Declaration on the Notion of “The Future”
Admonitions and Exhortations for Cultural Agents of the Early-To-Mid-Twenty-First Century
TYPE: INS declaration
AUTHORIZED: First Committee, INS
AUTHORIZATION CODE: TMcC010910
The International Necronautical Society now entering its eleventh year, the First Committee has recently come under pressure to release, in keeping with the INS’s avant-garde demeanor, some kind of “statement” both assessing the organization’s achievements and prognosticating for its future. Both these impulses we reject.
As for the first: What would it mean to speak “of” the INS’s first ten years? To speak above them, overdub? The commentary might include an account of the distribution of the Founding Manifesto at London’s Articultural Fair of 1999; of swift uptake of the Manifesto’s propositions by the art world and its institutions; of a string of ever-more-ambitious projects—hearings, publications, radio broadcasting units running out of Moderna Museet Stockholm and the Institute of Contemporary Arts London (the “black boxes,” as they have become known); of Declarations hosted by Tate Britain and the Drawing Center in New York; of less-voluntary hostings of our propaganda channels by the BBC and other media outlets, whose websites we have intermittently co-opted; and, finally, of historicization—of inclusion as a study-object on the syllabi of art schools.
But what would be the good of such a commentary? To count the scratches one has made across a strip of film assumes that one can step outside the film and hang it up to dry, pegged by quotation marks. An error of scale and a conceptual failing, too: the film is everywhere, always, already—and our aim should be to render it all scratches.
Should we speak, then, of the future? This might appear a more avant-garde undertaking. Yet we reject it, too, even more vehemently. Why? Because the concepts, presumptions, and ideologies embedded in this overstuffed and lazy meme—“The Future”—are in need of an urgent and vigorous demolition. Such a demolition is the task this Declaration sets itself. Its contents should, like all INS propaganda, be repeated, modified, distorted, and disseminated as the reader sees fit.
1. The Future, culturally speaking, begins with a car crash. Or rather, an account of one: a disaster always already mediated, archived, and replayed. “We had stayed up all night, my friends and I,” shouts Marinetti from the front page of Le Figaro in February 1909. In a few paragraphs he’ll launch into a lyrical eulogy of arsenals and shipyards blazing with violent electric moons, of factories, trains, steamers, and aeroplane propellers cheering like enthusiastic crowds as they carry us forward; he’ll incite us to destroy the museums, libraries, and academies, and inform us that time and space died yesterday. But first, the car crash has to be narrated. After their frenzied nocturnal pacing and arguing and their manic and purposeful “scribbling,” the Futurists (as yet unnamed or unannounced: the future-Futurists) hear famished automobiles beckon from outside their windows, and throw themselves into the driving seats. Curling watchdogs under the burning tires of his, facing down death at every turn, Marinetti hurtles toward two cyclists wobbling in the road “like two equally convincing but nevertheless contradictory arguments”—that is, embodying the old cultural order and its foibles (reason, logic). Pulling up short, he veers, upturned, into a ditch, whose industrial sludge he laps up lovingly, since “it reminded me of the breast of my Sudanese nurse.”
2. To unpick the complexities of Marinetti’s document would take more space than we have here—indeed, it could take a lifetime. But let’s flag up three things: Firstly, that at the break of the “very first dawn,” the moment of rupture with all pasts, lies an almost Proustian moment of nostalgia. Beyond its racial and colonial overtones, the maid’s remembered breast serves as a sticky, black madeleine. Secondly (and following the Proust-line), that the “event” of Futurism, of futurity, is so tied up with its own writing as to form a matryoshka doll of almost infinite regress: the text narrates the night during which the text was written, both containing and interrupting one another. Thirdly (and following the line of interruption), that the roaring surge toward the future is arrested no sooner than it begins: Tomorrow’s avant-garde derails itself, and celebrates this derailment in the moment it announces itself, as though the derailment formed part of its raison d’être. The crash dramatizes the larger ontological impossibility of Marinetti’s claim: if time and space died yesterday, then where and what is the tomorrow into which we should be moving? The straight path, the highway leading to the future, disappears; what remains is an imploded mulch of pasts and presents, a quite literal entrenchment; even more literally, what remains, precedes, and entirely encloses the event (while simultaneously being partially enclosed by it) is a document, a text—the real black liquid in which Marinetti’s impetus embeds itself, ultimately, is ink—a text that bears within it a catastrophe.
