish prohibition on “inquiring into the future,” he endorsed its focus on “remembrance” as a way to “disenchant the future, which holds sway over those who turn to soothsayers for Enlightenment.”25 But Benjamin was less concerned with renouncing futurity as such than with challenging the homogeneous empty clock time and the associated continuum that underlie bourgeois conceptions of predictable futures, automatic progress, and historicist history.

Benjamin seeks to break the spell of bourgeois progress by understanding history in terms of “Now-time, which, as a model of messianic time, comprises the entire history of mankind in a tremendous abbreviation.”26 But this was neither a call to adapt to the present nor to wait for a divine irruption. It was a reminder that “every second was the straight gate through which the Messiah might enter.”27 But by Messiah, he means us—contemporary human actors. We can recognize this as a political, and not a strictly theological, claim when we read it alongside of Benjamin’s second thesis: “there is a secret agreement between past generations and the present one . . . our coming was expected on earth . . . like every generation that preceded us, we have been endowed with a weak messianic power on which the past has a claim.”28 In this formulation, living historical actors are themselves quasi-Messianic agents who, at any second and in the name of past generations, might initiate a revolutionary irruption, break the historical continuum, stop clock-time and redeem the world.

Benjamin invoked revolutionary Messianism to challenge the political passivity of Social Democrats whose faith in automatic human progress, he argued, had opened the door to fascism and diverted the working classes from making their own history here and now. By exploding the continuum of history and transcending clock time, he believed, they would liberate humanity from the “progressive” processes that had enslaved them and their ancestors. In this way modern society would be emancipated from an infernal history of ongoing catastrophe whereby human actions fueled the quasi-autonomous force that was propelling them blindly into a future over which they had no control.29 At the very least, Benjamin suggested that this revolutionary interruption would end the “storm” of progress, free humans from their “servile integration in an uncontrollable apparatus,” and, maybe even allow actors “to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed” (as the Angel of History wished to, but could not, do).30

But despite the Jewish injunction not to inquire into the future, Benjamin is not only offering a formal definition of revolution as redemptive rupture. We often forget that he also elaborates substantive ideas about what a redeemed, or post-revolutionary, society would entail. He relays that it would mark the end of a “positivist” and “corrupted conception of labor” based in “the Protestant work ethic” which collapses human progress with “technological development” and is “tantamount to the exploitation of nature.”31 In contrast, Benjamin envisions a new form of “cooperative labor” that would “increase efficiency to such an extent that . . . far from exploiting nature, would help her give birth to the creations that now lie dormant in her womb.”32 Emancipated from alienated labor, historical “progress,” and the meaningless tyranny of clock time, human actors (honoring their responsibility to enslaved ancestors) would make their own worlds within a qualitative now-time.

Benjamin thus offers us an orientation to futurity that breaks with the logic of deferment contained in both liberal progressivism and blank Messianism. With the idea of a revolutionary rupture that can be initiated in any given second, his insights point to an understanding of anticipation as a kind of political disposition whereby radical actors cultivate a state of readiness for any possibility at every possible moment. But by also offering a positive vision of what a better society might look like, his call to act in the name of oppressed ancestors, provide concrete content to such anticipatory action.

Yet, Benjamin does not try to account for how these actors might move from this now to a next-now. Beyond routing future possibilities through past eras, he does not indicate how subjects might orient their action, recognize what might actually be possible or even desirable, or what conditions might facilitate this or that leap. He beautifully triangulates revolutionary classes, past generations, and historical materialists, but does not work out the mediations between radical thinking and revolutionary praxis. He directs our attention to “now time” as cause and consequence of a revolutionary interruption, but does not address the dialectical movement between acting and imagining, naming and discovering, making and seizing.

4. Practicing Anticipation

Adorno too sought to overturn the bourgeois conception of progress without paying the price of Messianism. In his 1962 essay, he argues argues that if we are to reclaim a real concept of progress we need to avoid both “atemporal theology” (which expects redemption from a “transcendental intervention”) and “the idolization of history” (as if progress were automatic or human actions necessarily led toward a more perfect world).33 Adorno explains that the term progress promises “an answer to the doubt and the hope that things will finally get better, that people will at last be able to breathe a sigh of relief.”34 Like Benjamin, he insists that “Wherever bourgeois society satisfies the concept it cherishes as its own, it knows no progress; wherever it knows progress, it violates its own law.”35 But rather than simply reject the concept of progress, he seeks to sublate its bourgeois form. He writes, “The nexus of deception surrounding progress reaches beyond itself . . . the devastation wrought by progress can be made good again, if at all, only by its own forces, never by the restoration of the preceding conditions that were its victims.36 He does this by seeking real progress precisely in those places where bourgeois “progress” is interrupted and the bourgeois concept is called into question. He writes, “Progress means: to step out of the magic spell, even out of the spell of progress . . . in that . . . humanity . . . brings to a halt the domination it exacts upon nature . . . In this way it could be said that progress occurs where it ends.”37 One thereby pursues that which progress promises precisely by interrupting or undoing that which purports to be progress (as well as the conceptual framework that reduces progress to domination and misrecognizes domination as progress).

Despite Adorno’s reputation for political pessimism and philosophical abstraction (and vice versa), he does not only insist on the possibility of real human progress, but suggests that it must be pursued concretely. He writes,

Too little of what is good has power in the world for progress to be expressed in a predictive judgment about the world, but there can be no good, not a trace of it without progress . . . Every individual trait in the nexus of deception is nonetheless relevant to [progress’s] possible end. Good is what wrenches itself free, finds a language, opens its eyes. In its conditions of wresting free, it is interwoven in history that, without being organized unequivocally toward reconciliation, in the course of its movement allows the possibility of redemption to flash up.38

Adorno thus offers an orientation to futurity, at once political and dialectical, that is organized around human action in the present. Beyond the opposition between gradual reformism and revolutionary rupture, through the everyday work of finding and wrenching free bits of good which can be associated with new languages and rewoven into history, the possibility of reconciliation is opened and glimpses of redemption are possible.

