Dreams, Image and Facebook: Turning fantasy into revolutions and revolutions to dreams
October 2015, REMX Magazine
The dream is “the birth of the world…the origin of existence itself.” Foucault
In light of some personal curatorial adventures in an unstable and unclear social context,I have been preoccupied by the concept of the imagination as the last real site of resistance in a world becoming increasingly controlled and manipulated.
Of course this has been the topic of many a dystopian science fiction novel, from Zemyatin’s We to Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 491 and many others in between. The imagination becomes the place of refuge to attain internal freedom when external freedoms are taken away or limited. It is the one thing that cannot be controlled by the systems of oppression.
And this imagination, the act of forming new images in the mind, comes from dreams. Dreams are that zone for nebulous and unconscious self-reflection which give rise to clearer forms, mental pictures that offer alternative ways of being that may make knowledge applicable and lead to creation. According to Foucault, dreams are “a shadowy clearing where, in a moment of vision, a man can seize his fate…Man has known since antiquity that in dreams he encounters what he is and what he will be, what he has done and what he is going to do. He discovers there the knot that ties his freedom to the necessity of the world.” In the dream, he writes, we find “the heart laid bare.”
And since imagination is born from dreaming, we are only too aware that creation is the result of the imagination. If in dreams we are confronted with our self, with our fate, and with our anxieties, then imagination is what gives form to what we wish to become and be part of.
But to jump from private imagining to public action in a world that is designed to restrict us as much as possible becomes a political act, an act of resistance. And not everyone is ready for this step. A less conflictual and more symbolic mode of expressing oneself is needed for many. Art becomes the space where the unsayable is said in ways that are not entirely transparent and confrontational. The metaphoric is a heterotopia – a third way between silence and protest that permits the expression of discontent without the certainty of punitive consequences as would be the case with open dissent. It is also a place that, like the imagination, cannot be entirely controlled because it is unclear, more private and subtle. The films produced by Kinema Ikon before 1989, for example, used the metaphoric, the veiled, and the masked language of poetry and dreams to express feelings of disenchantment and disillusionment under an oppressive regime. But as they themselves declared, the films never transgressed the limits to direct criticism and were only projected in closed circles.
In his 1978 “neighborhood medicine” workshop held in the context of the elections in France, Foucault concluded that resistance is “conducted by whoever might desire it, in forms yet to be invented and organizations yet to be defined” and he left “that freedom at the end of my speaking to whoever wants to do something with it”( 3) . In recent years, social media has become the space where people express their hopes, despair and dissent in a more public and global way than art ever managed to do. It is also the place where “organizations yet to be defined” coalesce and different forms of community develop. It is another heterotopia, a space between reality and dreams, where the imagined is formulated and given a more concrete shape. We also see this in the redefinition of the self, the self that is projected online. This process of composing an image of the self, a curated self, reflected in the choices, posts, likes, photos, etc. that one shows, is also an artistic exercise activated by the imagination, that can be argued to be a seed of resistance to imposed truths, a way to alter and question absolutes. This is the manifestation of Baudelaire’s “cult of the self,” or as Nietzsche put it , to “become master of the chaos one is, to compel one’s chaos to become form is the grand ambition here.” It is thus that social media establishes itself as the site where the imagined self materializes.
Encouraged by the power to transform the image of the self, we are free to try to formulate an alternate social reality too and connect to others who share those ideals. It is with this that social media and the internet have succeeded where other platforms for the imagination’s formulation might not have. The public but virtual expressions of dreams, aspirations and discontent have been embodied in uprisings on a global level. Although researchers are not yet certain if the number of protests has actually increased since the digital revolution, it is however clear that our awareness of their existence has sparked our imagination and possibly even our engagement. In the last 10 years of world-wide protests more governments have collapsed than before, when the media and information was more easily controlled by the state.
And yet, despite outbursts of revolutionary zeal in the streets of many towns and countries, spurred and inspired by political activism on social media platforms, it is not enough for the protests to maintain their momentum in real space or for significant social change to occur in areas where violence doesn’t dissolve into civil war and chaos. People retreat back to their dreams and prefer to express their aspirations and utopias on social networks, using hashtags and links. The co-founder of Occupy Wall Street movement, Micah White, sums up the tendency thus: “Things started to look better on social networks than in real life…This to me is the biggest risk: to become spectators of our own protests.” And yet, the same approach in shaping one’s image and identity online is at the root of shaping new societies, and engage in political and social resistance. And while the internet, like physical space, is becoming more surveilled, privatized, and controlled, it is still the site where image, dream, and art intersect to give birth to new realities.