Imagination–the ability to dream– is central to all successful political projects. But perhaps one of the worst legacies of these last years has been how TINA (“there is no alternative” ) and YOYO (“You’re on your own jack”) have shackled our imaginations.
In his spirited manifesto, Dream: Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy, (New Press, 2007} Stephen Duncombe makes an impassioned and spirited case for a politics “that connects with people’s dreams and desires, that resonates with the symbols and myths they find meaningful.” He wants, quite simply, to open up a new arena for radical politics–one infused with joyfulness and pleasure.
That doesn’t mean he’s calling on progressives to jettison reason, reality, empiricism and the Enlightment! Nor is he saying it’s all spectacle and image. But he is calling on the left to listen a little more, to understand peoples’ popular dreams, to speak to the heart as much as to the head and to be more playful. (One example he cites–the creative, playful, media savvy group, Billionaires for Bush.)
Duncombe’s ruminations may be playful and provocative, but they’re also strategic. He’s interested in creating a winning progressive politics. And in his view, that means connecting with people “where they’re at”, listening to them, not lecturing or hectoring them (thereby leading them think politics is a bore). ” Whether one approves of it or not,” he argues, ” fantasy and spectacle have become the lingua franca of our time.”
Duncombe, who teaches the history and politics of media and culture at NYU, believes that “without dreams we will never be able to imagine the new world we want to build.” The left’s counterhistory, after all, is one that “has long embraced the dreamscape of the imaginary, using symbolism and narrative in an attempt to create new realities.”
After a long hiatus, I feel those shackles on our imagination loosening….and loosening….what will come now depends on the renewal of progressive left politics of a new kind. Duncombe’s Dream reminds us of the passion and creativity of a left political tradition worth reclaiming.