Adorno thus suggests that these glimpses of future possibility must be pursued concretely. But he also reminds us that these glimpses are no less important than the pursuit. He explicitly links prospect for transformation to acts of political imagination. As with “progress,” Adorno tries to think utopia against “utopia.” In his 1964 exchange with Ernst Bloch, he criticizes ideological forms of “cheap” and “false” utopias which present the given world as already reconciled and realized.39 And he recognizes the value of the (Jewish) prohibition against picturing the future concretely “insofar as we do not know what the correct thing would be.”40 At the same time, he insists that “something terrible happens due to the fact that we are forbidden to cast a picture . . . the commandment against a concrete expression of utopia tends to defame the utopian consciousness and to engulf it.”41

In the West, he explains “people have lost . . . the capability to imagine the totality as something that could be completely different . . . people are sworn to this world as it is and have this blocked consciousness vis-à-vis possibility.”42 Such concessions to the given, he suggests, can only be overcome through some kind of utopian orientation that insists, for example on “the evident possibility of fulfillment” in modern society or that “a life in freedom and happiness would be possible today.”43 But he is equally concerned by the fact that “the idea of utopia has actually disappeared completely from the conception of socialism,” explaining, “the apparatus, the how, the means of a socialist society have taken precedence over any possible content, for one is not allowed to say anything about the possible content. Thereby the theory of socialism that is decidedly hostile toward utopia now tends really to become a new ideology concerned with the domination of humankind.”44 Adorno warns that any claim to know the future should be avoided. Yet he also insists that unless some kind of “picture” of what might be possible can “appear within one’s grasp, then one basically does not know at all what the actual reason for the totality is, why the entire apparatus has been set in motion.”45 He concludes by agreeing with Bloch that there can be no transformation, no socialism, no fulfillment without the utopian-transcendent belief that “something’s missing.”46

In short, Adorno invites critics to undertake a tricky, if not paradoxical, practice of envisioning without defining. This balancing act between identifying concrete possibilities through utopian imagination while not foreclosing outcomes through predictive naming is a crucial dimension of what I am calling anticipation. This orientation to the future breaks with the liberal faith that things will automatically and progressively work themselves out. But does so in ways that differ fundamentally from either “waiting without expectation” or nihilistic calls to accept the impasse of the present, abjure transformative projects, or renounce propositions about a future good life.

The concrete utopian orientation to futurity suggested by Adorno resonates with a similar position formulated by Henri Lefebvre, another heterodox Marxist who sought to make sense of late capitalist alienation in the postwar period. In the first volume of his Critique of Everyday Life (1947), Lefebvre argued that material progress had created unprecedented possibilities for the good life, but its benefits were only enjoyed by the few; real power was stolen from community and placed in the hands of an elite, and the domination of things was transformed into domination of humans by other humans.47 He thus describes the colonization of everyday life by capital. But because capitalism develops unevenly, he believed, “traces of ‘another life,’ a community life” organized around different social logics and values, persisted within a heterogeneous modernity.48 At the same time, Lefebvre contended, a paradoxical situation of “backwardsness” emerged in which “life is lagging behind what is possible” — behind the very different set of arrangements that capitalist modernization had actually made possible.49 It is precisely this proximity between, on the one hand, an alienated existence and, on the other, that which is no longer possible and that which is newly possible which, according to Lefebvre, creates opportunities, through everyday practices, for different ways of being to emerge.50 In cities especially, he suggests, alternative modes of living and new forms of solidarity appear in the theater of everyday life.51

In response to optimistic “partisans of Progress,” Lefebvre points out “the decline of everyday life since . . . Antiquity.” But it also differs from nihilistic calls for adapting to the impasse of the present, abjuring transformative projects, or renouncing propositions about a future good life. Conversely, in response to the pessimistic philosophers of decadence, he insists on “the breadth and magnificence of the possibilities which are opening out for man, and which are so really possible . . . (once the political obstacles are shattered).”52 Such anarchist pessimists, he argues, mistakenly accept “this life as the only one possible” and are unable to recognize the potential “greatness” that may shine through alienated forms.53

Rather than focus on the false opposition between progress and decline, Lefebvre directs our attention to the difference between quantitative and qualitative forms of progress. He dismisses as a “childish error” the tendency to base our image of “the man of the future on what we are now” and “simply granting him a greater quantity of mechanical means and appliances.”54 Rather, he insists, “we should acquire a sense of qualitative changes, of modifications in the quality of life – and above all of another attitude of the human being toward himself.”55 He thus calls on us to envision a future organized around “total life” and a “living totality” in which a “truly human” and “total man” may be realized.56

For Lefebvre, the task of recognizing the possible in the actual requires creative acts of political imagination. But he also criticizes idle speculation about fantastic futures, insisting that understandings of alternatives must emerge through experimental practices. He asserts that “man as a total problem” – “the possibility of the total” and “truly human man” – can only be “posed and resolved on the level of everyday life.”57 Challenging the kind of critique or revolt promoted by “mystics and metaphysicians,” he proposed a dialectical approach that would overcome false oppositions between “everyday life and festival – mass moments and exceptional moments . . . seriousness and play – reality and dreams.”58

According to Lefebvre, everyday life, especially in cities, becomes the scene of a certain utopianism which combines imaginative vision with experimental practices in order to identify and pursue what he called the “possible-impossible.”59 At once future-oriented and now-centered, aesthetic and political, a serious strategy and an end in itself, such everyday practices contribute to what a more human “art of living.”60 We might also call this an art of anticipation in which visionary thinking and experimental acts come together in a type of “play acting” that “explores what is possible.”61

In the late 1950s, Lefebvre further developed this thinking about lived utopianism. Under modern capitalist conditions, he explains, previous modes of envisioning a truly human form of life (whether based on fantasies of natural living or classical antiquity) had either been lost or discredited as fictive or mythical, but new ones had not taken their place. Far from celebrating this development, he regarded it as tragic that the postwar Left had no myth of “the new life” and spoke only in the language of industrial rationalism, technocratic planning, and productivist acceleration.62

