Transformative Imagination and the Need for Law

Ivana Perica


If history were written as a succession of slogans, then ‘power to the imagination’ – a phrase attributed to Jean-Paul Sartre – would be the last outcry of revolutionary power: Since the 1960s, it was believed that neither parties, organizations, nor the vanguard, but the power of imagination the revolutionary vehicle necessary for the most diverse protest movements to achieve their desired global reach. Even the slogan “We are the 99%,” which in 2011 interfused the Occupy movement with possible resonances of the historical role of the proletariat, was commonly understood in terms of ‘bringing the invisible subjects to the fore.’ Instead of calling for a system change, the ambition of a series of other public outbursts, such as #MeToo, did not go beyond simply repairing the system. Somewhat more radical proposals for restructuring the system on a global scale – think, for instance, of the motto of Fridays For Future: “System change, not climate change” – are unfortunately still not strong enough to stimulate a substantial change in the world order.

In contrast, ‘power to the communes,’ which was the guiding idea of the Paris Commune of 1871, called for a radical replacement of monarchical state machinery by revolutionary councils. It triggered a tradition that had its most important successors not only in the Soviet Revolution but also in a number of initiatives and movements of the 20th-century, including the radical left-wing groups of the 1960s. But with the self-inflicted decline of organized party politics as it developed in the 1960s and 1970s, and with the subsequent marginalization and pacification of the radicals, it was not the commune, or any other form of organization or institution, but precisely imagination that was upgraded as ‘the’ vehicle that offered viable exits towards better futures. After being detached from organized politics, revolutionary imagination conquered the stage of critique, art and literature. This process of depoliticization of radical aesthetics has been repeatedly recognized by critics on both the Left and the Right as liberalization: “the apolitical conception of ‘culture’ is the signature of political liberalism itself” (Fardy 29). The criticism of this state of art and politics is too extensive to be referenced in a satisfactorily exhaustive manner; despite its comprehensiveness, this criticism, however, still does not have the power to change the basically apolitical course of art and aesthetics as long as the conditions of their production – based on the world market of intellectual goods – remain unchanged:

The slogan of the events designated by May 1968 was ‘power to the imagination.’ If one stated ‘power of the imagination’ it would have referred to the faculty of imagination which all human animals are expected to possess even if none exercises it. But imagination requires conditions for its exercise, without which it is as empty a declaration as ‘all men are equal’ (Gandhi and Philosophy 210).