3. Listen: the world is a sign of restless visibility, greater than six miles.
4. It is this organization’s strong contention that our current age—call it “modernity,” “late capitalism,” or the seventh phase of pre-thetan consciousness, according to your disposition—has to be understood through the lens of catastrophe. This is both necessary and impossible: how could we stand outside or beyond the catastrophe? Conversely, it is equally impossible to penetrate its core, experience it fully, merge with it. To phrase it in temporal terms: the time of the catastrophe is not easily graspable. As Blanchot so eloquently puts it in The Writing of the Disaster: “We are on the edge of disaster without being able to situate it in the future: it is rather always already past, and yet we are on the edge or under the threat, all formulations which would imply the future—that which is yet to come—if the disaster were not that which does not come, that which has put a stop to every arrival. To think the disaster (if this is possible, and it is not possible inasmuch as we suspect that the disaster is thought) is to have no longer any future in which to think it.”
5. The INS rejects the Enlightenment’s version of time: of time as progress, a line growing stronger and clearer as it runs from past to future. This version is tied into a narrative of transcendence: in the Hegelian system, of Aufhebung, in which thought and matter ascend to the realm of spirit as the projects of philosophy and art perfect themselves. Against this totalizing (we would say, totalitarian) idealist vision, we pit counter-Hegelians like Georges Bataille, who inverts this upward movement, miring spirit in the trough of base materialism. Or Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus, who, hearing the moronic poet Russel claim that “art has to reveal to us ideas, formless spiritual essences,” pictures Platonists crawling through Blake’s buttocks to eternity, and silently retorts: “Hold to the now, the here, through which all future plunges to the past.”
6. To phrase it in more directly political terms: the INS rejects the idea of the future, which is always the ultimate trump card of dominant socioeconomic narratives of progress. As our Chief Philosopher Simon Critchley has recently argued, the neoliberal versions of capitalism and democracy present themselves as an inevitability, a destiny to whom the future belongs. We resist this ideology of the future, in the name of the sheer radical potentiality of the past, and of the way the past can shape the creative impulses and imaginative landscape of the present. The future of thinking is its past, a thinking which turns its back on the future.
7. As Walter Benjamin correctly notes in “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” contemplating Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus—a floating figure who stares intently at something he’s moving away from—the angel of history faces backward. “Where we perceive a chain of events,” writes Benjamin, “he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet.” What we call progress, Benjamin calls “the storm.”
8. Listen: Babble of voices, 90.3 MHz, internal party dissonance. Several highs from the Atlantic to the Baltic. Ring tones in commercials and screaming hosts of the new generation.
9. Contemporary intellectual follies, part one: “post-humanism.” The desire, as expressed, for example, in the novels of Michel Houellebecq, to leave behind the fury and the mire of human veins, thereby achieving some imagined “freedom” or “autonomy.” This is not post-anything: it is merely Humanism 2.0. To rid the self of its contingency, its meshing in desire and networks of relationships, was humanism’s aspiration in the first place. It’s a reactionary aspiration, one that forecloses any type of genuine agency or ethics. As Levinas so convincingly argues, we are not, nor should we strive to be, discrete or disconnected. As he puts it: “We exist in a circuit of understanding with reality”; “We have one finger caught in the machine.”
10. Consider Beckett’s Krapp, lost in his tape archives: the spools, the reels, the indexes onto which he’s transferred his memories of former years; his fingers hovering over the play, pause, and rewind buttons. Technology’s not there to carry him beyond his old condition, but to return him to it with added intensity. Despite his counting of his birthdays, one after the other, time, for him, moves not forward but rather, like the tapes themselves, in a loop.