But Lefebvre also argued that in the new era of postwar planning there was a resurgence of utopian thinking because “the advanced countries are lagging behind their own possibilities” and are “less able to satisfy those who ought to be happy with it.”63 He writes, “Utopianism lives again . . . It is exploring the possibilities of praxis . . . Imagination is adopting or rediscovering a creative power. It is pooling forces with an obscurely rediscovered spontaneity.”64 And, “If we are to build a revitalized life . . . we must use utopian method experimentally, looking ahead to what is possible and what is impossible and transforming this hypothetical exploration into applicable programs and practical plans.”65 Lefebvre called this orientation a “philosophy of the possible” which attends to “relations with the real and the here-and-now” in order to discover “the opening, by which [we] may enter in a practical way into the ‘possible-impossible’ dialectic.”66

Lefebvre’s call in the late 1950s for a new “revolutionary romanticism” seemed to receive an uncanny answer in what he regarded as “the irruption” of May ’68. For him this unforeseen event “broke into” everyday life even as everyday practices constituted that which was revolutionary about the event.67 For Lefebvre, May ‘68 was neither an unmediated presentist eruption nor the working out of a blueprint for the future. He writes, “A theory of the movement has to emerge from the movement itself, for it is the movement that has revealed, unleashed, and liberated theoretical capacities.”68 His analysis of ‘68 emphasizes spontaneous popular contestation and mass participation, the commitment to transform society as a whole and create new forms of life, and above all the emergence of experiments in self-management which were at once concrete and utopian, practical and performative, actual and prefigurative, political and cultural.

For Lefebvre, this “irruption” demonstrated that “everyday existence” cannot be “transcended in one leap” but only through “the process of self-management.”69 He characterized it as an “unthinkable movement” that nevertheless “actually existed” and therefore allowed and compelled people to “think the unthinkable.”70 Not surprisingly, he called May ‘68 a “concrete utopia.”71 The dialectic movement between utopian imagination and experimental practice allowed May ‘68 to make real a supposedly impossible form of life in the “anticipated urban society.”72 He writes, “The specifically utopian function of cultural contestation will thus supersede itself by fulfilling itself in practice.”73

This kind of collective anticipation through concrete utopian experiments in self-management comes through clearly in Kristin Ross’s insightful analysis of the Paris Commune. Ross writes:

More important than any laws the Communards were able to enact was simply the way in which their daily workings inverted entrenched hierarchies and divisions . . . The world is divided between those who can and those who cannot afford the luxury of playing with words or images. When that division is overcome, as it was under the Commune . . . what matters more than any images conveyed, laws passed, or institutions founded are the capacities set in motion.74

If social relations are to be radically transformed, Ross suggests, it will not be by teaching people how to be citizens of a future society, but by mobilizing such capacities, which are at once practical and theoretical, political and aesthetic, actual and potential.75

In a similar spirit Massimiliano Tomba examines the “insurgent universality” that was practiced and performed by the more radical and subaltern forces within the French Revolution. He writes,

this insurgency not only interrupted the continuum of a specific historical configuration of power, but . . . disclosed and anticipated new political pathways, which indicated alternative trajectories beyond political modernity. These pathways were molten in the red-hot magma of many experiments, abandoned or repressed. The experiment was the virtuous “skidding off course (dérapage)” of the Revolution during which slaves, women and the poor gained voice and acted as if they were citizens.76

More recently, we might consider the category confounding character of the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the everyday practices of “horizontalism” following the 2001 financial crisis in Argentina, in recent Occupy struggles, and autonomous popular movements worldwide. Concrete utopian anticipation has assumed more robust forms in the Zapatista experiment in Chiapas, Mexico and the ongoing Kurdish experiment in Rojava, Syria.

5. Reconstruction, Transfiguration, Improvisation

These brief examples should make clear that the politics of anticipation are not only symbolic and performative. An anticipatory dialectic of prefiguration and transfiguration – or the circular relation among envisioning, enacting, and realizing – has been especially well developed within the black radical tradition. Consider, for example, W.E.B. Du Bois’s plan during the early 1930s to organize African Americans into self-managing consumer cooperatives. He took as his staring points the refractory character of the color line (which proved to be invulnerable to rational refutation or legal challenges), the mutually reinforcing relation between racism and poverty, the white supremacy of the American labor movement, and the devastating effect of the Great Depression on the black community. Given this historical condition, Du Bois sought to identify immanent possibilities within alienated forms by turning the fact of segregation into a source of social strength and political education. He argued that if planned and organized, existing networks of black sociality and exchange could ground a new form of solidarity and autonomy through which to confront capitalism and racism. He believed that self-managing cooperatives organized around mutualist lines could create opportunities for work without exploitation, production without profit, exchange without stratification, knowledge production without exclusion – in ways that would reinforce bonds across different social sectors of the black community.77

On one level, Du Bois’s multi-faceted program was a pragmatic response to an immediate predicament. These consumer cooperatives would create a basis for economic survival under conditions of Jim Crow segregation during the Depression. By doing so without depending on either state aid (that might not come) or legal reform (that might not matter), it was also meant to transform formal liberty into substantive freedom. Du Bois emphasized that these economic efforts were meant to complement, and help to realize, rather than replace the existing civil rights struggle. He offered a strategy for achieving full citizenship from a position of economic security, strength, and leverage.