This account of imagination lays bare the gap between the general human power to imagine and the call to imagine; it reveals the naivety of the view that the call to imagine may be effective even if the conditions to exercise imagination were unsuitable. The quote ties in closely with the critical views of the politics of aesthetics, which is in contemporary discourse believed to be a seat of transformative imagination and hence potentially political (for critiques of, for example, the laudatory reception of Jacques Ranciere, see Sonderegger; Ventura; Perica). From Sartre and Maurice Blanchot to Theodor W. Adorno and many contemporaries, “it is assumed that the individual artwork is – or is not – the bearer of a unique political force comparable to the magical powers of a talisman” (Rockhill 5). Rockhill illustrates this “talisman complex” with a succinct historical example, namely with Sartre’s biting remark about Pablo Picasso’s Guernica: “does anyone think that it won over a single heart to the Spanish cause?” (219). Instead, for Picasso’s contribution to the Spanish cause it was essential that “he provided direct financial support to the Spanish Republic and Republican exiles” (220), which proved to be even more important than his specifically aesthetic commitment. Rockhill’s critical notion of the talisman complex, in fact, complies with Adorno’s radical repudiation of the politics of art: as privileged residents of alternative worlds, art and aesthetic practice do not have the power to bring about substantial, let alone systemic, change. The same goes for imagination: for its power to be enacted, it needs to be supported by material conditions for its exercise – only then can the slogan ‘power to the imagination’ bring about change. This also resounds with related observations by Chiara Bottici, author of Imaginal Politics. Discussing the “conditions that have to be met for formal politics to take place” (83), Bottici distinguishes between the “imaginative” and the “imaginal” and connects the latter to palpable conditions for the transport of the work of imagination: “Put in a nutshell, whereas the imaginative is the result of the work of imagination, the imaginal is the medium where such work takes place” (7). Against this background, vague approximations of the politics of aesthetics should be complemented, if not replaced with, more straightforward considerations of political art and political aesthetics. This may appear awkward if we consider that there is no viable organized politics on the horizon. The question arises, then, to what politics should political art be related to? The answer is twofold: First, granted the fact that politics “has gone underground” (Bernstein 273) and that it henceforth “appears only through the theoretical tracing of the fate that has rendered us strangers to one another” (ibid.), one should track this disappearance and critically reflect on its withdrawal into theory. Second, this seemingly irretrievable act of migration is based on the state of art and politics as they unfolded in the 1990s, a decade that slowly ceases to determine our political, theoretical, and aesthetic present. Nowadays, standing at the threshold, committed spirits strive to politicize both art and critique and thus to relinquish the ongoing status quo. Speaking of critique, it is less problematic to use the notion of ‘intervention’: interventionist critique operates with concepts “that are formulated out of a keen awareness of a specific intersection of social forces but aim at shifting it in a particular direction” (Rockhill 28). In contrast, art and aesthetic practices cannot straightforwardly lend themselves to programmatically defined political aims as this would mean abandoning their systemic specificity. However, what organized politics, interventionist critique, and committed aesthetics do have in common is the instance of transformative imagination, which functions as a generic name for the whole “nexus of politics and our capacity to produce images” (Bottici 8). Yet interventionist critique and committed art and aesthetics also distinguish themselves from organized politics in one pertinent dimension: Although serving as vessels of transformative imagination, they prove to be politically inept as long as they are not institutionally and logistically supported by organized politics; hence it is the political affiliation that makes transformative imagination both operable and feasible and that determines its commitment politically.

“Artists make and theorists know” (Fardy 35): it is only through the unifying instance of shared imagination that bad oppositions of this kind can be rectified. Then it becomes unnecessary to roll up the purportedly obsolete discussions about freedom of art, its tendency and partiality. Given that aesthetic practice does not renounce its own specificity, which is based on the material and formal aspects that distinguish it from all other forms of human activity, what makes it committed is the way in which its own imaginal practice intersects with different forms of transformative thinking and acting. The same goes for interventionist concepts and theories: it is not their singular and often isolated interventions but the relationship with – including both commitment and disentanglement – broader political platforms and whole movements that renders them politically effective. This means that even in cases when transformative imagination in art, critique, and politics is committed to a seemingly anti-foundational anismos (which is not the lack of -ism but the repudiation of reductionist subsumptions of the many under the name of the One – race, nation, class, or capitalist subject, cf. Mohan), this anismos cannot be either imaginatively adumbrated or practically sustained without relying on material pillars of its enunciation and preservation (legal, institutional, and organizational frameworks).  

I unfolded this rather longish introductory part in order to appropriately prepare the terrain for an account of imagination, progressive politics, and law – three issues around which Divya Dwivedi and Shaj Mohan’s critical work pivots. Dwivedi and Mohan are aware that to discuss the power of imagination and progressive politics without considering legal preservation of their practical achievements would result in the aforementioned liberal variant of the slogan ‘power to the imagination.’ Simultaneously, they are cautious not to ponder political action exclusively in terms of rules and laws, as this would ignore the essential role of human imaginal creativity. The latter not only enables progressive politics in the first place but also serves as a custodian and dialogue partner that warns against its ossification. All this renders politics not static but a process.

This article follows, first, a train of thought mapped out in Dwivedi’s article “May 1968 and other dates in the Memories of Imagination,” where she argues for a multi-directional memory of 1968, a memory that cuts across chronological, geographical, and socially stratigraphic lines. It then goes on to involve the insights from Mohan’s essay “The ‘Ismos’ of the Many,” especially his foundational turn towards institutions that materialize the power of imagination. The article finally embeds these two essays in the interpretative framework of rules, regularities, and laws, as it was extensively developed in Gandhi and Philosophy, Dwivedi and Mohan’s joint venture.



