Janet Sarbanes on Radical Democracy and Radical Imaginary in Letters on the Autonomy Project

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Author Janet Sarbanes, faculty member in the School of Critical Studies, writes open letters to artists, academics, and activists (“Dear A”) in her newest book, Letters on the Autonomy Project (Punctum Books). The subject matter is even more prescient in the rise of authoritarianism—and loss of autonomy—and as more people struggle with social, political, and economic inequity and injustice.

Rooted in theory, history, and the works of thinkers and philosophers, including Cornelius Castoriadis, Sarbanes asks and examines the possibilities for radical democracy and the radical imaginary. How are political and artistic autonomies linked (rather than opposed)? What role does radical pedagogy have to do with these autonomies?

In her first open letter, Sarbanes writes:

One of the central aims of this book is to think through and recalibrate the relationship between art and politics by way of autonomy. Indeed, I believe we cannot face our current crisis of social imagination and political will without a better understanding of autonomy both as a concept and a practice. But just as importantly, this book was conceived in a moment of struggle, and it seeks to contribute to that struggle. Whatever the context of its reading, that is the context of its writing—this is a work of praxis. Some of these letters explore political and aesthetic theories of autonomy; others hearken back to the reignition of the radical social imaginary in the late sixties and early seventies, with special attention paid to Black Radical, Feminist, and Autonomist Marxist approaches to liberation; still others discuss the re-emergence of the radical imaginary in our own time, proof that another world is possible, dear A, every minute of every day.

Sarbanes, the 2017 recipient of a Creative Capital/Andy Warhol art writer’s grant, has authored short story collections Army of One and The Protester Has Been Released. Her art criticism and critical writing pieces have published in museum catalogues, anthologies, and journals including East of Borneo, Afterall, and the Los Angeles Review of Books.

A book launch and author conversation takes place on Wednesday, Dec. 14 at 7 pm at 2220 Art + Archives in Los Angeles with Sarbanes and Hailey Loman, director of LA Contemporary Archive (LACA).

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PUBLISHED BY Christine N. Ziemba

Christine is the director of Content at CalArts, responsible for the Institute's editorial in both print and online platforms. In addition, she oversees CalArts' social media accounts. In her spare time, she writes about the Santa Clarita food scene at scvfoodie.com.

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