The French philosopher and art historian Georges Didi-Huberman coined the term “disimagination machine” in order to describe the ruthless manipulation and obfuscation of art, evidence, and images by regimes wishing to oppress the public’s views, as well as experiences, of the past. The atrocities committed by the Nazis represent, for Didi-Huberman, the ultimate example of how the “disimagination machine” has been used in an attempt to alter and erase an entire culture from view.
In his new book, The Violence of Organized Forgetting: Thinking Beyond America’s Disimagination Machine, scholar and cultural critic Henry Giroux, a founding theorist of critical pedagogy in the United States, believes that this term could easily be applied to the current state of American cultural and political affairs.
“We live in a time of deep foreboding, one that haunts any discourse about justice, democracy and the future. The ‘disimagination machine’ is both a set of cultural apparatuses extending from schools and mainstream media to the new sites of screen culture, and a public pedagogy that functions primarily to undermine the ability of individuals to think critically, imagine the unimaginable, and engage in thoughtful and critical dialogue: put simply, to become critically informed citizens of the world.”
Working in the intellectual traditions of Hannah Arendt and Noam Chomsky, Giroux argues that the United States has become a society almost entirely disengaged from the political and cultural activism in which it was founded. Rather, America now views public intellectual discourse and critical thought with suspicion, even disdain, while actively encouraging forms of historical and moral amnesia. The banalities of celebrity culture are now our primary concern and the voices of anti-intellectuals, such as the politicians Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum and the pundits Bill O’Reilly and Anne Coulter, are now the most prominent of all. It is evidence of a “disturbing assault on critical thinking, if not rationale thought itself,” says Giroux. “Under a neoliberal regime, the language of authority, power and command is divorced from ethics, social responsibility, critical analysis and social costs.”