Despite the success in mobilizing broad social strata and organizing political resistance against colonial and neocolonial exploitation, the 1960s as a decade that ‘shook the world’ was retrospectively narrowed down to Westernized perspectives, culturalized, even aestheticized, and today is viewed primarily through the lens of the ‘power to the imagination.’ In her look back at the student rebellion in Paris, German historian Ingrid Gilcher-Holtey emphasizes the writing on the wall of the Odéon theatre in Paris – “Imagination takes power” – as central to understanding what happened in 1968. According to Gilcher-Holtey, the students who occupied the theater were not aiming “to replace the old government with a new one, nor to just reform the university. It was about more: about a new language, a new way of thinking, a new way of listening; in other words, new forms of communication and lifestyle.” Notwithstanding the central importance of cultural innovation, the significance of the events of 1968 is compared to those which led to the French Revolution: “‘Taking the floor’ in May 68 was equated in Paris with the ‘conquest of the Bastille’ in 1789.” Indeed, on the grounds that it engendered the biggest mass strike in history, this comparison of the French May 68 with the 1789 Revolution can be considered justified; however, Gilcher-Holtey’s account evidently neglects this strictly political dimension in favor of the Marcuseian ‘aesthetic dimension’: “To seize the word was experienced as an act of liberation.”

This retrospectively erected “intoxicating cult of imagination” (Tihanov 28) comes at the cost of forgetting those political and social organizations that shaped the global 1960s in the first place. The result is a distortion of the originally multifaceted character of a decade that as first of its kind in the history of globalization engendered a variety of counter-movements. It excludes the exchanges and correspondences between West-European experiences and those of alter-European and non-European movements: Chinese Cultural Revolution is, for instance, evoked primarily as a source of inspiration and a point of reference for French and German rebels who by and large were unaware of all its scopes and dimensions. The nowadays hegemonic memory of 1968 similarly damps out the inner-European actions and voices of those who were resolute in their support of organized politics: One need only think of the Turin FIAT workers’ aversion to Middle-European countercultural movements, or of the loyalty of Yugoslav demonstrators to party and state authority. Besides this geographical negligence, the canonized (re-)invention of an anti-authoritarian political imaginary was also limited in regard to its historical memory. Namely, it was not able to come to terms with the deadlocks of the past and to dialectically open doors to alternative futures. The abandonment of the purportedly hopelessly authoritarian legacy of historical revolutions went hand in hand with the claims about the outdatedness of revolutionary subjects and concepts (class, proletariat, labor) and the refutation of petrified forms of organization (communist parties, unions, the International). The hegemonic power of this glorified break with the past is perhaps best illustrated with the closing remarks of the most recent WDR documentary Friedrich Engels – Der Unterschätzte: there, Gregor Gysy, who was the last leader of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) and is the current President of the Party of the European Left, does not fail to mention that the revolutionary regimes of the 20th century precipitated such a distortion of Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels’ legacy and that the consequences hold sway over the workers movements up to the present day (50:28–51:18).

Similar undialectical throwaway gestures are covertly present even in contemporary criticism of the 1968 anti-authoritarian move. Post-post-structuralist theory (identifiable in everyday political jargon with ‘left-liberal hegemony’) suggests that a critique of scattered, extra-parliamentary and polycentric practices of disruption, revolt, breach, protest, insurrection, and subversion leads to a resurfacing of institutionalism, which may bring about a dangerous return of the obsolete political modernity. The assumptions of this kind adhere to a black-and-white logic of history, according to which the negation of a negation of the original position necessarily identifies with that position, thus forming a loop in historical time. The fact that the economic crisis of 2008/9 appears as a flashback to the Great Depression, and the fear that the 2020s could repeat the 1920s or even 1930s, is already a general marker of our times. Historical, political, and social simplifications of this kind tie in with the popular psychoanalytical interpretation of the ‘return of the repressed’ at its worst. It is precisely thanks to this fear of the return of radical pasts (which is excellently exemplified with the censoring remarks about the contemporary workers movements at the very end of the aforementioned documentary) that imagining of alternative futures – with the academic imagining at the blameful forefront – nowadays dwells “in ruins” (Readings).  In this matter, it is crucial not to “fall back on the idols of old in our moment’s crisis; a mistake which arises in thinking of anastasis as the reappearance of the same thing” (Dwivedi and Mohan, Gandhi and Philosophy 217).

