Experiments In Imagining Otherwise
“This book is written in the space of potential… It is intelligent, brave and challenging.”
Described as ‘a book of failure and mistakes’, Lola Olufemi’s second book, published by Hajar Press, encourages its reader to ‘imagine otherwise’. What is ‘otherwise’? It’s everything that this world is not: hope and possibility, all the detangling of the assumptions and authorities and awfulness we live in. Olufemi splices imaginative stories with poetry, with reflections, with lists of detention centres.
This isn’t an easy book. But why on earth should it be? What about the imagination should be easy? What in this world is? Instead, it is intelligent, brave and challenging. The reader is actively invited into the conversation. Of course we are. Imagining otherwise is a collaboration, as we are repeatedly reminded: ‘Fuck genius. Or anything other than what we make with many hands’; ‘there are no singular sparks to mass events – that was just the way they retold history in order to divide it into relevant sections’.
In ‘Red’, an exceptional story about revolt and chaos (shortlisted for the 2020 Wasafiri New Writing Prize for Fiction), we are told that ‘revolution is not a one-time event, it is always already happening; the question is, are you ready for it?’ It is always already happening. Stop waiting for the clear dividing line between now and then, the structure of the book tells its reader. The future is here, we are making the future now, reaching towards something. Can you dare to picture it?
Themes recur. Love, especially. Where is the place of love in revolution? As one character in these refracted pieces thinks ‘a political framework without revolutionary love was just another empty structure’. Olufemi writes elsewhere that ‘to stop recrudescence in its tracks, we will need more than just bread and roses and the anti-racist history of the party. maybe we will need the kind of love unconnected to muscles in the chest. maybe we already know what to do’. That maybe is important. This book is written in the space of potential.
It is introduced to us with an acknowledgement of the amount of needless deaths we have witnessed over the past two years. ‘I don’t believe writing has the power to do anything grand enough to help us. I would just like a space to set down my despair. (This is not a book about despair.)’ On the contrary, it is so hopeful – it strikes me as so brave, to look squarely at atrocity and say maybe we already know what to do. The narrator of one story says of its revolutionaries: ‘do not get me wrong – they failed and failed and failed, but failure did not mark the path of eventuality.’ Elsewhere, Olufemi writes: ‘we are going to lose / of course. our political project is not a finishing line to be crossed every other decade.’
This book asks: isn’t it terrifying to step blindly into a future with no map, where you have torn everything down? (‘This was not a new beginning. It was an opening brought about by demolition.’) And isn’t it exhilarating?
Words: Alice Wickenden