Issue #136 From Islands of Commons to Collective Autonomy

From Islands of Commons to Collective Autonomy

Mary N. Taylor and Janet Sarbanes in conversation

Neighborhood Art Center staff photo, Community Art in Atlanta, 1977–87. Photo: Jim Alexander. Courtesy of the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History.

Issue #136
May 2023

This conversation was first instigated by Malav Kanuga (of Common Notions press and Making Worlds Bookstore in Philadelphia). It follows a previous conversation between the authors held at Making Worlds to celebrate the joint launch of Janet’s Letters on the Autonomy Project and Mary’s coedited The Commonist Horizon: Futures Beyond Capitalist Urbanization.1 Both dialogues reflect a common investment in conversation as a relational method that is central to the authors’ social-movement work and is reflected in the texts themselves. This dialogue was held over email and has been edited for length and clarity.



Janet Sarbanes: The Commonist Horizon gave me a grounded sense of possibility as a reader. Your book centers on reports from the field of producing autonomy combined with far-reaching conversations around commoning practices in postsocialist cities in Eastern Europe, one in London, and one in New York. The title is a play on Jodi Dean’s The Communist Horizon, which opens up the space of comradely debate around the distinctions and the relations between commoning and communism (state communism to be precise), which are central to your vision. To start, what was the impetus for this book, and how did you and Noah Brehmer come to work on it together? Can you share your thinking around this editorial approach?

Mary Taylor: My involvement as an editor emerged from a net of relationships I have with the Eastern European left. Noah, like me, is originally from the US, but he lives in Lithuania. We met in 2015 in Kaunas and Žeimiai, at a convergence called “Peripheralizing Europe,” which LeftEast co-organized with other activist groups operating in Spain and Lithuania.2

Noah came up with the title even before he asked me to join him on the project. It was a provocation for us and the other authors to reflect on the language of the commons and its utility (or lack thereof) for our collective work. The final chapter is cowritten by Noah and others with whom he has been trying to think through strategies for commoning in Vilnius. So, in a way, the book starts and ends in Lithuania, which was of course once part of the USSR. Noah was inspired by the idea that the language of communism has become so delegitimated in the region after the fall of state socialism, and that commons offers a necessary new language. I felt that we should make sure to have other chapters from comrades in other parts of formerly state-socialist Europe. The authors are all people Noah or I have worked with closely in movement contexts. The chapters offer a broad array of nuanced approaches to the relevance of commons/commoning as a concept and a form of organization, and they unfolded through a series of discussions hosted by Luna 6 in Vilnius. It’s true, though, that a few authors were not into the title originally—when they read “commonist” as “communist.”

You teach at CalArts. And your book, a collection of letters, offers a really interesting history of the institution from the perspective of autonomy. How did you end up writing a series of eighteen letters to “A” that are now bound as a book entitled Letters on the Autonomy Project?

JS: I think people in movement contexts are looking for serious conversations right now about how to self-organize and to think about self-organization in a radical, world-altering way.

I’ve been grappling with autonomy for some time, as both a political and an aesthetic concept, but also as a practice. But you’re right, autonomy is central to radical pedagogy. Being at CalArts, and researching and experiencing its particular legacy of radical pedagogy, has definitely influenced my thinking and practice. And it was Cornelius Castoriadis’s thinking on education that first attracted me to his body of work, which then proved generative on a number of fronts, political and aesthetic, and became an important framework for this series of open letters.

The motivation for writing the book came from a more visceral place. I wanted to understand the times I was living in, which seemed to me to be extraordinary, in terms of the challenges we’re facing and the wave after wave of struggles over the last decade or so that have tried to create the kind of society that can meet those challenges. After being a part of Critical Resistance and being on the ground at Occupy LA, as well as engaging over many years with more autonomous spaces and collectives in the LA art world, I was looking for a language that could encapsulate those experiences. But with the scaling-up of forms and strategies of resistance by the Black Lives Matter Movement, Standing Rock, NoDAPL, MeToo, and the reenergized workers movement (typified by the teachers’ strikes, with their comprehensive demands) and the emergence of new forms of solidarity between them, I came to the realization that this moment resembles what Castoriadis would call a moment of great sociohistorical creativity. By this he meant a moment when an entire society can potentially head in a more autonomous, or radically democratic, direction. Of course, the rising authoritarianism we see across the globe is an attempt to foreclose this possibility.