Critical interventions by Dwivedi and Mohan abound with pleas for imagination. Yet how are we to understand their insistence to imagine after the power of the slogan ‘power to the imagination’ abated and the sound of John Lenon’s Imagine died out? My argument is that their way of intervening in this theoretical and political setting, in which imagination is continuously present and simultaneously disempowered, is inherently dialectical. By invoking imagination in times of its apparent decay they urge us to search a way out of the bad compromise that structures our time, a compromise that reconciliates the abominably inhuman politics of the past with the seemingly unavoidable supremacy of a ‘free’ but merchandized life. That the latter goes hand in hand with a restoration of authoritarian and fascist rules and regularities may seem paradox only to those who still cannot unhook themselves from the allures of yesterday’s neoliberalism.

Dwelling in a strange in-between of our time – whereby “In-between is such a good thing!” (Dwivedi in Dwivedi and Mohan, “Reply”) – Dwivedi and Mohan explore the following questions: How can one think imagination when its potential was compromised by marketing strategies that understand the ‘revolution of 1968’ in terms of a lucrative ‘business year 1968/9’ (see the novel by Bernd Cailloux)? How do we perceive the duty of critique after critique has locked itself up in self-inflicted isolation or retreated to remote islands that are funded by private enterprises? In other words, if the “ethos of the critique is maintenance and progress” and if critique “cannot hold a candle to the ethos of use and throw” (Dwivedi and Mohan, Gandhi and Philosophy 210), how can the work of critique, spiritually and materially, be maintained? How do we “imagine and invent global institutions” (Mohan) which do justice to the fundamentally plural condition of people; finally, how do we imagine and invent a “practice that voids the existing routines and institutes new ones” (Dwivedi)?

The imagination endorsed by Dwivedi and Mohan is not the political imaginary that is circulated in the commodified red salons of the New Left. The imagination at stake – political, aesthetic, and historical – dialectically resists und survives its own elitist devaluation and historical obsolescence. If one considers the need to intervene in everyday ideological struggles, such as those carried out in NGOized civil society, in public schools, at sporting events and family lunches, it turns out to be essential to do what at least some of the ‘68 activists succeeded in doing: namely to make the conditions for critique “available to those outside the cities and universities” (Dwivedi and Mohan, Gandhi and Philosophy 210). Within this framework, the training of imagination proves once more to be an important tool for various individual and collective actions, small and large, carried out by teachers, researchers, social workers, technicians, and publicly engaged spirits of all kinds. Yet this training is not what politics is all about; the power of imagination is not opposed to the power of legislation and institution. One does not do politics exclusively at the kitchen table or in a Pecha Kucha performance. Politics is ventured both on the streets and in parliaments, both in courtrooms and through sit-ins; most importantly, politics does not go without very material and palpable sources of action, such as organizations and their affiliated institutions and platforms, which allow for imagination to become lived reality.



The crises that keep overrunning us – economic collapses, environmental disasters, pandemics, political setbacks – are not only caused by the fact that “the thread of tradition was broken” (Arendt), but also by the fact that critique forfeited immaterial and material pillars that once served it as its own conditions of possibility. One of the problems lies in what one can name as the original scene of the patricide: in the radical refutation of political modernity as it was undertaken by postmodern thought, a refutation that attained global validity thanks to the hegemonic effects of Westernized theory. Instead of thinking in terms of historical ruptures, we should think the present – we should have thought the present – not as a radical beginning, but as a passage. Here, Dwivedi and Mohan introduce the image of anastasis – a concept that refers to stasis and at the same time represents its exact opposite. Anastasis was touched upon in their response to Giorgio Agamben’s and Jean-Luc Nancy’s essays on the COVID-19 pandemic, but its detailed elaboration is already given in the last and concluding chapter of their study Gandhi and Philosophy (2019). Since anastasis is both an image and a relation, it is an interim moment that lies between yesterday and tomorrow; it is a critical surface that arises between touch and withdrawal, a deferral of contact at moments when contact is most likely to occur. It is a tangential interaction. With regard to the temporal constitution of the present and future in their relation to repressed or remembered pasts, Dwivedi and Mohan depart from Jean-Luc Nancy’s rendering of resurrecting pasts in terms of “It is the other that rises and resurrects within the dead self” (217; Nancy 19).