But Du Bois’s call for economic self-management was also a concrete utopian project to radically reconstruct American democracy by abolishing the color line and overcoming capitalist social relations. In his view, these self-managing cooperatives would allow black actors to develop alternative forms of labor, exchange, and sociality – the new subjectivities, everyday practices, ethical relations, and spiritual/cultural orientations that would: 1. prepare themselves for the future order they desired, 2. model (to themselves and others) what was possible and what that future might entail (through experimental practices), 3. help to hasten that future by enacting it here and now (to materialize it by envisioning it, and to come to see it through material practices). With this plan for strategic self-segregation, Du Bois was not calling for blacks to withdraw from American society. He was recognizing that their involuntary status as a nation-within-a-nation offered them an opportunity (and perspective) to lead the nation as a whole (beginning with the white working class) on a different path beyond the color line and towards socialist democracy. His program was based on the conviction that racial domination could never be overcome under capitalist conditions and that socialism could never be realized until the color line was abolished.78 It envisioned self-managing black communities playing a vanguard role in a process whereby a whole range of cooperative movements among different communities would form, federate, and help to create a new “cooperative commonwealth” in and beyond America. It thereby anticipated both a multi-racial socialist democracy within America and a new order of international solidarity among self-managing peoples of color against global imperialism.

In this way, Du Bois believed that the black freedom struggle could realize American democracy, empower and unite colonized peoples, redeem the West, and emancipate humanity – through concrete everyday practices that anticipated, in all of these ways, a seemingly impossible future already made plausible by present conditions and glimpsed through the subaltern’s privileged critical insight. On the one hand, his plan was a revolutionary rejection of liberal progress. It insisted that no change would come automatically and that real emancipation would not be possible by merely adjusting the existing framework. On the other hand, this was a program for radical transformation that refused the fantasy of sudden revolutionary rupture. Du Bois was mindful of the long black Atlantic history during which each emancipatory break enabled a new forms of domination. He suggested that the process of subjective and objective transformation that he was proposing might take decades, or even generations.

It was this long view that helps explain why Du Bois developed this plan during the period when he was writing Black Reconstruction in America, and vice versa. In his 1935 masterwork, Du Bois demonstrates how black slaves interrupted the historical continuum through a “general strike” whereby they fled plantations and withdrew their labor power from the Confederate war effort. He famously recounts how freed slaves experienced emancipation as an apocalyptic rupture. But, as importantly, he demonstrates how an alliance of freed blacks, Southern white workers, and Northern abolition democrats (black and white) was briefly able to leverage the Freedman’s Bureau to open the possibility for an experiment in non-racial socialist democracy that, in challenging the very basis of capitalist private property and American social divisions, far exceeded the intentions of the U.S. government and Northern interests who had supported its creation. Much of his study is devoted to describing the revolutionary attempt to reconstruct the very bases of American democracy through experimental practices made possible by a contingent set of conditions that created a unique historical situation which was seized by an alliance of actors who anticipated – envisioned, performed, pursued – an alternative future in their everyday acts. This nexus of vision, conjuncture, and practices, he suggests, positioned freed blacks to be the vanguard of a socialist revolution and truly democratic society that might have been.

But Du Bois explains how this revolutionary “Southern Experiment” was ultimately foreclosed by white working class racism. When white workers allied with the planter class against freed blacks, Northern capital was allowed to destroy the prospect of real democracy (and racial equality) in America and across the imperialist world. Du Bois demonstrates how this process allowed slave emancipation to evolve into a regime of legal segregation and social stigmatization – the very regime into which Du Bois was born and against which he spent his life in militant struggle. Du Bois’s interwar plan for self-managing black cooperatives can thus be read as an untimely attempt to pursue the unrealized promise of the post-Civil War Southern Experiment. In the 1930s Du Bois sought to revitalize the unrealized 1870s project to reconstruct American democracy on multi-racial and socialist lines.79

The anticipatory character of Du Bois’s account of Reconstruction and his program for cooperative self-management may be situated in a long history of black Atlantic concrete utopianism which combined visionary projects with experimental practices. Here we might think of maroon communities throughout the New World slave system, Toussaint Louverture’s 1801 black republic, and the emergence of what Laurent Dubois, following Jean Casimir, called the “counter-plantation” system in post-revolutionary Haiti. Thomas Holt describes how a similar movement for peasant self-sufficiency immediately followed the emancipation of slaves in 19th century Jamaica. As I have argued elsewhere, Aimé Césaire’s and Léopold Senghor’s constitutional struggle to transform imperial France into a postnational democratic federation may be located in this tradition of anticipatory politics. But so too can Frantz Fanon’s account of the new forms of life that emerged through the lived experience of revolutionary struggle for Algerian independence and Patrice Lumumba’s untimely experiment in popular democracy in the Congo.

In each of these anticipatory initiatives, we can recognize what Paul Gilroy has called the dialectic of fulfillment and transfiguration. In The Black Atlantic, Gilroy describes a pragmatic “politics of fulfillment” whose “normative content focuses attention on . . . the notion that a future society will be able to realize the social and political promise that present society has left unaccomplished.”80 Gilroy distinguishes this orientation from a utopian “politics of transfiguration” that strives “continually to move beyond the grasp of the merely linguistic, textual, and discursive. . . This politics exists on a lower frequency, where it is played, danced, and acted, as well as sung and sung about, because words . . . will never be enough to communicate its unsayable claims to truth.”81 Gilroy treats black musical expression as an especially rich locus and medium for such utopian acts.

