The Open Space of the Future – Liam Sprod

Aug 20th, 2012 | By | Category: Articles

From guest blogger and Zero Book author Liam Sprod

Slavoj Žižek’s new book The Year of Dreaming Dangerously[1] will be out this year and already the final chapter ‘Signs from the Future’ is available[2].  Here Žižek diagnoses the problem of Marx and twentieth century Marxism as being too futural and thus sliding into an apocalyptic anticipation of a final revelation or end that will actually at some point arrive, be it tomorrow, next year or next decade, but that is never now.  The counter position he proposes is a future that strives “to break the hold of the catastrophic “future” over up and thereby open up the space for something New “to come.””  This conclusion has certain parallels with those of my forthcoming Nuclear Futurism:  The work of art in the age of remainderless destruction.  The central concerns of my book are precisely the problems of futurity and the way they played out within philosophy, art and culture over the course of the twentieth century. Like Žižek, although via a different path, the conclusion that I come to is that instead of merely awaiting the future, it is necessary to “[revise] the new itself as a futural now, an event that opens up the future in its very happening.”[3]  I argue that this revision is necessary in order to break out of the end times in which the world currently finds itself.  It is only by rethinking the very nature of futurity itself that the neutralising idealism of utopian thought and the theologically tinged discourses of apocalypse and ends can be overcome.

The context of Žižek’s discussion on the future is that of the possibilities of emancipatory politics in the contemporary world.  In particular, the growing anger at the ongoing entrenchment of capitalist structures despite both the voices opposing them and also their repeated failures. What goes unsaid in the short excerpt available is that now more than ever the landscape of the world resembles that of the end of history theorised by Francis Fukuyama 23 years ago.  With the end of history Fukuyama condemned us to the interminable now of the passing, yet unchanging, days: tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.  This is the point where Nuclear Futurism starts: here and now in the terminal condition of the end of history, where the future remains neutered, stuck between the utopianism of tomorrow as tomorrow and an unchanging tomorrow as today. Against this triumphant totality of capitalism and failure of communism I present that other, undoubtedly apocalyptic, image of the future to emerge from the Cold War: the total remainderless destruction of nuclear war.

It is from the confrontation of these two images of the future that Nuclear Fururism aims to forge its new opening up of the future.  The path it follows out of this confrontation runs along the important distinction between the empirical and the essential conditions and possibilities for the future. This distinction recognises that on the one hand the future is about the actual political or cultural conditions of both the present and its continuation into the world to come; and on the other hand, that any discussion of the future must deal with metaphysical questions of temporality.  This metaphysical consideration reveals a certain complicity within modern philosophy between a temporality focused on the future and subjectivity, especially as it appears in its phenomenological guise. Configuring the question of the future in terms of the metaphysics of time and the aporias of subjectivity allows the problems of the future to escape the totality of self-defining discourses, such as those of the end of history, and reformulate the debate in new and fundamental terms without being trapped and confined by specific cultural or political details.

Working back into the contradictions of the temporality of the future also allows a reading back not only to politics, as Žižek is doing, but also to the conjoined discourses of art and technology that dominated the twentieth century.  Inversely, within the history of art, which mirrors the political in the utopianism of the avant-garde and the disappointment of the end of art in postmodern pastiche, there also lies the possibility of a way of thinking that is necessary to reinvigorate the future.  Thus, it is by tracing these paths that Nuclear Futurism develops its synthesis of the Italian futurists and the critique of phenomenology set out by Jacques Derrida in order to propose the new open space of the future.

The idea or language of “opening” the future that appears in both my and Žižek’s conclusions also contains a curious metaphysical twist, which is possibly the future of this debate itself.  If the modern era has been both politically and philosophically defined through the complicity of subjectivity and a temporality that is specifically one of the future, then what are the consequences if this futurity proves untenable and through its contradictions collapses into the spatial metaphor of “opening up”?  The potential conclusion to draw here would be that this metaphysical reversal, emphasising space over time, is connected to a move away from subjectivity and towards the object. It is this reconfiguration of the temporality of the future as an objective and spatial, but still futural now which provides the metaphysical possibilities for a movement beyond the terminal stasis and apocalyptic conditions of the contemporary world, be they aesthetic, political, technological or environmental.

978-1-78099-433-8, published 28th September 2012, $16.95/£9.99, paperback, 146pp

978-1-78099-434-5, $9.99/£6.99 ebook



Liam Sprod <> was born in England before the possibility of nuclear war prompted his parents to relocate to Hobart, Australia. He currently works as a philosopher, editor and writer, and collaborates with artist Linda Persson <> within the spaces between art and philosophy.

Author photo, from Zero Book website

His forthcoming book Nuclear Futurism:  The work of art in the age of remainderless destruction <> is published by Zero Books <> and will be released in September 2012.

[3] L. Sprod, Nuclear Futurism: The work of art in the age of remainderless destruction.  (Zero Books, 2012).  p. 118.

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