It is precisely in the anastatic reworking of the resurfacing pasts that critique emerges as a constructivist and future-oriented imaginal activity: “we can call critique the labour which creates memories of the future” (209). The anastatic perspective immerses critique in the common space of collective praxis, in the world. It also reconceptualizes critique as resistance to walls that are constantly being erected between the radical pasts and alternative futures, as well as between theory and art, or autonomous art and political practice. In this context, the faculty of imagination allows for a necessary recalibration of the ingrained understanding of memory, which is falsely regarded as recollective, retrograde and merely contemplative activity: “memory itself must cease to be defined only in relation to the past and must instead be revealed as the faculty of relating to the future” (Dwivedi). This means that the true nature of intervention consists of not only remembering but also negotiating the concepts that emerge from the pasts and lean toward alternative futures. In their attempt to provide a preliminary sketch of critique that eventuates in the in-between of past and future, Dwivedi and Mohan remarked, “We can intervene provided we avoid concepts which were forged in another epoch” (Dwivedi in Dwivedi and Mohan, “Reply”). What they classified as “evil” is “Not knowing the comprehending law and therefore not knowing at which regularities and which irregularities we must intervene” (ibid.).



“Plural are the lines of contagion.” With these words as a kick-off to her essay “May 1968 and other dates in the Memories of Imagination,” Dwivedi revisits a series of protests and uprisings that enrich one another in what comes to be a peculiar, multidirectional memory that moves back and forth through the course of history. In this vast panorama of political movements, the faculty of transformative imagination reorganizes the rich reservoir of memories, which are invoked in order to henceforth serve as a starting point for versatile outbursts of human power. By shifting the focus away from the French May 1968, Dwivedi introduces events that dethrone May 68 from its privileged position of ‘the’ event and immerse it in a historical and global pool of related occurrences which mutually exchange their properties. Here, the French May 68, Prague Spring, the Tet offensive of the National Liberation Front in Vietnam, Cultural Revolution in China, and the Black Power salute by US athletes at the Mexico Olympics join not only the Hungarian uprising of 1956 but also the subsequent Naxalite movement of 1969. These events and movements “gathered currents of ideas, energies, tactics – in brief, memories – from the others, whether contemporary or the previous, and then sent them out into the world again.” The particular movements are thus interpreted as intersection points of remembered pasts, incorporated contemporaneities, and anticipated futures.

Dwivedi’s essay destabilizes the hegemonic appropriation of “the iconic number” (Simeon, also qtd. in Dwivedi) of 1968, by the Western press and Westernized academic production, in that she fuses radical pasts with alternative futures against an unmistakably global background. This includes both horizontal inflammations by the same dissensual spirit in various corners of the world and, historically, vertical transfers of this spirit, from 1956 through 1968 to 1969 and back. The essay questions not only the conditions of possibility for these contagious transfers, but also their efficacy – a dimension that is essential for political thought but is commonly ostracized from philosophy and aesthetics. This is the point where Dwivedi not only acknowledges the achievements but also testifies to the failures of the global 1960s. Mohan she argues that the revolutionary 1960s were inefficient in establishing rules and regularities that might have had a chance to hold back the ensuing reinforcement of classical political economy and neo-conservative and technocratic politics: “This is the sense of hindsight in the past tense of the modal ‘should have…,’ which is a sense that we have now, that is, at the time of being able to acknowledge and utter ‘should have’ and it does not seek to recover but to depart in a new direction henceforth” (Dwivedi in Dwivedi and Mohan, “Reply”).