Gilroy argues that this “tradition of expression” “refuses to accept that the political is a readily separable domain. Its basic desire is to conjure up and enact the new modes of friendship, happiness, and solidarity that are consequent on the overcoming of the racial oppression.”82 He suggests that these two modes of politics are not mutually exclusive; within the black Atlantic tradition they have long co-existed and complemented each other. But if the politics of fulfillment has generated a black “counter-discourse” through which to make political claims, Gilroy argues, the politics of transfiguration constitutes a “counterculture of modernity” that seeks to expand the very domain and meaning of politics itself – partly by linking it to ethics and aesthetics, imaginative practice and cultural performance, embodied practices and lived memories.83

I would like to underscore the anticipatory dimensions this politics of trasnsfiguration, which conjures and enacts new ways of being and relating. According to Gilroy, it

emphasizes the emergence of qualitatively new desires, social relations, and modes of association within the racial community of interpretation and resistance and between that group and its erstwhile oppressors. It points specifically to the formation of a community of needs and solidarity which is magically made audible in the music itself and palpable in the social relations of its cultural utility and reproduction.84

These transfigurative practices create new continuities among politics, ethics, and aesthetics; Gilroy speaks of “grounded ethics” and “grounded esthetics.85 Gilroy thus describes a set of concrete utopian practices that anticipate (by enacting in both form and content) an alternative good life. He writes,

progress from the status of slaves to the status of citizens led [western blacks] to enquire into what the best possible forms of social and political existence might be. The memory of slavery, actively preserved as a living intellectual resource in their expressive political culture, helped them to generate a new set of answers to this enquiry. They had to fight – often through their spirituality – to hold on to the unity of ethics and politics sundered from each other by modernity’s insistence that the true, the good, and the beautiful had distinct origins and belong to different domains of knowledge.86

This path from broken present to utopian future, by way of living memory and embodied performance, resonates with the ways that Benjamin conjugated remembrance and rupture. It is indeed likely that Gilroy had both Benjamin and Adorno in mind when he writes,

The history and utility of black music. . . enable us to trace something of the means through which the unity of ethics and politics has been reproduced as a form of folk knowledge. This subculture often appears to be the intuitive expression of some racial essence but is in fact an elementary historical acquisition produced from the viscera of an alternative body of cultural and political expression that considers the world critically from the point of view of its emancipatory transformation. In the future, it will become a place which is capable of satisfying the (redefined) needs of human beings that will emerge once the violence – epistemic and concrete – of racial typology is at an end. Reason is thus reunited with the happiness and freedom of individuals and the reign of justice within the collectivity.87

Gilroy affirms that this political orientation converges with Marxism, even if

the convergence is also undercut by the simple fact that in the critical thought of blacks in the West, social self-creation through labour is not the centre-piece of emancipatory hopes. For the descendants of slaves, work signifies only servitude, misery, and subordination. Artistic expression, expanded beyond recognition from the grudging gifts offered by the masters as a token substitute for freedom from bondage, therefore becomes the means towards both individual self-fashioning and communal liberation. Poiesis and politics begin to coexist in novel forms [– autobiographical writing, special and uniquely creative ways of manipulating spoken language, and, above all, the music.]88

The important point here is not the extent of Gilroy’s Marxism or the accuracy of his interpretation of Western Marxist desires regarding labor, but that he is describing a tradition of concrete utopianism through which a future good life is anticipated (envisioned, enacted, conjured ) through experimental practices that are at once political, ethical, and aesthetic.89

Gilroy writes eloquently about an “ethics of antiphony” and “the tactics of sound developed as a form of black metacommunication.”90 His attention to music and performance as black radicalism’s privileged media, and to utopian enactment or untimely anticipation as central features of black aesthetics, has been extensively elaborated by Fred Moten. Referring to blackness as “the extended movement of a specific upheaval, an ongoing irruption that annaranges every line,” Moten links this upheaval and irruption to (an ethics, politics, and aesthetics) of “the cut” and “the break.”91 Moten uses this multivalent term to index variously the gap between (as well as the elevated conjunction of): sound and words, music and text, poetry and philosophy, phenomenology and semiotics, experience and expression, scream and message, being and knowing, description and explanation, performance and analysis, showing and naming, deconstruction and reconstruction, objectivity and subjectivity, body and spirit, substance and sign, violence and joy, absence and abundance, visibility and invisibility, tragedy and elegy, singularity and totality, emotion and structure, spontaneity and preparedness, individuality and collectivity, event and process, situatedness and ongoinginess, return and birth, origin and repetition, past and future. It is through this cut, by lingering in this break – at once existential, epistemological, and temporal – that the (radical) work and play of “improvisation,” in and through and for what he calls “ensemble,” unfolds. This is a dazzling intervention on blackness and/as improvisation in the break where form mirrors content, or each reworks the other, in every instant.

Among the many ramifying images that Moten offers is that of improvisation as the performance of an “old new language – tragic, hopeful, fallen” that registers “the fantasy of what hadn’t happened yet” and works “to activate the foresight that is not prophecy but description . . . embodied and silently sounded in the music’s knowing echo of shriek and prayer.”92 Descriptive foresight (in an old-new language) of what has not yet happened wonderfully expresses the peculiar political logic of anticipation that I have been trying to outline. Moten explains how this improvisational practice links vision, performance, and action. He relates blackness (and critique) to the practice of “lingering” in the “shattering tremble of the improvising ensemble’s music . . . Not in the interest of  an understanding or adequate representation of the action whose performance would occur in this lingering, but in the interest of an enactive invocation, a material prayer, the dissemination of the conditions of possibility of . . . action.”93

In short, Moten conjures a space and practice of imaginative performance and embodied desire that is at once aesthetic, ethical, and political. It recognizes aesthetic performances as political acts and political performances as aesthetic acts within a relational, which is to say ethical, ensemble. For Moten, the practice of improvisation also confounds reified past-present-future distinctions. His discussion does not only imply that such aesthetic-ethical-political practices may anticipate, by enacting, what hasn’t yet happened. It also suggests that they anticipate that which is not yet known, a wish that can only emerge through present practice and performance. He thus links improvisation to the “unsayable claims of black utopian political desire, an unrequited love imaged after the fact.”94 Raising the question of “improvisation’s time and the time of ensemble’s organization” Moten writes of the “attempt . . . to sustain the desire that you anticipate, that you’ll have felt even now, to stop to look up, to sing the inscription.”95

This will and capacity to see and sing the inscription in order to sustain the desire that you anticipate is one way to understand prophecy. In a recent interview Moten remarks, “The prophet is the one who tells the brutal truth, who has the capacity to see the absolute brutality of the already-existing and to point it out and to tell that truth, but also to see the other way, to see what it could be. That double-sense, that double-capacity: to see what’s right in front of you and to see through it to what’s ahead of you.”96 Moten thereby voices an insight that has long been recognized by Jewish Marxist and black radical thinkers – namely that anticipation is less a matter of predicting the future than of “foreseeing the present.”97

