Spatial figures of impasse appear when politics is in trouble, and preserve political expectation when its prospects are poor. They take their meaning from the assumption that the political order is synonymous with social reality—as though people could do nothing when political movement is blocked. Focusing on Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks and the critical reception of Hegel’s master-slave dialectic among other references, this essay argues that the model of impasse and breakthrough occludes politics’ narrowness as compared with other organizations of collective well-being. By seeming to preserve political potential, perceptions of impasse encourage people to accept political processes as the only social reality despite their violence, their limitation of reality, and their contempt for the agential resources of nonpolitical being.

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