It is precisely with regard to the aforementioned efficacy that the perspectives elaborated in Gandhi and Philosophy differ from what is considered to be political-theoretical thought in post-deconstructionist times, with post-foundational theory and post-Marxism as the main representatives. According to Christoph Menke, who as a conservative of a special kind nevertheless offers valuable insights, this political thought is limited to the assertion that a revolution intervenes spontaneously or simply “eventuates” (315). This diminishes the active role and importance of the efforts by individuals, collectives, and organizations. It even makes the occurrence of revolution messianic. Dwivedi and Mohan’s understanding of politics runs counter to a related assumption that a critique of the anti-institutional and anti-organizational impetus of ‘1968’ (which is distortedly attributed to ‘1968’ as a whole) would automatically lead back to historically failed revolutionary blueprints that were once prepared by revolutionary elites and obediently applied by the masses. Instead, their understanding of politics recognizes the legitimacy of regularities, rules, and laws, which also speaks to the need for a more nuanced memory of the global political pasts. In the philosophy of Dwivedi and Mohan, we thus find an understanding of regularity that is different from the inherited Foucauldian condemnation of regularity as a set of discourses and institutional procedures that enforces a continued and collective subjugation of the modern subject. Instead, they define the regularity more neutrally as “a set of actions and processes that repeat in a regular manner” (Dwivedi): “We find the regularity of the solar system in the movement of the sun and the seasonal variations. In economics, we are told that the cyclical variations of the economy are the evident working of the tranquil system; even when we find poverty and destruction in the silhouette we are told to look at ‘the whole picture’” (Dwivedi and Mohan, Gandhi and Philosophy 115–116). In the field of social affairs, politics is accordingly defined in a way that “realizes a distinct set of regularities every time” (194). Most importantly, it is also politics that makes it possible to change these regularities by “retaining in view the homologies held within the very same regularities and developing the polynomia which are not yet realized” (194–195).

Before getting to the interrelation of regularities, rules, and laws, one must answer the question of how the different and diverging corners of the world and chapters of history converge with one another. There are two imaginal forces that necessarily converge: analogy and homology. While the latter literally transports the “powers of constructability” into a new historical and spatial or political context (and thus contributes to the creation of “a new reality”), analogy serves as a force of abstraction that makes this transfer possible in the first place (Dwivedi). It “gives the possibility of converting distinct objects under the same functional rule.” For instance, remote regimes in different corners of the world similarly implement the kind of politics that is clearly recognized as authoritarian, regardless of the alleged ideological differences between these corners and their respective regimes. Once parallelism is established through analogy, one needs to enact the imaginal force of homology in order to change the rules that have been recognized as corelative. In contrast to the abstractions of analogy, therefore, homology is essentially material: “What we often insufficiently call the materiality is that which is designated by homology. It is through homology that we find the constructability of something held in some other thing […]” (Mohan). In this way, homology serves as a springboard for those who (or that which) establish new and different regularities. This is where political and social strategies and forms of organization come to mind, such as general strikes, workers’ councils, or peaceful protests that travel from one corner of the globe to the other. Dwivedi provides us with examples from May 68: “trade and labour unions, students’ unions, Maoist groups, anti-colonial protests and the Algerian War of Independence, migrant workers, anti-war protests, and women’s rights’ and gay rights’ activism” (Dwivedi). These homologous transfers did not come about thanks to the mere discovery of analogies between distant regimes and they also did not occur by chance or as miraculous epiphanies. Rather, the forces of change were physically transferred over from one place to another in the work of activists and through channels such as leaflets, journals, organizations, and institutions: this is precisely what homology points to. Simultaneously, homology suggests that unless the analogy is activated in transfers to other objects, it remains a mere force of abstraction, a property of isolated objects, and is divested of the force of change. Hence, analogy without homology is a dry logical correlation and only by transfers of properties from one object to another are homologies activated and their world constituted.

Purely abstract theoretical work, which detects analogies in objects without ever establishing real material contacts between them – commonly classified as theoreticism – is rendered by Dwivedi and Mohan in terms of calypsology:

Calypsology could be the science of the concealment of a thing such that it is not open for other contenders; such a discipline would be confined to the immurement of its object away even from itself – Calypso herself immured Odysseus in her island to introduce exogenous ends to the wandering warrior being so that he became an island-being rather than a sailing-being (Gandhi and Philosophy 128).