In 1940 Walter Benjamin described the paradoxical character of the “prophetic relation to the future” by noting that “the seer’s gaze is kindled by the rapidly receding past . . . the prophet has turned away from the future: he perceives the contours of the future in the fading light of the past as it sinks before him into the night of times.”98 A few years later, during the war that would take Benjamin’s life, Aimé Césaire identified “the ground of poetic knowledge” as “an astonishing mobilization of all human and cosmic forces” in which “all lived experience. All the possibility . . . all the pasts, all the futures . . . Everything is summoned. Everything awaits.”99 And the “visionary” speaker in his 1946 poem declares, “my ear to the ground, I heard Tomorrow pass.”100 Decades later, but in a similar spirit, Edouard Glissant writes about the existence within Caribbean thought and consciousness of “a prophetic vision of the past” based on “the identification of a painful notion of time and its full projection forward into the future.”101

Perhaps people compelled by history to inhabit a painful sense of time are gifted with a prophetic sense of the past and a capacity (and necessity) to foresee the present. Running through these otherwise distinct reflections is the insight that anticipation entails sudden or stolen glimpses across epochal divides. It names the proleptic power of acting “as if” impossible futures were already at hand.

6. Dialectics of Anticipation

What links these various concrete utopian experiments, thinkers, and traditions is not only a commitment to radical politics, direct democracy, or autonomous socialism. They also share a distinctive orientation to futurity. Their reflections and actions point beyond both the fiction of liberal progress and the fantasy of apocalyptic rupture. They reject the given order, envision a better world, and act as if the impossible were possible – even while mindful that new forms cannot be planned and implemented but can only emerge practically, experimentally. We can thus think of anticipation as a kind of political disposition whereby radical actors cultivate a state of readiness for any possible possibility and a will to overcome existing arrangements by acting from the standpoint of a not-yet redeemed world. We can think of anticipation as an untimely desire to recognize and pursue alternative possibilities that are enabled by and condensed within present arrangements.

From this perspective, anticipation prefigures by enacting the supposedly impossible. It indexes a politico-temporal orientation, rather than an affective state or an ideological discourse. As a critical political concept, anticipation is neither about planning nor waiting. It rejects nihilistic presentism but also avoids the false opposition between liberal progress and apocalyptic rupture. (Or we can say that it rejects liberal progress while avoiding the false opposition between nihilistic presentism and apocalyptic rupture.) Through an immanent critique of actual relations that allows actors to recognize supposedly impossible possibilities, by tacking dialectically between creative imagination and experimental practices, anticipation seeks to balance the dual imperative to insist on an open future and to envision envisioning a good life.

We might therefore refer to a dialectics of anticipation marked by the dual imperatives to be open to the impossible and to imagine the possible, to envision and enact, to seize the sudden illumination as it appears and seek to produce it through everyday life.  A dialectical concept of anticipation is a calling for that is also a calling forth, an enacted idea that may bring into being what it desires through the performance itself (even as that very image of future possibilities only arises through such performative acts). Anticipatory politics are therefore also aesthetic operations (and vice versa). Neither about optimism nor pessimism, these concrete utopian practices cut across reified distinctions between immanence and transcendence, present and future, actual and possible, instrumental and utopian, imagination and action, strategy and spontaneity, politics and performance. Anticipation signals a readiness to interrupt the continuum and a commitment to live otherwise. They are not only “practices” in the sense of doing, they are forms of practice in the sense of learning, of getting better at – in this case, getting better at being the kind of person, living the kind life, entering into the types of social relations that will only be really possible, or possibly realized, in a future order.


Gary Wilder is Associate Professor of Anthropology at CUNY Graduate Center.


1. Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia (New York: Verso, 2006), 247.

2. These reflections on anticipation also seek to make two broader contributions to the important “Political Concepts” project. First, they underscore that we need to examine the political implications of conventional temporal concepts as well as the temporal implications of conventional political concepts. Second, they indicate how such examinations might integrate the experiences and theoretical reflections of subaltern thinkers whose works are not typically recognized as sources of critical and political theory.

3. Reinhardt Koselleck, Futures Past: On The Semantics of Historical Time (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), 37.

4. As both an objective social fact and an internalized subjective disposition. See Norbert Elias, Time: An Essay (Blackwell, 1993).

5. Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History,” Selected Writings, Vol. 4: 1938-1940 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006).

6. In relation to qualitative understandings of human flourishing or social justice, quantitative (or vulgar materialist) views of modern progress were clearly ideological mystifications. But when figured in terms of greater control over nature, more food, people, goods, wealth, and technology, greater territory, larger cities, faster change— modern history may indeed be understood in terms of “progress.” With the advent of bureaucratic states and capitalist social relations, and the triumph of instrumental rationality and scientistic worldviews, quantitative “progress” became a real source of alienation and unfreedom that had to be overcome (practically, not just intellectually). It was a real abstraction, not just an ideological fiction.

7. Koselleck, Futures Past.

8. Bourdieu reminds us that very capacity to imagine, let alone plan for, the future, is itself an index of social belonging and an instrument of social exclusion. Pierre Bourdieu, Pascalian Meditations (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000), 225-26.

9. “A relation of cruel optimism exists when something you desire is actually an obstacle to your flourishing.” Lauren Berlant, Cruel Optimism (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011), 1.

10. Lee Edelman, No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004), 3.

11. David Scott, Omens of Adversity: Tragedy, Time, Memory, Justice (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014), 96, 109.  Scott refers to “the temporal ‘afterness’ of our postcolonial, postsocialist time” in which “the past is no longer imagined as a time that can be overcome” (21, 131).

12. Vincanne Adams, Michelle Murphy, and Adele E. Clarke, “Anticipation: Technoscience, life, affect, temporality” Subjectivity, 28 (2009): 248, 249.