Standing Rock protest, 2016. Photo: Leslie Peterson. License: CC BY-NC 2.0.

For scaling-up to continue, it seems important to avoid the temptation to associate this scaling-up with centralization and universalization, bringing it under the banner of an “essential” movement against capital. All of these movements move against capital, but they don’t all do it the same way and they don’t only do that. So, solidarity is not centralization. The thing to stop avoiding is a reckoning with the near-total subsumption of art and its vaunted autonomy and emancipatory potential by global capitalism. Because art can be a powerful force for social change in moments like these. This is how and why I conceived of the book as a series of open letters addressed variously and inclusively to artists, activists, and academics (the “A” to whom the letters are addressed). It’s more a series of provocations than a totalizing theory or account—or maybe “provocations” is the wrong word: the letters are simply incomplete, partial, in both senses of the word, which is the nature of letters. They’re exhortatory, they invite a response, correspondence.

MT: You define autonomy as a “realm of psychic and social creativity, the source of new forms, both aesthetic and political,” and you stress Castoriadis’s emphasis on autonomy as a “mutually constitutive relationship between individual and collective.” An autonomous society, as you describe it, is one that is not heteronomous, one that does not assert hierarchy, autarchy, or conformity. You argue that art has a strong role in the project of autonomy, as it offers both a praxis and a horizon for it.

While there is much conversation about the autonomy of art, many of the examples you give of autonomy are political projects, such as operaismo and autonomia in Italy and tendencies that you address as “Black autonomies of the 1960s and 1970s.” You also discuss the Zapatistas (EZLN, Zapatista Army of National Liberation), the Occupy movements, and other political projects. These were and are intensely creative movements that do work in the aesthetic sphere where affect is cultivated, but cannot all easily be captured inside the sphere of art. Taking form and affect into account moves us towards a discussion in which we can see various forms of activism in a similar light to artistic research, even if much of this activism is done without the concept of art. Why prioritize art and its autonomy?

JS: That’s a great question. My idea with the book was to look at autonomy as a political concept and practice alongside the ways it has been theorized and practiced in the realm of art and aesthetics in order to try to arrive at a different understanding of autonomy, where politics takes on aesthetic dimensions, as you point out, but artistic practice also takes on political dimensions. And this happens when we think of autonomy as the capacity to create one’s own rules or forms, be they artistic or political. So, it’s not so much a valorization of a separate sphere for art as it is tracing the movement out from that sphere that is called forth by autonomous politics.

Of course, there are those who would say that the category of art isn’t worth holding onto at all, that it’s an inherently bourgeois, patriarchal, white-supremacist construct that works in counterrevolutionary ways. And I agree, but only up to a point. I’m critical of the art world and the very concept of an art world, but I teach in an art school and have taught community arts. I live a life surrounded by artists and I myself have a creative as well as a critical writing practice. I’m also an activist and an educator. So, I believe that creativity has different modalities but that these can all feed the wider autonomy project in one way or another, so long as they’re not severed from it. It’s not the concept of art that captures creative projects, I don’t think; it’s rather how we’re defining art in any given moment. For instance, the modernist notion of separate spheres for art and politics has worked well to sever the creative capacities of the individual from those of the collective.

