Selected Essays on the Culture of Revolt
An afternoon talk and discussion with author AK Thompson
Bringing together a decade of AK Thompson’s essays on the culture of revolt, Premonitions offers an engaged assessment of contemporary radical politics. Inspired by Walter Benjamin and addressing themes ranging from violence and representation to Romanticism and death, Thompson combines scholarship and grassroots grit to disabuse readers—and rebels—of cherished certainties. Whether uncovering the unrealized promise buried in mainstream cultural offerings or tracing our course toward the inevitable moment of reckoning ahead, the essays in Premonitions are both practical investigations and prescient provocations.
According to Thompson, Premonitions are similar to Walter Benjamin’s “illuminations’ and “reflections” in that, as forms of extrapolative reasoning, they reveal how a thing or event can be made to alert us to the broader social process from which it derives. The major difference is that, whereas Benjamin’s concepts placed emphasis on the resolution of accumulated tensions, “premonitions” direct our attention toward the future that will obtain should present dynamics be left undisturbed.
Because of his misgivings with “progress,” which Benjamin took to be both a central conceit of capitalist culture and an idea that had blunted class hatred among social democrats, Benjamin urged movements to turn their back on the future and focus more on “the image of enslaved ancestors … than that of happy grandchildren.” Even so, his work discloses a strong premonitory orientation. The concluding line to Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century (1935), for instance, recounts how “in the convulsions of the commodity economy we begin to recognize the monuments of the bourgeoisie as ruins even before they have crumbled.”
“A pleasure. “This incendiary little book is also a finely balanced one. It asks the defining questions of our hard moment and shows why the answers are uneasy ones. One part an elegiac history of recent freedom movements and their quandaries, one part a caution against any too-easy commitment to nonviolence, Premonitions teems with insights.”
— David Roediger, author of Class, Race, and Marxism
AK Thompson is an activist, author, and social theorist. Currently a professor of social movements and social change at Ithaca College, his publications include Sociology for Changing the World: Social Movements/Social Research (2006), Black Bloc, White Riot: Anti-Globalization and the Genealogy of Dissent (2010), Spontaneous Combustion: The Eros Effect and Global Revolution (2017) and co-edited Keywords for Radicals: The Contested Vocabulary of Late-Capitalist Struggle (2016). Between 2005 and 2012, he served on the Editorial Committee of Upping the Anti: A Journal of Theory and Action.
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