WORDS BY Mohamud Mohamed
In the final of four essays, Atmos collaborates with interdisciplinary art and archival research studio The Bureau on “A Drop of Sun,” a series asking Black artists and writers to imagine Black futurity through rigorous exploration of abolition, radicalized environmentalism, and robust artistic expression. Here, scholar Mohamud Mohamed asks us to shift our perspectives on capitalism and realism outward, toward the endless possibilities of radical imagination.
Colossus: a person or thing of immense size or power/kəlɒsəs/from Greek kolossos
Surveillance is an essential and inextricable tool of capitalism. As Foucault observed, “power which has the population as its target, political economy as its major form of knowledge, and apparatuses of security as its essential technical instrument,” is an essential reality of our lived experiences. We have resigned ourselves to the ubiquitous inescapability of a system predicated on the infringement of civil liberties, the intrusion into the private space, and a ravenous and all-consuming desire to monetize ‘data’ in service to capital.
This is our modern-day Colossus. It is a colossus so grand, we have come to believe that capitalism, and surveillance as a necessary component of capitalism, is the only viable system, and that it is now impossible to imagine a coherent alternative.
That even as we fail to make sense of capitalism, it’s built-in contradictions, its abundant and ever-increasing absurdity, and the violence it leaves in its wake, we are unable to imagine a world beyond its specter. We have been violently and meticulously socialized to believe in our hearts that no alternative beyond this hellscape can even be articulated with the language and imaginative capacities at hand.
And while we all live under the crushing auspices of capitalist realism and its sibling, surveillance realism, it would be the height of arrogance and erasure to assume that we are all affected equally by these structures of violence. To homogenize the scope and impact of these systems is to amplify their violence, particularly as it relates to the people at the intersection of racialized and minoritized identities who suffer most under this violence.
It is from here that I begin my inquisition into an alternative. To ask you, dear reader, to imagine beyond the specter of the colossus is no easy task, especially when we are hardwired by the cynicism of our time to conflate imagination with kumbaya idealism. But the great fallacy at hand is that the radical imagination is not the domain of the individual; rather it is the dominion of the collective. It is the spirit of community, of collaboration, of collective care in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.
The radical imagination is not a noun, it is a verb. We do the radical imagination so that we may one day tear down the colossus. I am reminded, today and always, of Khalil Gibran’s imagination, an imagination that “sees the complete reality—it is where past, present and future meet… Imagination is limited neither to the reality which is apparent—nor to one place. It lives everywhere. Imagination is the life of mental freedom. It realizes what everything is in its many aspects… Imagination does not uplift: we don’t want to be uplifted, we want to be more completely aware.”