Like Marcuse, like Castoriadis, I’m interested in the question of when and how art takes on radical political and social meanings, and in what contexts. I don’t think this has anything to do with content, and perhaps even more shockingly, I don’t think it has anything to do with form alone. It has to do with a new understanding of autonomy that emerges in moments of radical political and social transformation brought on by what Marcuse would call a “Great Refusal,” or a revaluation of all values, social, political and aesthetic. In these moments, artistic liberation and political liberation work in tandem to interrogate old meanings and create new ones. But not if, as is currently the case, autonomy is understood solely as a modality of liberal individualism, and the individual’s capacity to create is entirely disconnected from processes of collective self-transformation. As with all forms of liberal individualism, this upholds the capitalist, superficially democratic organization of our social processes. So I would ask, for instance, not if an abstract painting is political, as if that were some essential quality of the painting itself, but when it is political, in what context.

An interesting aspect of the movements you cite as having aesthetic dimensions is that they were—and are, in the case of the Zapatistas—very clear themselves that art is central to the flourishing of individual-and-collective self-determination. I think that’s because they see art, as Castoriadis did, as linking the radical contents of the individual imagination to the collective imaginary. The Black Power Movement had its counterpart in the Black Arts Movement, the Zapatistas have their “seedbeds,” and I make a fairly strong claim in the book that Occupy emerged as much from the imaginations of artists as it did from organizers. So yes, there are moments when the distinctions between art and politics are no longer relevant or helpful and those are the transfiguring moments when a sort of general creativity (Marx would say a general intellect) comes to the fore. But on the way to those moments, how does art feed (as opposed to capture) struggle? There is a freedom in art that is potentially transformative, but not if, as Anthony Iles notes in his essay in your collection, that freedom is posed as compensation for a subjectivity canceled elsewhere.

Zapatistas Territory sign in Chiapas, Mexico. “You are in Zapatista rebel territory. Here the people rule and the government obeys.” License: CC BY-SA 4.0.

Each of the authors in The Commonist Horizon presents specific examples of commoning in their own context, and your definition of commoning is pretty expansive, encompassing not only the taking-back of privatized space for public use, but the creation of autonomous forms of living and organizing with the potential to scale up into solidarity economies. All of the case studies are compelling, but is there one in particular where circumstances and practices conspired to achieve the scale and impact you envision for commoning?

MT: Well, the book does not put forth a singular vision for commoning. In fact, not all of the participants find “commoning” to be a good word for what they do. But I think your question about scale touches on a vital question. Much of what is called commoning is pursued on very small scales and it is often involved in reproducing very small, sometimes even privileged, groups. One theme that emerges through the tensions in the book relates to the question of centralization that you addressed earlier. If self-governance is what we are interested in, how can islands of commons and commoners find ways to cooperate so that they have a chance of survival, or even become significant in the context of the scale of the capitalist organization of the economy and our everyday lives? One of the chapters is a three-way conversation about the small movement to build a solidarity economy in Hungary. In that conversation, Ágnes Gagyi argues that while the idea of the commons focuses on how a property or good is collectively owned and managed, the solidarity economy is “a movement to change everything.” It is more about expansion: how to “go against the value expansion that subordinates reproduction to capital extraction” and build alternative circuits. This requires scaling up.

I’m very interested in how affect and relationality play a role in solidarity, but at the same time I’m interested in how to scale anti-capitalist/non-capitalist organization if we are no longer talking about entities like the USSR or COMECON (especially since even they couldn’t resist the coercion of capitalism). Set against the backdrop of the experiments with state socialism in the region, we are presented with questions of how to develop scale without some of the characteristics of those socialist states (some would say without the state at all). I think (con)federative models and municipalist formations are quite interesting for this question, and they are kind of hovering, but not explicitly developed, in our book.

But there is another really interesting question to do with scale here, when we think about what is often described as a kind of “artistic research” (but is often done outside the framing of art) in many projects that concern commoning. The pursuit of commoning in the spatiotemporal context of an artwork or art practice can act as an experiment (or series of experiments) or pedagogy. But there is often a certain kind of triumphalism about what is achieved in these artworks and practices without much attention to how these relations and forms could be implemented in the everyday, where their success is affected by the scale of capital’s organization of our lives. I am inspired by a dialectical approach in which these experiments inform each other, but I tend to think the capture of such practices in or as “art” often limits this. There is a temporal aspect here that comes to light when we look at praxis as research and practice over time­—when we don’t get captured by project thinking.

