Things, politics, and the future: Propositions for an American new
Robertson, Benjamin John
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This dissertation identifies in contemporary American culture an inability to conceive of the future as anything but the "futuristic": the extrapolation of present conditions into a time to come that disregards the unexpectedness and inherent danger of the new. Taking up lines of thought developed by philosophers such as Henri Bergson and Gilles Deleuze, and extended by Elizabeth Grosz and Brian Massumi as well as in fiction by William Gibson and Philip K. Dick, I demonstrate in my introduction that the future as futuristic forecloses on a potential time to come that is not simply "more of the same." The understanding of the future as futuristic is deployed in many aspects of US culture---from its politics and science to its representations of history---and is tied to the modern elevation of the liberal human subject above the realm of nature. By divorcing the human (understood to be white, male, and straight) from its environment, the moderns, in Bruno Latour's terminology, gave up their ability to interact with the world. I further develop this claim and argue that this lost interaction precludes the new by limiting the possible outcomes of encounters between subjects and objects. This limitation derives from the manner in which we are taught to interpret the world: only with our minds and merely as text. However, if these methods are reified as our only means understanding, in addition to the problematic separation of the human from the material world, the relegation of the world to the status of text-to-be-observed-and-interpreted affords power the means to enforce its interpretations as the only possible ones, an enforcement that in turn cannot be broken through recourse to any form of material evidence.