Friday, May 18, 2007

Two conversations are unfolding simultaneously

The first on Eileen's BABEL manifesto, the second involving Karl's musings about dogs and love. Don't miss the comment threads to either, and please add your thoughts, since both get at the heart of what ITM has been about for the past year.

I'm observing from the sidelines, the victim of commencement obligations (I am already weary of shaking hands) and thirty annual report comment sheets due soon.


Anonymous said...

One of my favourite pre-modernists, Lisa Jardine, talks about the relationship between the past and the future (in a decidedly present-minded and political tone) here ('The Intellectual Ties that Bind'):

The perspective she takes is different, I think, from that taken by any of us here (so far).

Eileen Joy said...

I liked very much how Jardine concluded her essay [involving a trip she took to Caltech and certain reflections on Anglo-American intellectual relations within the context of the current political sterility and stasis occasioned by the Bush administration]:

"As I wandered the campus at Caltech, and as I talked to faculty and students, the culture of serious reflection on the big issues in science and in human values filled me with a sense that together they and we could achieve a great deal for the future of the human race. As my plane touched down back at Heathrow on Wednesday, it struck me forcibly that we must hold on to that strong sense I had at Caltech of future purpose and possibility. We must not squander science's dream of an increasingly open world of discovery and opportunity."

I note the term "human values," but do not know exactly, since there is no information in article to guide me, what those are for the students and teachers at Caltech, but in any sense, I was wondering, Sarah, in what way, more specifically, do you think the perspective Jardine takes here on the relationship between the past and future is "different . . . from that taken by any of us here (so far)"?

Anonymous said...

This was a broadcast talk - I only really caught the last paragraph - the one you cite - and thought it could have come straight from ITM. But when I went and read the whole thing (which is unlike ITM is intended for a general audience) and I was struck by its sense of history (time, and place in time) and the contemporary urgency (political relevance) of thinking about the future.

Why is remembering the importance of the past to the future so urgent NOW?

Eileen Joy said...

GREAT question, which I shall now mull.

Karl Steel said...

From Enjoy Your Symptom!

capitalism is characterized "by a structural asymetry between synchrony and diachrony: it can establish itself as a synchronous totality only by effacing the traces of its traumatic diachronous past." (152)

Nicola Masciandaro said...

Because NOW is the only opportunity to remember the importance of the past to the future?

Anonymous said...


Dear K, your lacanic intervention is too traumatic for me to respond with dead certainty, right now. Maybe in the


Eileen Joy said...

The best way for me to answer srj's question,

"Why is remembering the importance of the past to the future so urgent NOW?",

would be to keep referring back to Zizek's commentary on the DVD version of "Children of Men" [a film, I'm finding out, my students hate--got into a terrific/fun argument about that with one of my students yesterday--oh well], where he talks about the danger of a present that is drained of historical meaning, a present, as he puts it, as "a society of pure meaningless historical experience." The past, of course, always *inheres* in the present, regardless of whether you are paying attention to it or not [one example from science: DNA/biological determinism], but it's more a matter of how the past gets "seen" or "re-cognized" as a kind of horizon [which you may place behind, beside, or in front of you] against/alongside which a "better" as opposed to a "worse" future-becoming can emerge. It's not that the past determines with any kind of precision what the future will look like [i.e. if we know where we've been then we can know where we're going--WRONG!], but it is more that a better cognizance of the past, articulated in more knowing forms of historiography, and even more knowing historical representations [in the form of art], allows us to see missed opportunities, areas for redress of past harm, delayed actions, etc. The future then, is not what *will* happen [predetermined by past + present actions supposedly cemented together], but rather, following the thought of Michael Uebel, will be the result, if we pay the right kinds of attention to the past, of what we would have been if we had known.

Whew. I don't even know if that makes sense. But for now, it's all I can muster as I myself continue to struggle with this question.

Eileen Joy said...

Oh, and as to why it's so important NOW?

Items: The Bush White House, Cisco Corporation, the Dow Chemical Company, Monsanto Corporation, the Human Genome Project, transnational capital, religious wars, the general stupidity of everyone, etc.

Anonymous said...

I think our interest in Future(s) has something to do with a contemporary distrust of utopian thought (and all utopias are about imposing a sense of the past on the future?)- which in turn is born out of a compromised relationship to history - and the latter is part theoretical (lacan etc), part modern experience of tyrannical uses of the past, part a marketised consumption of personal pasts and part the decline of relgion (among some people). I am way too tired today to be writng this post now - or making any sense about much at all - but vol 47/1 of the journal culture theory and critique is a special issue on intellectual HISTORY - which looks possibly relevant (for historians). Me I am forging on with more footnotes, more marking and so on and so forth.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

I'm not much into crisis modes of explanation -- whenever anyone tells me we are experiencing the "Crisis of X!" I start cataloging the evidence to the contrary. That said, though, I do feel that we live in a time that wonders how time will continue. We -- or, at least, many of us -- don't have the certainty of redemption and empyrean bliss after the Apocalypse; we're not even sure what shape that apocalypse will take. But the present seems so unsettled -- and so intent on bequeathing to the near-term future a turbulent legacy -- that it is hard to think too far ahead. So why the past for the future NOW? Because the past -- rightly or not -- seems something we can know. Unlike the future, it has an evident archive. Perhaps the turn to the past now is in some ways an attempt to feel more control of our future that seems uncertain and not ours.

Anonymous said...

jjc thank you - and eileen for all that. I will go an ponder. Feeling more refreshed after a good chicken dinner - I will persuade myson to rent Children of Men.

sorry I forgot to sign my previous anon post.


Eileen Joy said...

I agree with you, JJC, about not wanting to speak in crisis mode, because at the end of the day, no one wants to be Chicken Little or the guy who predicted the Y2K catastrophe that wasn't. But I do think we live in a time when the law of diminishing returns regarding the supposed endurance of the human race is looming over us a bit more than it did historically, say, round about the year 1000 C.E., or even during World War II, when things looked dire, indeed. For me, it's less about global warming and the threat of viral pandemics and nuclear terrorism and more about the fluid and liquid power of transnational capital and of a "free" market seemingly able to consume everything--every idea, every desire, every human will, even history and the past--in its wake. It's about the corporate mentality that has settled into every aspect of our professional and personal lives that I worry about the most and which I think is "catastrophic."