One of the things that animates both of our political work as well as the texts we are discussing is the difference between institutions and instituting. You mention this in regard to Castoriadis, and it also shows up in our book during a discussion of Félix Guattari’s work. Could you speak to this dynamic of institutions and instituting as it relates to some of the examples you give in your book?

JS: This is an aspect of Castoriadis’s thought that I find very compelling. We are born into a society that is already instituted, he tells us, and unless that society is fully autonomous, the horizon of possibility seems to be given. In other words, its laws and forms already fixed. But in fact, the horizon of possibility is never fixed, since society is not just inherited but is also an ongoing creation. Because of this, new institutions are constantly forming—specific institutions within society and the institution of society as a whole. Castoriadis defines the word “institution” broadly, to include “norms, values, language, tools, procedures and methods of dealing with things and doing things.”3 Notably, he also looks upon the individual as an institution as well, both in general and in the particular type and form given to it, including differentiations such as gender. He doesn’t fool himself into thinking that we can just create an entirely new society out of nothing, but he does believe that through a process of radical questioning and creation we can always do something else with the materials we’re given, repurposing them. I think this is an important dimension of commoning and other forms of autonomous practice, the awareness (insistence even) that instituting is ongoing and not something that happens once and for all—the understanding that we are continually coming together in creative ways, though not under circumstances of our choosing. One of the things I found inspiring when looking through Castoriadis’s lens is that one suddenly finds a better understanding of all of the “alternative” institutions that popped up in huge numbers in the sixties and seventies—social centers, journals, artist-run spaces, radical bookstores, communes, communal houses, squats—as people became attuned to this power of making, which is the wellspring of radical democracy.

A number of authors in your collection are radical urbanists and the city is central to their understanding of solidarity economies. It seems to be the place where small-scale solidarity economies scale up into larger ones. The city is also a site for building dual power in these accounts, by which I mean there are possibilities for accessing state funding at a localized level of government without relinquishing autonomy. But commoning also has a connection to the land and to rurality. Could you talk about how the city and the country figure in these accounts, particularly for those coming out of Eastern Europe?

MT: The authors in this book all speak from their experiences of movement work in cities. But the subtitle, “Beyond Capitalist Urbanization,” not only acknowledges the relationship of cities to the countryside but also recognizes, along with thinkers like Murray Bookchin, that urbanization as a process transforms rural areas and life as well. In the book there are only small gestures toward the rural. The Solidarity Economy Center in Budapest, for example, operates mainly in the city but hopes to be able to develop its work in the countryside and with rural folks. We asked someone to write a text comparing the cooperative movement in Poland today with the one in the early twentieth century, but it didn’t work out. In conversations about this movement, I found it interesting to hear some people express more interest in how consumer cooperatives could serve “urban commoners” than in how they could serve the farmers providing the produce themselves. The countries of Eastern Europe were largely agricultural when they entered state socialism and were less so by the end. This is despite the fact that they relied heavily on agricultural production to subsidize the development of industry, both through sales and through provision by agricultural producers to their families and friends. You could say that the so-called “agrarian question” looms large in the cities of the region.

In the chapter written from NYC, a picture of the bioregion is invoked. In that vision, we can see community gardens around the city as well community-supported agriculture projects that bring folks in the city into relation with farmers in the region. This happens in a pretty ad-hoc manner and is mostly not “ideological” but rather “practical” work, yet people also have visions in mind. Perhaps the advantage to having centers dedicated to participating in solidarity economies is that they can do some of the work of connection. There is a lot of focus on the positive elements of small-scale production and “subsistence”-scale agricultural production in commons literature. It is quite a different approach to socialist projects that aped large-scale capitalist production. In other words, the urban focus of The Commonist Horizon is by no means an argument that the city is more conducive to commoning, although some authors elsewhere­—for example Henri Lefebvre, and David Harvey after him—have argued that the city is and has been especially ripe for revolution.