Instead of judging calypsology on moral grounds (which is what the label ‘theoreticism’ commonly suggests, cf. Rölli), Dwivedi and Mohan posit that the gap between here and there and between theory and praxis emerges not only due to a theoretician’s weak will or bad faith; instead, they claim that the gap is materially based on the structural forces that cut the lines between co-belonging entities and thus enforce isolation, retreating to remote islands and becoming Calypsos: “We do not live in the age of critique, which is not due to our voluntary resignation from it, but because the critique itself needs conditions which no longer obtain today” (Gandhi and Philosophy 210). It is certainly not by accident that the newest academic trend is withdrawing to ‘retreats’! Expectedly, the retreats do not train transformative imagination but additionally enforce its closure: “In us little Calypsos are being born” (214). Being materialist enough not to nurture false illusions, and also having in mind the particularly precarious politics of contemporary India, Dwivedi and Mohan claim that under the current institutional conditions, personal decisions to intervene are limited to individual undertakings, meaning that they are consistently hindered from unfolding into collective movements. Not only are the mutual lines of contagion between homologies (both historical and contemporary) obfuscated; even analogies are rendered invisible. To illustrate this, Dwivedi and Mohan often refer to the case of post-colonial theory. Cutting the bonds between post-colonial theory and (post-)colonial spaces makes the critical status of this theory questionable; finally, it is post-colonial theory itself that becomes colonialist and oppressive: “postcolonial theories which phantasize about the idols of nativism to remould the matter of societies criticalized by colonialism are repeating fascisms” (217). After not only post-colonial theory (which nota bene was originally called ‘critique’), but even large parts of post-1968 theory, have been ridiculously degraded into a confusing ‘praxis of theory,’ it takes generations to step out of this night in which all cats are black. This is to say that theory and praxis are to be considered as separated entities, with the forces of transformative imagination that commute between them. Due to its hybrid and non-identifiable shape, it is primarily aesthetics that applies to this sitting between the chairs, and theory and praxis are bound to learn from it. It this context one should understand Mohan’s remark that the global interspaces between one and another need to be populated by non-adjusted, heretic, even obscure agents who appear to be “degenerates” (Mohan, “The Obscure, the Cryptic and the Public” 63) or lawbreakers (cf. Gandhi and Philosophy 127). According to Mohan, being degenerate is one of the ways something or someone becomes a forerunner or a forebear of the new. Hence ‘travellers between the chairs,’ outcasts, and exiles appear as agents of acceleration of a pregiven regularity towards a new constellation, a new regularity. In this matter, Dwivedi’s essay about May 1968 appears to complement Mohan’s insistence on dissident figures: analogy without homology is unavoidably debased to an ineffective enterprise should these awkward figures become somehow integrated and coordinated if the desired “override of the given” (Dwivedi) is to be achieved. This is then a task for law as the organizing principle of a praxis which cares for continuity and efficacy.



It is not only metaphors, but first and foremost regularities we live by: Important components of our quotidian lives follow standardized patterns of schooling, traveling, eating, producing and, finally, disciplining the irregularities. The fact that these practices in late capitalism are carried out in places that cannot be identified with their traditional locations (schools, factories, or heterotopias such as prisons and hospitals) speaks to the fact that it is less a question of placement than of the regularity of the respective practice; moreover, the fact of regularity far outweighs the fact of its localization.

Regularity is a dimension on the scale between new and unprecedented practices on the one hand and comprehensive but not necessarily legally regulated – both lawful and lawless – practices on the other. According to Dwivedi and Mohan, “When a law holds in a domain it implies iterability and constitutes a regularity visible in the silhouette of that system” (115–116). This is to say that the search for laws urges us to look away from particular regularities and look at “the whole picture” (116); yet this is a step that is progressively forsaken as we advance on our way into calypsology. Law is the organizational principle of a group or set of regularities: “We find the regularity of the solar system in the movement of the sun and the seasonal variations” (115). Even in the law itself we find scales: Dwivedi and Mohan distinguish between the so-called comprehending laws and component laws, whereby “Comprehending laws gather all the little laws into unity while giving them a directive” (199). A singular comprehending law also “denotes the power to make, sustain, and unmake regularities. But in the component laws, as they talk to each other, the comprehending law can be experienced” (Mohan in Dwivedi and Mohan, “Reply”).

