The current issue of Wdw Review has a special section edited by Orit Gat called "Future," wherein several writers consider whether there is still a need for futurist thinking today. The contribution by Evan Calder Williams is especially compelling. He suggests that imagining a freer future is less about envisioning sophisticated technology or alternative political arrangements, and more about envisioning how me might stop the wretched present from reproducing itself. Here's a snippet of Williams' piece:
These questions mark one of the fundamental doubts I have about future orientation and, more specifically, the way that a futural politics of the event—i.e., the marked encounter that would signify now, now we have made the step—too often excludes necessary attention toward at least two other directions. First, toward asking who and what constitutes the units of history that would signify and demarcate a future, as opposed to a continued present. And second, toward a full grasp of the hidden structures and networks of force that work on us as “individuals” and “in the mass,” that both let us go on and curse us to do so, though never all in the same way. Furio Jesi remarks that:
What really matters about the past is what we cannot remember. The rest, what memory conserves or retrieves, is mere sediment. A part of time has really become part, like a digested nutrient, of the living organism; it continues to be past, but it is only the true living past and it lives in the brain and the blood, ignored by memory.
To say that what cannot be remembered is what “really matters about the past” is also to say that it constitutes the restrictions and expanded infrastructure of the present, that it recedes from visibility not by vanishing or becoming an image, but instead by forming part of the essential conditions of what is. It marks both the naturalization of the past—the eventless process where sediment is compacted into ground—and its continual renewal in the present, like the ongoing reactivation through live work of past labor crystallized in productive materials. In this double move, what cannot be remembered annuls the variability of the future, reducing it to a slow drift of that “living past” that moves unnoticed among the brighter flares of imagination, whether insurrections or architectures.
In this sense, I have come to think that the question of the future should itself be reversed. Rather than taking our bearings for critique, in all its forms, from what could be, perhaps a more incisive angle comes from starting with another question: What cannot be? What blocks the future? What prevents it from being any more or less than that ceaseless iteration of the already lived, the cancelled horizon never promised to start? To “imagine the future,” as we are often enjoined to do from all fronts, would in this sense start exactly with the limits of that imagination, neither to castigate for being unable to adequately imagine “another world” nor to envision the proverbial Promethean leap beyond. It would start there, in the impasses of thinking, to detect in them the real forces and strictures to which they correspond. Because too often, future thinking oscillates between rigid poles of destruction or construction that have come to form the terrain of a largely inane opposition. The former is typically dismissive of what lacks the visible verve of what we think looks assuredly ruptural, tending to demand that things look militant, in accord with what has slowly condensed into that given image of militancy and all the blind spots that entails. The latter conversely insists that what does not dream rationally of global planning is either misguided “folk political” localism, as if one could not have an extremely clear understanding of the way that global flows necessarily route through the very particular, very local, and often eminently fragile, or that any focus on the negation of inherited structures is a romanticist dead-end that cannot think beyond its moments of jubilant chaos.
Image via WdW Review.