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No Future

By Harriet Staff

The International Necronautical society “comprises an amorphous and often occluded network of writers, artists, philosophers, and others.” It was founded by novelist Tom McCarthy and boasts Simon Critchley as it’s “Chief Philosopher.” In the new issue of The Believer, the society has published a manifesto on the subject of “the future.” Instead of being merely a philosophical rumination on the subject, the manifesto functions both as a correction and a call-to-arms. The INS is arguing that certain “avant-gardist” notions of the future presuppose a status-quo understanding of progress, and so the idea of the future must be rejected all together, along with the idea of progress and prophecy:

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.

Instead, the INS wants to re-orient the concept of temporality around repetition, loops, and untimeliness. This is a curious and provocative move, which negates not the idea of an avant-garde, but the idea of an avant-garde directed toward futurity. In other words, those writers and artists who theorize their work in terms of an “advance” on previous work are precisely wrong. Rather than thinking in terms of “advances,” the INS proposes thinking in terms of what returns:

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.

The key point here is that this is NOT an argument for a return to traditional forms or accessible art. Instead, it is an argument for creating and recognizing the new (the “event” is the philosophical term used in the manifesto) as it is produced within repetitive structures – that which seems to come out of nowhere is not an “advance” of the past, but a remainder of it. The forms this remainder will take are not the familiar or traditional forms that we recognize in the present, but, paradoxically, those forms appear unfamiliar, unrecognizable, and uncanny.


Posted in Poetry News on Monday, December 6th, 2010 by Harriet Staff.