(Im)possible Realism: A Conversation between James Clifford and Massimiliano (Mao) Mollona
Anthropologist and educator James Clifford and anthropologist and filmmaker Massimiliano (Mao) Mollona have been sustaining a long-term conversation around the concept of “(im)possible realism”: a realism that accepts the contradictions of micro and macro scales, local and global, and thus the impossibility of telling a singular and unifying composite historical story. One of these exchanges was recorded and subsequently discussed in the context of the 2021–2022 Fellowship for Situated Practice, in connection to and as part of the Spectral Infrastructure research trajectory. Discussing several concrete studies from “decolonizing” Western museums, they argue that an “(im)possible realist” ethnographic sensibility complicates and multiplies the historical stories that urgently need to be told in the wake of the now-displaced “master narratives.” Reflecting on 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 Mollona discuss 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 overarching logic or explanation.