In addition to solidarity economies, we also gesture towards territory as a scale beyond discrete commons, looking to the Zapatistas in Chiapas as an example. In the last letter in your book you describe being startled to learn in 2019 from a Zapatista communiqué that they had scaled up their autonomous regions “from five original Centres of Autonomous Resistance and Rebellion to twelve.” You explain that the communiqué also emphasizes the necessity to, as you write “grow our autonomies within the context of an international network of rebellion and resistance.” So I guess what I think becomes visible in our book is both the variation in what we have proposed as commoning on different scales, and the question of the networking that allows them to relate and scale.

At the first meeting of the Anti-Ghetto Committee on February 2, 1989 in Miskolc, Hungary. János Ladányi, Dezső Szegedi, György Diósi, Mária Horváth, and Béla Osztojkán. Photo: László Bárdos Bódi.

But the project of autonomy, as you approach it, is not just concerned with questions around controlling space, territory, and resources. It is also about the collective subject. In the fourteenth letter, you explore the way hashtags such as #BLM and #MeToo activate both a singularity and a collectivity. I was particularly inspired by your discussion of the “body politic” as expressed through marchers invoking the last words and/or movements of men gunned down by police (Eric Garner: “I can’t breathe”; Mike Brown: “Hands up, Don’t Shoot”; taking a knee in reference to George Floyd’s murder). You point out that the term “emotion” was once used to refer to riots, and you connect this affective character of “body rhetoric” to occupations, blockades, and finally the commune. To me this points to other aspects of scale and spatiality as well. Can you talk about how you see the Black Lives Matter movement as an entirely new mode of institution even as it draws/builds on longstanding organizations?

JS: I was drawing there on Joshua Clover’s analysis of riots as the experience of surplus: “surplus danger, surplus information, surplus military gear, surplus emotion”­—that which cannot be contained by existing structures.4 He notes that the French word for riot, “émuete,” is in fact the same as for emotion. But his materialist analysis of the riot understands it as one element in a larger category he calls “circulation struggles,” which also includes the occupation, the blockade, and the commune, all of which throw a wrench into the smooth operations of capital. You could say that there’s a reticular formation at work in these kinds of political struggles and strategies, similar to the one you’ve identified in the process of creating solidarity economies. They scale up by scaling across.

Going back to the question of instituting versus instituted society, you bring out an important distinction that Castoriadis makes between specific institutions and what he calls a “new mode of instituting and a new relation of society and of individuals to the institution.”5 Black Lives Matter offered up a new mode of instituting, I would argue, through the hashtag linking individual and collective liberation, the use of new video and sharing technologies that called for a response, the imbrication of those technologies with bodies on the street, and also through a new deployment of affect, specifically the affect of mourning. What was understood as political, and what it means to engage politically, were transformed by this process, which circulated on an unprecedented scale the radical demand that Black lives be made to matter. Radical because if met, all of our institutions predicated on the opposite assumption—all of the institutions that make up racial capitalism—would have to change or disappear outright. Whether this radical demand has been or can be met is obviously an open question, but it has moved through society and culture in powerful ways.

Certainly, BLM was building on previous modes of protest, resistance, and organization, even going so far as to recreate the Freedom Rides of the Civil Rights Era to support uprisings in various cities. But more generally, it built on a Black radical tradition of approaching social and political organization as creative acts and self-organization as a basis for revolutionary solidarity. I think we have an enormous amount to learn from this. As Robin D. G. Kelley says, social movements generate new knowledge, new theories, and new questions. And as I mentioned before, I think it’s a mistake to try to subsume these new questions—such as how did BLM (the mode of instituting, not the organization) get so many people from so many different backgrounds to move while remaining wholly focused on the Black liberation struggle?—under the old paradigm of revolution grounded in the institution of the universal subject.

