Back to the Future of Futurism

the international necronautical society’s 2010 declaration on the notion of “the future.”

The future is boring. — J.G. Ballard

The International Necronautical Society’s Official Document from the 2010 Art Issue of The Believer magazine is a polemic against futurism in the name of futurism. As befits the shadowy leader of the INS, subcomandante-novelist Tom McCarthy, whose latest work of avant-garde fiction took the unlikely form of a historical novel, the manifesto argues for engaged looping through the past in pursuit of the Event, a breach in forward time.

Taking as its heroes Beckett’s Krapp, William S. Burroughs, and J.G. Ballard’s archivally-minded protagonist “Ballard” in Crash, the INS communique bemoans various trendy, new-wave intellectual movements. The so-called post-humanism of Michel Houellebecq novels gets dismissed as merely Humanism 2.0, drawing on age-old humanistic urges to achieve purity by abandoning the human. Neuroscience receives a similar lashing for its effort to explain away, in some pseudo-objective way, the continually-contested nature of cultural meaning and power. But the INS sometimes gets hoisted on its own antenna, even as it spins its radio dial across the frequencies of a powerful wreckage of voices on the air and inside the mind, interrupting the exposition of its manifesto narrative with a splattered cacophony of ear-open recordings, capturings, and preservations of randomness.

On the one hand, the INS longs for messy impurity, for collision and catastrophe, for entropy and disorder and chaos. It wants to blow the wires and walls away from Burroughs’s Reality Studio to let in the Real, whatever that may be, pure or impure, utopian or disastrous. On the other hand, like so much avant-garde art before it, there is a longing, a desire, a dream in the INS to shock life into art. The document wishes to evicerate the frustratingly mundane mediation between life, other people, institutions and the imagination, the self, and the unrestricted. It doesn’t want to blow away the Reality Studio so much as implode it from within, so that there would be no more distinctions between the imagined and the actual, art and life, the future and the present, death and life.

Paul Klee: Angelus Novus, 1920.

And it wants to do so, oddly, by embracing the purity of impurity, the messiness of the past, the endless loop of memory—all in service of the future. Rather than wipe the slate of history clean, as so many prior avant-garde manifestos advocate, INS urges us to hurl catastrophe upon catastrophe upon the magnetic tape of time, on which, like a reel-to-reel palimpest, we might suddenly decipher the way forward in layers of scrubbed-over scrawlings and mutterings. Toward this end, INS borrows Walter Benjamin’s famous image from his “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” but unlike the famous Angelus Novus of Paul Klee that Benjamin imagined borne back on a storm, facing the past as a jumbled heap rather than a chain of events, INS’s angel is supposed to play God, divining the future by diving into the piles of time. Here, futurism is still futurism, even when it seeks refuge—or even revolution—in the past, even when it tries to loop back in order to line forward. In other words, INS really doesn’t make progress in dismantling progress. We’re still chained to a “notion of ‘the future’.” This one just has a way of ensnaring us the more we turn our backs on it.

Therefore, as a historian who never belonged to INS in the first place, I hereby announce my resignation from the Society. Then I will rejoin it again, one with its rank and file.


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