11. Consider the same author’s Winnie in Happy Days, buried to her waist in sand as she reenacts the same acts and gestures, day in, day out. By the second act, she’s buried to her neck. Like Krapp, or Marinetti in his ditch, her experience is one not of progress but of entrenchment.
12. Listen: Risperidone and Bupropion for new-onset depression with psychotic features, Filtering the voice of America. Withered into the air.
13. In 1725, as the Enlightenment was gathering its forces for an overall assault on human consciousness, the Italian thinker Giambattista Vico published The New Science, a text that would sit like a time bomb at the heart of the new ideology, exploding a century and a half later in the writings of Nietzsche, Spengler, Foucault, and the like. For Vico, history proceeds in cycles: first comes corso, or “flow,” then ricorso—an ambiguous term that has the double sense of “repetition” and of “retrial” or “appeal.” The point is that, historically speaking, we advance not onto new ground but over old ground in new ways: more consciously, with deeper, more nuanced understanding. In the defining moment of literary modernism, Finnegans Wake, Joyce will use Vico’s system as a trellis on which to grow his vision not only of social and international history but also of culture: both, he tells us in the novel’s opening sentence (which is also the conclusion of its incomplete final one), follow a “commodius vicus of recirculation.”
14. Loops, not lines: already for the early Freud, the time, or temporality, of trauma has the circular structure of a repetition cycle. By the end of his career, he’ll have extended this traumatic logic to encompass consciousness tout court: humans are rear-facing repetition-engines, borne back ceaselessly (as Fitzgerald more lyrically puts it) into the past.
15. Consciousness, as another of our heroes, William S. Burroughs, asserts, moves in a seven-second loop, creating temporary bursts of “now”-ness. Burroughs had a finger caught in the machine as well: he spent whole months experimenting with reel-to-reel cassettes, recording, splicing, and transcribing—an extension of the cut-up techniques he had developed in the old medium of print-on-paper. He believed, not entirely incorrectly, that since the reality we inhabit is so profoundly shaped by media organizations, and by the corporate and governmental bodies hand in hand with which these organizations operate, then to cut into and rearrange script-sequences of this reality would have the effect of short-circuiting it, blowing it up: a new catastrophe to counter the ongoing one of what Burroughs’s counterpart Debord would call “The Spectacle.” The task, for Burroughs or Debord, is not simply to suggest future plotlines for the master script, but rather to expose and subvert the Reality Studio itself. “Let it come down.”
16. In a series of carefully planned and executed media interventions hosted by institutions such as the ICA, the Moderna Museet, Hartware MedienKunstVerein Dortmund, and others that must remain anonymous, the INS has deployed Burroughs’s cut-up techniques to produce, by splicing together phrases harvested from newspapers, websites, meteorological reports, and other media sources, sequences that were then read over FM radio. These have been inserted at selected points throughout this Declaration. Burroughs believed that this process could give one glimpses of the future—this last term being understood as something not to come but rather already recorded on another point of the reel being worked over and savaged by the intervention.
17. Listen: Stockholm, within the umbra, 08:40–09:42. Brain injury to the right cerebral hemisphere, dark river-nymph, her name is Echo, and she always answers back, expressed in Terrestrial Dynamic Time. Tomorrow will be three minutes and fifty-seven seconds longer.
18. Contemporary intellectual follies, part two: neuroscience. Or rather, the glib wholesale transferral of the logic of neuroscience to the realm of culture. Another trump card in a narrative of progress that presents itself as absolute, “objective”: the belief that art and literature can be “explained” by a discourse that has no bearing on them whatsoever. As though the endless complexity of thought and interpretation demanded by Hamlet could be substituted by the act of taking a biopsy of Shakespeare’s brain, or the interminable challenges and provocations posed by Inland Empire neutralized by placing electrodes among Lynch’s strangely coiffured hair. Meaning takes place in the symbolic, is constantly negotiated through language (be this spoken or visual), through the dynamism of metaphor, structured by desire, power, gender, and the rest. This process is open, ongoing, and—most important—contestable. That’s why we have art in the first place.
