Im/possible futures and the logic of the void

In a lecture in 2016, the historian Yuval Noah Harari commented that talking about the future is not about prophecies, because in this case, it wouldn't matter if it becomes true or not, because we can’t do anything about it. Rather, he thinks that it is much more interesting “to write about different possibilities, and if you don’t like some of these possibilities, then [you should] do something about it…[in order] to prevent the worst possibilities from being realized.”[i] According to Harari, justice is made when we shift the perspective, instead of asking ‘why are we here?’ or searching for meanings for our existence, we should be trying to understand ‘how are we here’ and how do we want to continue being here.

How far away is the future? It is rather interesting to use a spatial measure to resemble a (traditionally understood as) timely question. How far away is the future? How many kilometers? Could someone be ‘there’ already while I am still 'here'? To dive into the journey, I will invite the reader to get as confused as I am during this research, while troubling the indeterminant dynamics of time, space, and matter.  Through the (challenging) lenses of the quantum physicist and philosopher Karen Barad, in the following lines, I will raise a sense of responsibility towards a non-neutral discourse of Extinction. I will draw on a decolonial approach of the future and a re-understanding of the set of im/possibilities of the void and its hauntological virtualities.

Approaching the future as fixed and inevitable can be misleading. Hancock and Bezold in their article “Possible futures, preferable futures” (1994) argue that such a way of thinking inevitably results in apathy and feeling of impotence and lack of control.[ii] They suggest four ways to think about the future: The possible future (what may happen), the plausible future (what could happen), the probable future (what will likely happen), and the preferable future (what we want to have happened). The perspectives they suggested offer the control and the responsibility one might have within societies, individually and collectively.[iii]

In the book “Ghosts of my life: writings on depression, hauntology and lost futures”, Mark Fisher presents us with a dilemma: “There’s no time here, not any more”. What calls my attention is not the idea of a time that might not exist, but rather it doesn’t exist ‘any more’. When referring to ‘time’ Fisher borrows a definition from Franco `Bifo` Berardi on which time is not directional, but rather a ‘psychological perception’ emerged in the cultural situation of modern civilization. Hence, it is shaped by different social-economic-political systems.[iv]

Fisher is concerned about a present that hasn’t started yet. He states that “[w]e remain trapped in the 20th century due to finitude and exhaustion of the new.”[v] In his view, culture lost the ability to articulate the present, or even further, there is not even a present to be articulated.[vi] At first, he dissociates time and space, so, there is no time ‘here’, secondly, he claims for a discontinuity once time is ‘not any more’.

Either in 1994 when Hancock and Bezold are elaborating on individual and collective responsibilities to create the future, or in 2014 when Mark Fisher places time as a perception of social-economic-political systems, what is put into question is not only the notion of temporality, but rather, the entanglements of past present future, as well as the relation between the micro and macro (individual-collective, human-environment), time and space, time and being, and politics and ethics. Hence, I will bring together different perspectives of approaching the future, to trouble its linearity, to shake it into its (multiple) political potentials. First, let’s understand what is there to be troubled.

“Troubling time/s and ecologies of nothingness: re-turning, re-membering, and facing the incalculable,” and “After the end of the world: Entangled nuclear colonialism, matters of force, and the material force of justice” are two important papers where Karen Barad brings into account the political potential of troubling the traditional understand of time, space, and matter. In order to do that, she suggests a shift of the traditional understanding of the void.

In Newtonian physics, nature stands by two elements, atoms and the void. Void is mere nothingness, and matter is immutable and can be mapped in space and time. In this traditional view, space and time are seen as an absolute state and, as Barad points out, its “universal fixed homogeneous coordinates that have their existence independently of all matter, and of each other.”[vii] Nevertheless, according to Quantum Field Theory, matter is understood in its in/determinate dynamics of the nothingness of the void, as Barad argues “nothingness…is a flush with the dynamism of the in/determinacy of time-being, the play of the non/presence of non/existence”[viii]

By placing together ‘time being’, Barad claims a multiplicity of histories and the situatedness of time itself.[ix]  She troubles the unilinear nature of time - the fact that only one moment exists at a time[x] - by acknowledging different contexts and political-onto epistemological-ethical implications, highlighting the consequences of the logic in which ‘void’ stands for ‘empty’ or ‘nothingness’, which in her words, is a “way of offering justification for claims of ownership in the “discovery” of “virgin” territory – the particular notion that “untended,” “uncultivated,” “uncivilized” spaces are empty rather than plentiful, has been a well-worn tool used in the service of colonialism, racism, capitalism, militarism, imperialism, nationalism, and scientism.”[xi]

Barad argues that there is a false sense of globalism which imposes a homogeneity of times and spaces ignoring the uneven distribution of nuclear power and climate crisis’ resources and precarity. For her, this phenomenon diversifies the question of responsibility and it distracts attention from the ongoingness realities of war.[xii] She problematizes Western civilization when linking history with time, opposed to some indigenous cultures that link history with space.[xiii] For her, the former format is a direct link to progress as a threat to the future biology of the planet, as in the time of capitalism, colonialism, and militarism.

 

 

[i] (Harari, Recorded lecture on the Royal Institution YouTube Channel, entitled 'The future of Humanity, with Yuval Noah Harari', 2016)

 

[ii] (Hancock & Bezold, 1994)

 

[iii] (Ibid., 1994)

[iv] (Fisher, 2014, p. 13)

[v] (Ibid., p. 13)

[vi] (Ibid., pp. 14-16)

[vii] (Barad, After the end of the world: Entangled nuclear colonialism, matters of force, and the material force of justice, 2020, pp. 90-91)

[viii] (Ibid., p. 91)

[ix] (Barad, Troubling Time/s and Ecologies of Nothingness: Re-turning, Re-membering, and Facing the Incalculable, 2017, pp. 60-62)

[x] (Ibid., p. 57)

[xi] (Barad, After the end of the world: Entangled nuclear colonialism, matters of force, and the material force of justice, 2020, p. 92)

[xii] (Barad, Troubling Time/s and Ecologies of Nothingness: Re-turning, Re-membering, and Facing the Incalculable, 2017, p. 58)

[xiii] Barad refers here to Daniel R. Wildcat.  (Ibid., p. 60)

 

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