We know that there are many practices that are pre-legal and even illegal and that do not abide by the law, even if there is one. For example, the synergy between tax laws and sophisticated strategies of escaping to tax-free zones is one of the burning issues of our privatized era. Given that Dwivedi and Mohan are aware of the fact that there are laws that are placed beyond judicial laws, their account of laws and regularities does not concern itself with the application of laws in the specific areas of economics, medicine, education, or philosophy. Rather, they set out to think about law and regularity beyond the disciplinary boundaries of legal theory. They point out that the existence of a superposed law – they speak of “a unity by the Law of laws” (126) – integrates and coordinates numerous special laws that govern both the everyday life and extraordinary practices of the world dwellers: migration abides by its own laws, similar to mass deforestation and illegal or extra-legal deep-sea mining in ocean areas that have never been mapped or ‘protected’ by state laws. However, they refrain from defining this last Law, merely indicating that its estimation depends on the particular discourse within which one operates: they illustrate this with differences between philosophy (working with “Sense, Concept, Idea”), Marxism (focusing on capital), and theology (observing the “temperaments of its gods”) (126). Without identifying themselves with any of these discourses, Dwivedi and Mohan endeavor to uncover the almost Kantian conditions of possibility of laws and their regularities. For this, they examine not only the structural relationship between the two types of laws mentioned above, but also dynamic anastatic constellations in which the passages between the component laws and the comprehending law are constituted. Here again, anastasis designates the moments of crisis in which the inherited correlation between regularities or even, on a higher scale, among component laws is shaken and transgressed. These moments signal the provisional character of both the Law and the laws: “a group of men can constitute for themselves a new set of laws and their comprehending law in order to form a new social arrangement through anastasis” (203). This is then the point where Dwivedi and Mohan develop the received accounts of imagination into a politically more earnest and ethically more honest version of transformative imagination that propels their critique as a whole: more earnest because they argue for global institutions that secure the plural character of the human and maintain the public and universal nature of political and aesthetic imagination; more honest because they speak with the awareness of the both systemically reduced and politically silenced volume of their voices. Instead of paying lip service to methodological individualism, they argue for an active force that is able to counteract against the passive force of calypsology. In Gandhi and Philosophy, this force is not anymore the isolated trace of dissidents and degenerates, and it is definitively not the subdued force of a mole whose murky voice is barely heard from the underbelly of the world system; it is the force of jurisprudence, which is “the science of man-made laws” (130).

This is then the dimension in which Dwivedi and Mohan’s account of imagination and their understanding of law override the undialectical and biased present: to discuss the dynamics and possibilities of the Law, laws, and regularities, without considering the need to imagine and institutionalize progressive alternatives, amounts to the accounts of law, power, and violence as inherited from Walter Benjamin on the one hand and Michel Foucault on the other. By way of contrast to these great precursors, Dwivedi and Mohan value the regulative and upholding dimension of laws and regularities which help to destabilize the natural right for the sake of positive – man-made and humane – laws. However, in order to be able to return to the problematic of law and regularity we often need to jump over our own shadow and annul the annulments, which only can save us from calypsological circuits.


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Ivana Perica is Postdoctoral Researcher in the DFG Research Training Group ‘Globalization and Literature: Representations, Transformations, Interventions’ at the University of Munich, where she is pursuing a project on political literature around the fracture points of 1928 and 1968. She is the author of the book Die privat-öffentliche Achse des Politischen: Das Unvernehmen zwischen Hannah Arendt und Jacques Rancière (Königshausen & Neumann, 2016). After the completion of her PhD at the University of Vienna, Perica taught at the University of Vienna and the University of Applied Arts Vienna. Her articles on the politics of literature have appeared in Maska, Neohelicon and Weimarer Beiträge. Perica is Assistant Editor at arcadia.