I think all of the chapters in The Commonist Horizon engage with housing in one form or another: what to do with state-owned housing stock or “social property” in the wake of state socialism; the creation of housing cooperatives; the commoning dimensions of the anti-eviction movement under Covid and the various anti-gentrification movements; the role of art and culture in the commodification of neighborhoods; the process of regeneration in former socialist nations, which smooths a path for capitalist investment. What do you think housing activists in the West can learn from those in Eastern Europe?

MT: I think there are a number of lessons. A positive aspect of state socialism was the high percentage of people who were housed. The right to housing was codified, although not always met. The chapter by Ana Vilenica deals with this in the Yugoslav case (focusing on Serbia). Looking at the longer history of racialized and gendered aspects of access to housing, she argues that there is nevertheless a lot to be learned from socialist Yugoslavia’s attempt to provide housing.

What’s interesting about the moment of so-called “transition” (from communism to capitalism) was that most of the governments were aware of how crucial access to housing was. Many privatization laws prioritized tenants in the sense that they were often given the first option to buy their current domiciles at below-market rates. While this ended up having a class character (people who had better apartments got to buy them, and those who had more income or were well connected were more likely to be able to gather the funds), it did result in very high homeownership numbers in the region as a whole, which persists today. But the former socialist states did not impose limits on speculation. Access to housing has become difficult and expensive for people who do not own, while there is growing pressure on owners who do not have the liquidity to pay bills and who end up in debt, which is ultimately the path to losing their homes.

So actually the lesson on housing from the postsocialist East is that the state can be a quite effective actor in housing provision and security, and it can be effective in determining a lack of those things.

We can learn a lot from some of the housing movements in the region. In Budapest, people who were part of a housing movement called The City Is for All now serve in one of the district-level city halls and are learning how difficult it is to work on that side of the curtain (especially with limited funds resulting not just from neoliberal austerity but also from the rightist government’s strategy to starve out progressive municipal governments). The Common Front for Housing in Romania is a very important movement that is dedicated to solidarity action and self-organization while doing research and developing a sophisticated analysis of the ways in which the transition to capitalist property values has been key to housing dispossession. And in Lviv, Ukraine, social-movement actors concerned with the housing crisis exacerbated by the war are trying to envision a postwar housing policy that takes this regional movement-based knowledge into account. Ana Vilenica’s chapter details some of the conditions and struggles around housing in Serbia, including the movement Roof Over Our Head. The internationalist news media network ELMO (Eastern European Left Media Outlet) curated a great series of articles on housing that can be read in eight languages.6

“I miss social housing,” “Me too.” Elisabeta bridge, Cluj, Romania. Source: Căși Sociale ACUM!

An important lesson from comrade groups in the region is that not everything that is good comes from the West (and not everything from the West is good!). Folks have been doing really important research on the history of social movements in the region that has the important effect of overcoming the idea that the region is backwards, a trope that became dominant (again) at the end of the Cold War. The dominant narrative, which Ana Vilenica calls the “transitional narrative,” is that state socialism was Eastern and backwards, and Western liberal capitalism is the only solution. But the movements Vilenica describes challenge that—not by rejecting lessons that may be learned from Western movements, but by excavating the histories of struggle at home and by paying attention to movements in other places. An example is the research that a housing cooperative group in Hungary did on co-ops in Uruguay. This kind of militant research has created a deeply nuanced picture of the many experiments under state socialism and the conditions out of which they emerged. As Ágnes Gagyi and Zsuzsi Posfai point out in the book, Eastern Europe has a lot more in common with the peripheries and semi-peripheries of the Global South than with Western Europe, in terms of the world capitalist system and its uneven development.

Your letter “Autonomy, Meet Autonomy: On Art, Gentrification and Refusal” links this topic of housing with a number of the things we’ve discussed above, regarding the autonomy of art, autonomous movements, institutions, and instituting. It also speaks interestingly to the struggles around “regeneration” in Vilnius, discussed by the Naujininkai Commons Collective in our closing chapter. Can you tell us a little about the struggles that took place in Boyle Heights in Los Angeles in 2016 and 2017? It’s a case that brings the questions and concerns in the two books together nicely.

