HOW TO ACT ACCORDING TO THE FUTURE IN THE 21st CENTURY?
Capitalist accumulation today is premised on the management of the future through a variety of techniques. From the pricing and trading of future risks and uncertainty on derivatives markets to the mobilization of hype and fear across the capitalist spectrum of future earnings and capital gains, the manipulation of the future is crucial for constructing capitalism in the present. Yet, as the developing hype for possible futures feeds back into the system of prediction, these multiple commitments literally banking on the future in the present shape what that future will in fact be.
Such future-predicated constructions in the present implicitly inform art and cultural production but often fail to be explicitly registered by them. Moreover, the future as real condition for practice has either been denigrated by current theoretical alternatives to neoliberalism or, on the other hand, is fetishized as an irrational contingency. Typical in this regard are claims that “we have to resist the idea and ideology of the future, which is always the ultimate trump card of capitalist narratives of progress” (Simon Critchley). The fetishism of the absolute contingency of the future is most starkly espoused by Quentin Meillassoux’s argument that, because everything “could actually change for no reason, … the laws of nature could change … for no cause or reason whatsoever,” prohibiting then not only any sense of “narratives of progress” but also requiring that politics and justice are occasioned only by way of an utterly unpredictable “event” positioned beyond rational or collective fabrication.
While one might then turn to art to take full advantage of its capacity to imagine futures and forge relations to them in any way whatsoever, art in its contemporary incarnation no less clearly rejects a demonstration of this capacity through its lack of determination and orientation toward any future whatsoever. Valuing the manifestation of privatized experience, contemporary art proliferates differences without any common standard of judgement, leading only to the numbing enumeration of its own domain. Contemporary art now does not transform the concept of risk but exemplifies capitalism’s management of the future to the letter, outsourcing whatever risk it generates to monetary and reputational markets. The cultural commonality of an artwork, whose import to the future is unknown, is reduced to its quantifiable hype in the present market. As Reza Negarestani put it, contemporary art is “not a site of construction.”
It is now clear to us that rejecting the perspective of the future prohibits creating an alternative to capitalism. It abandons the future to capitalists willing to risk the present to extend or alter its logic. Not risking anything is still the risk of doing nothing. Equally, accepting the absolute contingency of the future requires abandoning planning.
Contrary to all this, building new forms of economic, political, and cultural alternatives to global neoliberalism requires a new, revised understanding of future that is not isomorphic to its capitalist conception. Taking up strategies in economics, theory, philosophy, and art, Fixing the Future looks to provide these useful alternatives for thinking the future again, and to do so as an imperative.
If the broad concern of Fixing the Future will be how political and economic transformations of society as a whole can now be credibly conceived and organized, its particular issue will be how this reimagining and practico-theoretic repurposing can be culturally instantiated. With regard to art: can its redetermination away from contemporary art enable art to become a productive way for making the future again rather than just another vehicle for capitalist speculation?