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The slow cancellation of the future- Mark Fisher via Bifo


The 'jumbling up of time', the montaging of earlier eras, has ceased to be worthy of comment; it is now so prevalent that it is no longer even noticed.

After the Second World War there was a bourgeois mythology of a linear development of welfare and technology, of the all-encompassing power of scientific knowledge.

The sheer persistence of recognisable forms is evident in popular music culture.Music barely changes now, and recycles the old- as opposed to the radical shifts between eras and genres from the 50s until the 90s. In the 20th Century it felt as though newness was infinitely available- but the 21st Century is oppressed by a crushing sense of finitude and exhaustion. We remain trapped in the 20th Century.

The slow cancellation of the future has been accompanied by a deflation of expectations. There is a feeling of belatedness, of living after the gold rush.

Neoliberalism and capitalism's restructuring transformed the way work and leisure were organised. In the last 10-15 years however the internet and mobile technology have altered the texture of everyday experience beyond recognition. Perhaps because of this, we have lost the ability to grasp and articulate the present- or perhaps there is no present to grasp any more.

Records and music videos have a 'retro' sound and look- and yet the artists are not positioned as such. Culture exists now in an unplaceable eternal past.

Could it be that neoliberal capitalism's destruction of solidarity and security brought about a compensatory hungering for the well-established and the familiar? Is it, as Paul Virilio writes, an effect of and counterweight to the massive speeding up of communication? Or, as Berardi has argued, the intensity and precariousness of late capitalist work culture leaves people in a state where they are simultaneously exhausted and overstimulated. Short of time, energy and attention we demand quick fixes- such as retro. In addition, neoliberalist capitalism has gradually but systematically deprived artists of the resources necessary to produce the new. In the postwar UK, higher education maintenance grants were a source of funding for many cultural experiments between the 60s to the 80s. There is now a pressure to produce something immediately successful- which often looks like replicating the already successful. The amount of time and energy for cultural production has massively diminished. Everyday life has sped up but culture has slowed down. Music is locked into pastiche and repetition- but the old forms of consumption, retail and distribution are disintegrating.

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Not only has the future not arrived, it no longer seems possible. Melancholia vs mourning (Freud): mourning is the slow, painful withdrawal of libido from the lost object, whereas in melancholia libido remains attached to what has disappeared. For mourning to properly begin (Derrida, Specters of Marx), the dead must be conjured away. Capitalist societies can always heave a sigh of relief that communism is finished, but it did not take place, it was only a ghost. A ghost never dies, it comes back to haunt. Haunting can be construed as a failed mourning. The spectre will never let us settle into/for the mediocre satisfactions one can glean in a world governed by capitalist realism (the inability to imagine another system than capitalism.) In Wendy Brown's 'Resisting Left Melancholy' she states that the Left has become attached to its own impossibility than to its own fruitfulness. It dwells in its own marginality and failure, caught in melancholic attachment to a certain strain of its own dead past, whose structure of desire is backward looking and punishing. Melancholia here is not giving up on desire- but in a refusal to yield or adjust to reality- even if the cost of refusal is feeling like an outcast in your own time.



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