Conversation Video

(Im)possible Realism: A Conversation between James Clifford and Massimiliano (Mao) Mollona

James Clifford, Massimiliano Mollona

Anthropologist and educator JamesClifford and anthropologist and filmmaker Massimiliano (Mao) Mollona have been sustaining a long-term conversationaround the conceptof “(im)possible realism”:arealism thatacceptsthecontradictions ofmicro and macro scales, local and global, and thus theimpossibility of telling a singular and unifyingcomposite historical story. One of these exchanges was recordedand subsequentlydiscussed in the context of the2021–2022 Fellowship for Situated Practice, in connectiontoand as part of the Spectral Infrastructure research trajectory.Discussing several concrete studies from “decolonizing” Western museums, theyargue thatan “(im)possible realist”ethnographic sensibility complicates and multiplies the historical storiesthaturgently need tobe told in the wake of the now-displaced“master narratives.”Reflectingon flexible capitalism and cultural globalization from the 1980s onwards, a neoliberal hegemony which brought into view some cultural and social formations while overshadowing others, Clifford and Mollonadiscuss the emergence of articulated forms of local/global “indigeneity” and the disappearance/transformation of the working class. They advocate a supple ethnographic approach that can understand these two historical trajectories as discrepant elements of a changing conjuncture. (Im)possible realism grasps these, and other components of the present moment, not as functionally-determined, abstract scenarios but as emergent, linked engagements which cannot be subsumed in an overarchinglogic or explanation.

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