JS: There was so much in your collection that stimulated my thinking around these issues and opened new perspectives on the housing question, especially those Eastern European histories I was unfamiliar with. And of course Anthony’s essay that I mentioned looks specifically at art and gentrification. In Letters I do a sort of case study of the Boyle Heights conflict, which was personal for me, as I knew people on both sides. Boyle Heights is a working-class Latinx neighborhood on the east side of Los Angeles—once a thriving industrial zone with many now-empty, huge warehouses and cold-storage units. In 2016, a slew of galleries began moving into those spaces, and the gentrification process that we’re all familiar with began to unspool. But I guess unfortunately for them, they had moved into a community where there had been very strong and effective autonomous organizing for many years by the residents—many of whom had lost their jobs in those facilities—to keep their rents affordable and their neighborhood livable. You had, for instance, the Comite Pro Paz, started by mothers in the community, as well as the Union de Vecinos, which had fought to prevent the demolition of the Pico-Aliso Housing Projects, and you had the artivist collective Ultra Red, among others.

So when the galleries moved in, these activists from the community pushed back. And in fact, as I talk about in the book, they eventually pushed all those galleries out, which is not how these things usually go. But the two spaces looked at closely in the letter were artist-run spaces. And I asked, could they have done things differently? Beginning with knowing the community they were moving into, and being aware of the gentrification processes that they might kickstart, how might they have created a different kind of institution or mode of instituting in that context? Boyle Heights was really a crucible for one of the main questions I’m asking, which is: What would it mean to position the autonomy of art and art institutions in alignment with, rather than in opposition to, autonomous politics? What would it mean to take seriously Castoriadis’s notion that art only exists by questioning meaning as it is each time established, and by creating other forms for it? What would it mean to extend that to the meaning and mutability of art institutions, the places where art is made, distributed, and received? Here again, autonomy is not about separation or non-relation, but about the capacity to transform.


Janes Sarbanes, Letters on the Autonomy Project (Punctum Books, 2022); The Commonist Horizon: Futures Beyond Capitalist Urbanization, ed. Mary N. Taylor and Noah Brehmer (Common Notions, 2023).


See .


Cornelius Castoriadis, “The Imaginary: Creation in the Socio-Historical Domain,” in World in Fragments: Writings on Politics, Society, Psychoanalysis, and the Imagination, ed. and trans. David Ames Curtis (Stanford University Press, 1997) 6.


Joshua Clover, Riot, Strike, Riot: The New Era of Uprisings (Verso, 2016), 1.


Cornelius Castoriadis, The Imaginary Institution of Society, trans. Kathleen Blamey (MIT Press, 1998), 363.


See .

The Commons, Autonomy, Eastern Europe, Art Activism
Return to Issue #136

Mary N. Taylor is a founding member of the LeftEast collective, and a member of Know Waste Lands Garden in Bushwick Brooklyn. She has taken part in struggles for housing in NYC. A former student and current employee of City University of New York, she strives toward its realization as a tuition-free and liberated university. The Commonist Horizon: Futures Beyond Capitalist Urbanization (Common Notions 2021), coedited with Noah Brehmer, is one embodiment of her ongoing militant research into the dialectic of internationalist solidarity and radically local movement.

Janet Sarbanes is the author of a book of essays, Letters on the Autonomy Project, and the short story collections Army of One and The Protester Has Been Released. An Andy Warhol Foundation art writer’s grant recipient, she has published art criticism and other critical writing in museum catalogs, anthologies, and journals. Her essay on Shaker aesthetics and utopian communalism received the Eugenio Battisti prize from the Society for Utopian Studies. She teaches in the MA in Aesthetics and Politics and the MFA Creative Writing programs at CalArts.


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