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The Ghost of Futures Past


The culture of the present is haunted by the lost potential of possible futures that never came to be. Mark Fisher has a name for this tendency, in which contemporary culture bears the mournful traces of past futures; he calls it hauntology. If we are to escape our haunted present we must establish a new relationship with the future. But that will also require a new relationship with the past. We can’t simply dismiss as mistaken those people who lived their present motivated by ideas of a future that failed to appear. We can’t just say they lived mistaken lives. The future is not the present, even if some in the mid 1990s thought it was. All potential timelines keep flowing into the future and yet the future never fills up.

What excited us about our interview with Zizek Stardust was the way in which her experience of the force of the future had caused her to reinterpret the history of pop culture. She is in many ways a hyperstitional pop star – but hyperstition is usually thought of as the action upon the present by ideas of the future.

As Nick Srnicek and Alex Wiliams explain in the new book, Inventing the Future: “Hyperstitions operate by catalysing dispersed sentiment into a historical force that brings the future in to existence. They have the temporary force of “will have been”. Hyperstitions of progress form orienting narratives with which to navigate forward, rather than being an established or necessary property of the world.”

Yet Zizek Stardust showed that the action upon the present of ideas about the future can also work further back and reorder the past. All great artists create their own antecedents, as the legend goes.

A couple of weeks ago we released our research into the 80s futurist Oi band Red Plenty. As we followed its reception on social media we could see the timelines alter before our eyes. Our rediscovery led others to unearth bands and songs with similar sentiments from the same time. The musical movement Sally Perry had hoped for in her review of Red Plenty’s only E.P. seemed to suddenly gather pace a full thirty five years after it originally failed to take off.

The best among the unearthed bunch was this song by Bow Wow Wow. Of course we detect the influence of Malcolm Mclaren and through him a version of Situationism’s technologically informed allergy to work.

There is, we believe, some lesson in all this. Firstly, hyperstition can alter not just the present and the future but also the past.

Secondly, never throw out your old, unhip records. You never know when the future will act upon the present and change your attitude to your disavowed past.

This Friday, at Bradford’s legendary 1in12 club, Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek are launching their book, mentioned above. Following discussion of their ideas on inventing the future, we will present a very special gig. In response to our research Zizek Stardust, and her band F.A.L.C.O., will play cover versions of Red Plenty’s classic E.P. Right Not to Work. Some events truly deserve to be called historic. Don’t miss it or you’ll end up having to pretend you were there.

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Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things.