13. Note that such benevolent pessimism is neither a strictly Western nor a narrowly neoliberal phenomenon. See, for example, Mandana Limbert, “Depleted Futures: Anticipating the End of Oil in Oman,” Timely Assets: The Politics of Resources and Their Temporalities (Santa Fe: School for Advanced Research Press, 2008), 25-50; In the Time of Oil: Piety, Memory, and Social Life in an Omani Town (Stanford, Stanford University Press, 2010); Jacques Derrida, “No Apocalypse, Not Now (Full Speed Ahead, Seven Missiles, Seven Missives),” Diacritics, vol. 14, no. 2 Nuclear Criticism (Summer, 1984): 23; Paul K. Saint-Amour, Tense Future: Modernism, Total War, Encyclopedic Form (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015); Joseph Masco, “Survival Is Your Business”: Engineering Ruins and Affect in Nuclear America,” Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 23, No. 2, Imperial Debris (May, 2008): 361-398.

14. Wendy Brown, Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution (New York, Zone Books, 2015).

15. Berlant, Cruel Optimism.

16. Berlant, Cruel Optimism, 200.

17. Berlant, Cruel Optimism, 261. In contrast, she calls for “collective detachment from the normative world and its imaginaries of the good life.”

18. Adams, Murphy, and Clarke, “Anticipation,” 259-60.

19. Edelman, No Future, 3-5. He too warns against any invocation of the good life, contending that every hope for a better social order only reinforces reproductive futurism.

20. Lee Edelman, “The Future is Kid Stuff: Queer Theory, Disidentification, and the Death Drive,” Narrative vol. 6 no. 1 (January 1998): 29.

21. Recall that the English word “progress” is derived from the Latin noun progressus, meaning ‘an advance,’ and the verb progredi, from pro- ‘forward’ + gradi ‘to walk.’

22. Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon.

23. Ernst Bloch, Alain Badiou, Jacques Derrida.

24. Gershom Scholem, “The Messianic Idea in Judaism,” in The Messianic Idea in Judaism and Other Essays on Jewish Spirituality (New York: Schocken, 1971), 35. “The magnitude of the Messianic idea corresponds to the endless powerlessness in Jewish history during all the centuries of exile, when it was unprepared to come forward onto the plane of world history . . . There is something grand about living in hope, but at the same time there is something profoundly unreal about it. . . Thus in Judaism the Messianic idea has compelled a life lived in deferment, in which nothing can be done definitively, nothing can be irrevocably accomplished.”

25. Benjamin, “On the Concept of History,” 397.

26. Benjamin, “On the Concept of History,” 396, 397.

27. Benjamin, “On the Concept of History,” 396, 397.

28. Benjamin, “On the Concept of History,” 390.

29. Benjamin, “On the Concept of History,” 392.

30. Benjamin, “On the Concept of History,” 392, 393.

31. Benjamin, “On the Concept of History,” 394.

32. Benjamin, “On the Concept of History,” 394.

33. Adorno, “Progress,” 147.

34. Adorno, “Progress,” 144.

35. Adorno, “Progress,” 149.

36. Adorno, “Progress,” 154. He is making two points here. First, a meaningful or productive concept of progress requires an immanent critique whereby the debased concept and associated practices contain within it elements that may point beyond their actually existing forms. Second, it follows that, real (radical, transformative) progress cannot be obtained by a return to a previous historical situation or form of life. The only way forward is to work through the existing historical situation immanently. Real progress thus requires both a negation of bourgeois progress and an affirmation of that which is also contained within the bourgeois concept: to advance or create a different, better, and new set of arrangements.

37. Adorno, “Progress,” 150, emphasis added.

38. Adorno, “Progress,” 147-148.

39. Ernst Bloch and Theodor Adorno, “Something’s Missing: A Discussion between Ernst Bloch and Theodor W. Adorno on the Contradictions of Utopian Longing,” in Ernst Bloch, The Utopian Function of Art and Literature: Selected Essays (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1988), 11.

40. Ernst Bloch and Theodor Adorno, “Something’s Missing,” 12.

41. Ernst Bloch and Theodor Adorno, “Something’s Missing,” 12.

42. Ernst Bloch and Theodor Adorno, “Something’s Missing,” 3-4. Elsewhere, Adorno contends that modern utopias are not obstructed by limiting realities but by the limited ability to recognize what is really possible. Negative Dialectics (New York: Continuum, 1973), 57.

43. Ernst Bloch and Theodor Adorno, “Something’s Missing,” 13.

44. Ernst Bloch and Theodor Adorno, “Something’s Missing,” 12-13. Adorno here attributes the “horror” of Soviet Communism to its hostility toward utopia.

45. Ernst Bloch and Theodor Adorno, “Something’s Missing,” 13.

46. Ernst Bloch and Theodor Adorno, “Something’s Missing,” 16. Bloch remarks, “Marxism in its entirety . . . even when brought in its most illuminating form and anticipated in its entire realization, is only a condition for a life in freedom, life in happiness, life in possible fulfillment, life with content” (15).

47. Henri Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life, Vol. 1 (New York: Verso, 1991), 232.

48. Lefebvre, Critique Vol.1, 228, 247.

49. Lefebvre, Critique, Vol. 1, 230.

50. “In each thing we see more than itself – something else which is there in everyday objects, not an abstract lining but something enfolded within which hitherto we have been unable to see.” Lefebvre, Critique, 134.

51. “Our towns will show us . . . the rebirth and reforming of community in factories and working-class neighborhoods. There, other modes of everyday living, other needs, other requirements are entering into conflict with the modalities of everyday life as imposed by the capitalist structure of society and life, and tending to re-establish a solidarity, an effective alliance between individuals and groups.” Lefebvre, Critique, 234. Lefebvre’s attention to the dialectics of everyday life transcends the opposition between Henri Bergson’s vitalist celebration of duration as an extended now and Martin Heidegger’s existential denigration of the ordinary everyday.

