Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Chiara Bottici's "Imaginal Politics"

Chiara Bottici is assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research and the author of A Philosophy of Political Myth, Men, and States, and, with BenoƮt Challand, The Myth of the Clash of Civilizations and Imagining Europe: Myth, Memory, and Identity.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Imaginal Politics: Images Beyond Imagination and the Imaginary, and reported the following:
When I was invited to perform the “page 99 test” on Imaginal Politics, I was very skeptical. How can a single page reveal the quality of a whole book? And, then, why page 99? Why not page 98 or 97? Why not rather 199, towards the end of the book, if the point is to get a sense of the whole argument? The precision of that number -- 99 -- troubled me, but, at the same time, I also felt intrigued.

So here is what I did: I reluctantly grabbed a copy of my book, I opened it randomly, and, first surprise, it was indeed page 99! But maybe it is just a coincidence, I thought, maybe it is just because the book is 250 pages, so page 99 is more or less in the middle (yet, the middle position is rather significant in itself).

I then looked at the heading of the Chapter in question: and it was Chapter 5, which, as it clearly appears from its very title (“Imaginal politics”) is the central chapter of the book! Indeed, it is precisely the chapter that brings together the different threads of the argument, the reasons why the notions of imagination and that of imaginary to which we are accustomed have become a nuisance, why the concept of imaginal is a much better tool to think about our capacity to imagine, and why politics itself is imaginal. By discussing the work of Hannah Arendt, the central paragraph of the chapter reads:
If we consider these passages about the role of exemplary images alongside the passage about the need for an enlarged mentality, it becomes clear why politics is imaginal. In order to assume an enlarged mentality, we need to be able to put ourselves in the shoes of others, and imagining things from their point of view is the chief means to do so. “Political thought” Arendt writes “is representative” (Arendt 1968b:237). Hence the crucial role of literature: it is by representing the conditions of others through the vivid pictorial representation of their situation that, to paraphrase Arendt, we can train the imagination to go visiting.
This passage, rigorously appearing in the middle of page 99, not only gives you a sense of the main thesis of this book, but it also brings together the different threads of my previous ones: myth, memory, and religion play a crucial political role because they stem from our capacity to imagine – a capacity that, although we tend to forget it, is at the very center of what politics is about.

Conclusion: from now on, I will always begin a book from page 99!
Learn more about Imaginal Politics at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue