cover image Imagination: A Manifesto

Imagination: A Manifesto

Ruha Benjamin. Norton, $22 (192p) ISBN 978-1-324-02097-4

Benjamin (Viral Justice) posits in this wide-ranging treatise that “collective imagination” will be a key force behind the creation of an emerging new social order. Arguing that the world is “between stories” (quoting historian Thomas Berry) and thus ready to discard dead ideas of racism and nationalism and dream new social arrangements into being, Benjamin asserts that “it matters whose imaginations get to materialize as our shared future.” She cautions that society is in danger of being ensnared by the quasi-utopias on offer from tech titans, where the well-off escape problems rather than solve them and technology is used to police and surveil regular people. Benjamin goes on to critique other realms of failed imagination, including America’s education system (“a site of spirit murder”) and prison system. She highlights projects that, in her view, direct collective imagination toward more just and humane outcomes, ranging from experiments in data sovereignty in Barcelona to a virtual reality art installation honoring Breonna Taylor’s life. Throughout, Benjamin’s roving narrative moves nimbly between topics to make her case (at one exemplary point she pauses her analysis of a documentary on creative writing programs for prisoners to note how it reminds her of a line from Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go: “Could a creature without a human spirit create such heart-wrenching paintings?”). It’s a powerful exhortation for society to point its dreams toward the collective good. (Feb.)