19. Listen: Ovid 251 Fight the Chimera. Winds aloft extended decode. Seminole. Going once going twice.
20. Listen: between cities, countries, and continents, we are going to crash.
21. To loop back to where we started, to the ink-rich ditch we never left: the future ends where it begins—or ends before it begins, pre-ends in anticipation of its eternal recommencement, however you like to put it—with a car crash. Marinetti’s, Camus’s, James Dean’s, Jayne Mansfield’s, Princess Grace of Monaco’s, or Graceless and Dumb of Kensington’s, or the endless anonymous victims who populate the silk screens of Warhol’s repetition compulsion—the identities, ultimately, don’t differentiate themselves, any more than do the scraps of wreckage that pile up before the feet of Benjamin’s angel in the flow and reflow of the storm.
22. This is why, for us, the truest novel of recent modernity is Ballard’s Crash. At the book’s outset he makes two claims: firstly, that we are already surrounded by fictions (lifestyle models, fantasies, sexual roles and identities, all pumped at us, à la Debord/Burroughs, by the media); the writer’s task, he claims (and here we could extend “writer” to encompass artists of all sorts), “is to invent the reality.” This claim we find extremely compelling. The second, less so: Ballard asserts that the ultimate aim of Crash is to serve as a warning against “that brutal, erotic and overlit realm that beckons… from the margins of the technological landscape.” The assertion is unconvincing not simply because the mode throughout Crash, far from being one of warning or disgust, is one of lyric celebration (of dented faces lit by broken rainbows, delicate latticeworks of blood and engine fuel burning in wayside ditches), but also because the novel is obsessed not with any kind of future, dystopian or otherwise, but rather with archives. Vaughan, the central character, gathers research documents from road-research laboratories and reports from forensic journals and from stolen doctors’ logbooks. He collects films of test collisions, which he plays again and again and again. He follows crash victims around armed with a camera, collating albums full of photographs. He is, above all, a curator. “Ballard,” the narrator-character, sees in the dents in windshields records of the people who’ve crashed through or into them; after his accident he describes himself, using Krapp-like diction, as “an emotional cassette, taking my place with all those scenes of pain and violence that illuminated the margins of our lives—the television newsreels of wars and student riots, natural disasters and police brutality which we vaguely watched on the colour TV as we masturbated one another.”
23. And—here’s the genius of Crash—out of this landscape rises the event: the überaccident that fails to take place, that occurs precisely because it doesn’t happen. Vaughan’s ultimate goal is to die in a head-on collision with Elizabeth Taylor at the precise moment of orgasm. He spends months planning it, down to the last, minutest detail (working out at what time she’ll be passing such and such a spot, the approach angle his car must take toward hers, and so on). But, disastrously, he gets it wrong and misses her car by inches; subsequently, while Taylor stands alone, frozen in ambulance light, touching her gloved hand to her throat, he drowns in his own blood. Vaughan, who has been in thousands of car crashes, has met with his first accident.
24. This, perhaps, approaches what we’re trying to feel our way toward: the breach, the sudden, epiphanic emergence of the genuinely unplanned, the departure from the script. To put it in fashionable Badiouan, the Event. The INS believes in the Event—in the power of the event, and that of art, to carry that event within itself: bring it to pass, or hold it in abeyance, as potentiality. And, paradoxically, the best way that art can do this is by allowing itself to be distracted, gazing in the rear view mirror.
25. A footnote on Ballard: When, in 2006, a range of writers, scientists, artists, architects, and misc. were asked to contribute a sentence each to Hans Ulrich Obrist’s reader on the Future, J. G.’s cleaned the floor with all the rest. While they came up with sweeping, visionary statements on technology, society, the virtual, and every other futurological motif, Ballard confined himself to four words: “The Future is boring.”
26. Listen: Radio Essen, 102.2, from the Atlantic to the Ostsee. Mich aber umsummet die Bieen. Trumpets, Wupertaal. Reuters, down 48, IBM down .84, AT&T down .67. The bees hum around me, and where the plowman makes his furrows, birds sing against the light.
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