52. Lefebvre, Critique, 229.

53. Lefebvre, Critique, 232.

54. Lefebvre, Critique, 246.

55. Lefebvre, Critique, 246.

56. Lefebvre, Critique, 248, 249.

57. Lefebvre, Critique, Vol. 1, 250, 251. He argues that by overcoming both the sentimentalism of petit-bourgeois humanism and the tragic irony of nihilism, the “the critique of everyday life . . . [can] clear the way for a genuine humanism” (252).

58. Lefebvre, Critique, Vol. 1, 251. Calling dialectically for “criticism of the trivial by the exceptional – but at the same time criticism of the exceptional by the trivial” he seeks to reintegrate the extraordinary into everyday life in order to reclaim everyday life and thereby remake society.

59. Henri Lefebvre, Introduction to Modernity: Twelve Preludes, September 1959-May 196, 348, 358.

60. “The art of living presupposes that the human being sees his own life . . . not just as a means towards ‘another’ end, but as an end in itself. It presupposes that life as a whole – everyday life – should become a work of art.” Lefebvre, Critique, Vol. 1, 199.

61. Lefebvre, Critique, 136.

62. Lefebvre, Introduction to Modernity, 65-94.

63.Lefebvre, Introduction to Modernity, 356.

64. Lefebvre, Introduction to Modernity, 356.

65. Lefebvre, Introduction to Modernity, 360. “This “new utopianism . . . is testing itself; it is living itself; imagination is becoming a lived experience, something experimental” (357).

66. Lefebvre, Introduction to Modernity, 348.

67. He argued that May ‘68 challenged the false opposition between “sudden and gradual approaches, between rupture and constructive activity, between violent assault and activity within the institutions.”  Lefebvre, The Explosion: Marxism and the French Upheaval (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1969), 122, 126.

68. Lefebvre, The Explosion, 103.

69. Lefebvre, The Explosion, 89.

70. Lefebvre, The Explosion, 113.

71. Lefebvre, The Explosion, 118.

72. Lefebvre, The Explosion, 123.

73. Lefebvre, The Explosion, 123.

74. Ross, Communal Luxury.

75. “Actions produce dreams and ideas, not the reverse.” Kristin Ross, Communal Luxury, 83.

76. Massimiliano Tomba, “1793: The Neglected Legacy of Insurgent Universality,” History of the Present, Vol. 5, no. 2 (Fall 2015), 122.

77. See for example, W.E.B. Du Bois, “Marxism and the Negro Problem,” (1933); “Separation and Self-Respect,” (1934)’ “Segregation,” (1934); “A Nation Within a Nation,” (1935); all in W.E.B. Du Bois: A Reader, Du Bois, “The Revelation of Saint Orgne the Damned,” W.E.B. Du Bois: Writings (New York: Library of America, 1986). Du Bois, Dusk of Dawn: The Autobiography of a Race Concept, in Writings, 760-77.

78. It thus cut across false alternatives between assimilation and segregation, universalism and particularism, class and race, black nationalism and Marxism, citizenship and economic security.

79. But given the racially exclusive labor movement, the empty promises of the U.S. government, and the entrenched character of the color bar during the Depression, Du Bois’s concrete utopian strategy for realizing, or anticipating, this impossible possibility shifted accordingly. Having lost faith in working-class whites as reliable allies and a left-leaning state as a reliable agent of change, his vision focused on self-managing black cooperatives. But the concrete utopian logic of political anticipation remained the same.

80. Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic, 37.

81. Gilroy, Black Atlantic, 37.

82. Gilroy, Black Atlantic, 38.

83. Gilroy, Black Atlantic, 37.

84. Gilroy, Black Atlantic, 37.

85. Gilroy, Black Atlantic, 38.

86. Gilroy, Black Atlantic, 39.

87. Gilroy, Black Atlantic, 39; emphasis added.

88. Gilroy, Black Atlantic, 39; emphasis added.

89. Gilroy refers to Adorno and Benjamin throughout the book, frequently uses Ernst Bloch’s “not yet” idiom, and concludes with an explicit reflection on the similar modes of memory and strategies of critique developed by Jews and blacks in the modern West whereby collective suffering is figured as providing its victims with a privileged point of view and endowing them with a redemptive power for humanity as a whole. The Black Atlantic, 212-16.

90. Gilroy, The Black Atlantic, 200, 201.

91. Fred Moten, In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003), 2.

92. Moten, In the Break, 124-25.

93. Moten, In the Break, 125.  Invoking the black radical dilemma of “[suffering] from political despair when your identity is bound up with utopian political aspirations and desires,” Moten notes, “what is required is an anarchization of certain principles so that an improvisation of Enlightenment might become possible” (93). And later, “The point . . . is to maintain neither an abstract notion of universal humanity nor the abstract particularity of a racial or gendered other – the point is to develop discursive and practical organizational assaults on the concrete effects of these abstractions” (135).

94. Moten, In the Break, 93.

95. Moten, In the Break, 93.

96. Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study (New York: Minor Compositions, 2013), 130.

97. Benjamin quotes the French Physiocrat Turgot who observed “we always find out too late about what has happened. And therefore it can be said that politics is obliged to foresee the present.” Walter Benjamin, “Paralipomena, to ‘On the Concept of History,” Collected Writings, 405.

98. Benjamin, “Paralipomena,” 407.

99. Aimé Césaire, “Poetry and Knowledge,” Lyric and Dramatic Poetry: 1946-1982, (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1990): xlvii-xlviii.

100. Aimé Césaire, “The Thoroughbreds,” The Collected Poetry of Aimé Césaire, trans. Clayton Eshelman and Annette Smith (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), 101.

101. Édouard Glissant, Caribbean Discourse: Selected Essays, trans. J. Michael Dash. (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1989), 64. See also Glissant, Monsieur Toussaint: A Play, trans. J. Michael Dash and Édouard Glissant (Boulder, CO: Reinner, 2005), 15, 16.