We are back. Friends in London look at us in surprise “Was that really 7 months you were away for? It’s gone so quickly” they say. It has gone very fast, but what’s even more frightening is how quickly one falls back into the patterns of one’s “normal” life. We did say we weren’t going to come back to London, but changed our mind, and decided to return just to write the book and finish the film. What we need to do however, is change the way we live now that we are back. The first step was to create a new writing space, normally we work in our basement, but a few years ago I got vitamin D deficiency due to the lack of sunlight which threw me into months of depression. On the trip we have spent very little time indoors, and the thought of working in the little bits of sombre london light that creeps through the tiny slit of a window, was unbearable; so we decided to build a loft bed in the bedroom and use the liberated space to make a small office. In the spirit of creative DO IT YOURSELF, of recycling and living with little money, things that we had experienced on the journey, we managed to build a fantastic bed high in the sky, for the price of 24 screws! It’s beautiful, made from old timber found in the street, whose worn grey green scars give it the look of an ancient ship that has run aground. A fitting beggining to our return from drifting across Europe’s Utopian communities.

Whilst we were in Christiania – I wrote the text below on “OPTIMISM” for a seminar at the YNKB art space – entitled – Let’s Remake the World. I think it was a way to try and keep hold of the hope that i was frightened of losing when we returned to London.

Optimism Now or Nothing

I often describe myself as a ”pathalogical optimist”, somehow suggesting that my hope is an illness, something I can’t control. But it’s an illness that I’m proud of, it’s what has kept me believing that acts of creative resistance and building utopian archipelagos have an effect against the frightening totality of capitalism’s global suicide machine. My pathology is rooted in the belief that history began with and is made through disobedience and that we all have the capacity to disobey in every moment of oppression, cooption or collaboration by or with the system that puts life after profit. But it’s fevered by the fear that the history of humanity will be terminated by too many acts of obedience.

Every act of disobedience arises from and creates a moment of optimism, and in that moment is hope. Hope, not because we know what will come from the act, but because we know that without acting there is no chance, as surrealist Andre Breton, wrote “rebellion is its own justification, completely independent of the chance it has to modify the state of affairs that give rise to it. It’s a spark in the wind, but a spark in search of a powder keg”(Arcarnum 17, 1944)

I tend to swing between two ways of feeling and thinking around the sparks of hope.
One way is critiquing hope as the anarcho-primitivist author Derek Jensen does in his essay “Beyond Hope”. The other is redefining hope in the way cultural critique Rebecca Solnit does in her fantastic little book – “Hope In The Dark – untold histories, wild possibilities” (Nation Books, 2006)

Jensen writes about giving up on hope because it restrains our agency, it makes us look into the future and wait for something to happen or it gives our agency to someone else or some other being, god for example! It makes us wait for change to happen. He suggests that we should abandon hope because when we do, we die – the socially constructed us dies, and when we are dead those in power can no longer touch us. When we give up on hope we become truly free, he says, we turn away from the fear that is imposed on us and the exploiter victim relationship crumbles because there is no longer anything left to loose. We become wild and free when hope dies.

“They can do nothing since we are already dead” the Zapatistas say “and that is why we are fighting for life” and from their “international of hope” they have shown something that Rebecca Solnit writes about – that the small, the powerless and the marginal are those that make history in unexpected and often undocumented ways. In “Hope in the Dark” , which amounts to poetic prozac on paper, she turns hope upside-down – Hope is not about waiting, but not knowing what comes next. Hope is in the wonderfully unexpected nature of history, it’s in the fact that history is always ready to be made. For her, the best act of hope is to act in the present moment with no expectations of consequences, just a knowledge of possibilities. Hope is in the present, it’s what we do now and next with the knowledge of the unlimited possibilities of the unknown future ahead of us. Perhaps it is what Ernst Bloch called the Utopian Moment, the moment before anything is done where everything is possible. (See her latest essay

And so perhaps optimism grows best in the fertile folds of the present. It thrives when we stop looking with nostalgia at the past, the great movement successes whether it’s the 60’s or 70’s, or the anti-capitalist surges at the turn of this century. It thrives when we step back from the reams of statistics that tell us that we have already overstretched our ecological limits and that our life support system will collapse in our life time. It comes alive when we forget the fears of the future and begin to remember its fabulous possibilities.

What we need is militant optimism, and perhaps this occurs when we are able to accept that in the now is “the best of all possible worlds” ( the etymological origin of the word optimism), but in the next anything is possible. When we can accept that this moment of not yet doing is the only possible one (as it is in the past the moment we are conscious of it), but that the moment that follows it can bring into possibility another world.

And this brings us to the act of art making. The militant optimist is pessimistic about the potential of representation to transform the world. Representation merely takes the past and freezes it for the future. Life-affirming art attempts to reject representation in favour of transformation. To the militant optimist, art is (as Alan Kaprow once said) simply paying attention. And when one pays attention to each moment with mindfulness and composure the greatest work of art and the greatest grounds for optimism emerge. As the unique anarcho-taoist Utopian Scifi author Ursula Le Guin wrote “In order to speculate safely on an inhabitable future, perhaps we would do well to find a rock crevice and go backward…With all our self-consciousness, we have very little sense of where we live, where we are right here right now.”

JJ, Christiania, Feb 22nd 2008