I recently came across a medical term called “mimetic labor,”which means a false start in pregnancy. Painful contractions begin, but the cervix does not dilate. Potentiality rises to a peak. The bubble seems about to burst into actuality. But it doesn’t happen. The contractions subside, and pregnancy continues. In English, labor means both the contractions of childbirth and reified work, so that there is a somewhat dodgy metaphorical link to what mimesis does and can do as a mode of actualization.

The late Soviet period produced a cultural fossil fuel that many people today want to actualize. Interestingly, the multiplicity of efforts in this direction articulates itself as a sequence of false starts, only projecting potential actualizations or threats of impending totality. But success or total change never comes, and the projection is abandoned in favour of another grander scheme. Each new ideological product has its own teleology. But it quickly becomes yet another addition to the encyclopaedia of fast moving consumer goods, thrown away too quickly to be used. Even projects that attempt to develop socialist strategies to engage the genuine emancipatory impulses of the Soviet past face this problem. Mimesis becomes a temporary magic, replaying all kinds of tragedies as an uncanny farce. Reality seems rife with a bad potentiality that cannot be represented, ready to burst at the seams precisely because meaning is being delayed. Reactionary times, we say, fraught with omens that interrupt the idyll. A little like the Biedermeier.

But isn’t there isn’t some other way of understanding the post-Soviet attempt at actualization? Maybe mimetic labor has a political potentiality of its own? One interesting aspect of mimesis can be found in translation. {josquote}Today, translation is a key medium for marketing the manifold potentialities of Soviet culture as new Russian elites go global. In the process of translation, Russian texts often need to be given what is called a “Evro-remont,” renovated, updated and reloaded into the matrix of global culture. {/josquote}Because all too literal translations actualize both the potential ideological contradictions of the source text itself, as well as the determinant limitations of the target language. As a ventriloquist or a mime, the translator is in constant danger of producing colonial caricatures. What makes his or her work productive is that he or she develops and deploys all kinds of mimetic strategies to make the contradictions just a little less obvious, pushing them back into the realm of potentiality.

This, interestingly, provides a brief insight into what mimetic labor can really be, when it is recaptured as mimesis, becoming something very much like the dialectical realism envisaged by the Marxist aestheticians of the 1930s. Many people are trying to actualize this legacy today, though it remains misunderstood. Dialectical realism is a reflexive structure whose potentiality one can understand by thinking of Velazquez’ subversive self-portrait with the Spanish royal family. Here, the optics of power are framed by a baroque melancholia, making the Spanish monarchy appear as a collection of inbred fools in the mirror of Velazquez’ painting.

Dialectical realism captures this cultural potential, politicizing the device of reflection itself. One can find a great textual example in Marx’ critique of the Young Hegelian mistranslation of Proudhon in “The Holy Family.” In this brilliant essay, Marx uses the reflexive structure of translation to unmask both ideologies. He actualizes all the potential misreadings in Proudhon by pointing at the Young Hegelian target language’s misinterpretations. But more significantly, Marx politicizes and internalizes both falsified ideologies, appropriating them and producing a potentiality that his own work was later to translate into the new mimetic method of dialectical materialism.

Would it be possible to reclaim such reflexive structures, applying them to problem of translation, for an example, or would this be yet another example of mimetic labor in the medical sense? For now, this question is a source of agony, especially because the conditions of immaterial production leave so little time to write long texts. This is why I must conclude at this point, having only sketched out no more than yet another new beginning.