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Visions of the Future

Guy Goldstein - Few Moments (detail)
ISSUE 6, Fall 2018
Issue Editors:
Gisèle Sapiro, Vered Karti Shemtov, Anne Simon

This essay analyzes two contemporary video artworks—one by the Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour and one by the Israeli artist Yael Bartana—in an attempt to better comprehend contemporary visions of the future in the arts of this region. I focus on the chronotope of Temple Mount, or al-Ḥaram al-Sharīf, as a study case that assembles many of the most essential themes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: the future of the land is contemplated through the ways in which this indivisible holy site can be shared by the two nations. Through a reading of the two artworks and their commonalities—both suggest dispossession, relocation, and commodification as alternatives to the current conflicted situation—I ask whether these works exit their own cultural and political zeitgeist and therefore open up new possibilities or whether they are, rather, exemplary of our times, in which we find a growing tendency to depict the future as hopeless.

Sayed Kashua, a Palestinian writer in Israel who has published novels exclusively in Hebrew, was celebrated as a successful writer and journalist in the Hebrew literary field. If the author’s usage of Hebrew and his novels were examined from an Israeli and a Jewish perspective and from the prospects of minority speech acts, these critics did, however, situate his literature within the immediate political context, that of the impossible situation of Palestinians in Israel. This article reads his second novel, Let It Be Morning (ויהי בוקר), from a different perspective and considers Kashua’s literary strategy that consists in transforming a futuristic and allegorist perspective into a chronotope set between hegemonic (Israeli) time and minority (Palestinian) space. This novel highlights, between text and context, different visions of the future: a dystopian situation reflecting both a disastrous outcome of the Zionist wing calling for the transfer of the Palestinians and an internal conflict between Palestinians (fitnah); the utopian vision of the writer, who used his writing in Hebrew to create a hybrid space of negotiation with the Hebrew reader and therefore suggesting literature as a way to prevent dystopia. This article emphasizes a futuristic storytelling from its content to its form used by Kashua as a literary strategy to express the impossibility of a Palestinian voice, his voice, in Hebrew fiction.

Sami Berdugo’s poetics exposes a unique concept of time. It is a time that can be described as rhizomatic. Unlike space, time can be described as rhizomatic not merely in terms of its divergence into multiple paths but also in terms of being arrested, floating with no apparent progress in any direction. Berdugo’s time is not the linear time we are accustomed to think in but rather, to borrow Bakhtin’s term, a chronotope: it is more a fusion of spacetime or body-in-space than a linear progress. This essay describes immigrants’ time as the Other, the time that cannot be properly measured, the time that refuses advancement. It is also the great Other threatening the immigrants themselves and their sense of freedom.

Narrative gives meaning to the passage of time by organizing it into a structured whole. The Western structure of temporality traditionally implied teleology, or what Frank Kermode called “a sense of ending.” For the last two thousand years, narratives of the future employed two generic templates: utopia and dystopia. Utopia, a literary depiction of an ideal society, and dystopia, its dark double, postulated a historical teleology in which the future was qualitatively different from the past and the present. In my essay I argue that we have entered the period of post-utopia, characterized by the sense of a continuous present, nostalgia, and narrative formlessness. Even those fictions that seem to represent a dystopian or apocalyptic transformation of the present are, in fact, articulations of the refusal to imagine the future. And this refusal is a symptom of a general paralysis of the historical imagination whose repercussions go beyond literature. The essay discusses the genre of young-adult (YA) fantasy and science fiction as highly symptomatic of the post-utopian trend in literature today. Though YA fantastic fiction is often described as dystopian, I argue that this is a misnomer and that such texts as Hunger Games, Maze Runner, The Giver, and other popular YA fantasies are, in fact, post-utopias and post-dystopias, characterized by specific narrative and thematic features that I describe as subversion of the bildungsroman, narrative circularity, and history as trauma.

In previous articles and lectures, Elana Gomel and I have discussed the refusal to write the future in contemporary politics and literature. This essay looks specifically at the case of Hebrew literature. With both the past and the future in Israel undergoing major conceptual shifts, and with a feeling that the situation is stuck, some major writers have turned their focus to narrating about the present. This “new present” is seen not as a short moment between past and future but as broad and continuous. Given the Jewish and Hebrew history of focusing on the past, and the future, this new presentness is especially noticeable. Furthermore, the focus on the present allows Hebrew writers to define the personal self, as well as the collective self, outside the established narrative. The literary oeuvre of the author Etgar Keret serves here as an example of this new sense of time in contemporary Hebrew literature.

This essay examines a figure for the spectatorship of catastrophe in Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea (1870): Captain Nemo viewing the lost Atlantis 300 meters beneath the Atlantic. It shows how Verne transforms romantic images of beholding ruins as picturesque or sublime in this scene by putting a helmet on the beholder. This helmet, required by divers for survival underwater, masks the countenance of the beholder, a mask that Verne extends to the posture of Nemo, who is petrified as he contemplates Atlantis by the glowing light of lava that is, bizarrely, still erupting. The essay makes sense of the scene by drawing on Maurice Blanchot’s poetics of disaster, arguing that the helmeted beholder creates a new image of spectatorship in tandem with a new temporality of ruins, collapsing past, present, and future into catastrophic paralysis. The essay then traces the legacy of this figure in science fiction films of outer space, from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) to Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar (2014). The image of the helmeted beholder occurs in scenes in these films that, as in Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, show a cataclysmic moment when the astronaut’s empowered agency is suspended, revealing the mind-blowing power of a cosmos he or she is powerless to affect.

Reflecting on poetry, prose, and the visual arts of the post–Second World War era, this short essay points to what I see as a broad tendency in literature and the arts to move away from metaphysical ideas regarding politics and ethics. Specifically, I suggest that many writers and artists of our post-1945 era transform the ancient biblical metaphor of humankind as created “in the image” of God into a viable framework for discussing and debating how to negotiate our various ideas regarding a better future. Building on my recent book, Futurity: Contemporary Literature and the Quest for the Past, I wish to link the broad notion of futurity I develop there to a specific mode of engagement with what is to come: the idea of a future shaped by the inviolability of and respect for the life and dignity of all.

“Animals, who do not think at all, the boa for whom digestion is a matter of long days, the marmot who sleeps all winter, the whale who lives for three hundred years, the seagull who flies for a month without tiring”: these creatures, evoked by Proust in Jean Santeuil, provide examples of relationships to reality and duration that are radically different from those of human beings. Proust, that “expert” in time, is not the only writer to be fascinated by the diversity of animal temporalities—and perhaps by unthinkable forms of extratemporalities. At the very moment of the Sixth Extinction, contemporary writers, by complex and various literary means, are attempting to immerse their readers in other forms of projection into the future. The problem is knowing whether the ark on which the Proustian zoo embarked 120 years ago is still able to float: “For you are dimming, whales! Like enormous lamps. And if you are not going to be there, you and the other beasts, do you think we will be able to find our way in the dark?” (Chris Marker and Mario Ruspoli, Vive la baleine!, Argos Films, 1972)

“The Future is in the way things are,” says “the Minister of the Future,” Timothy Morton, in a recent exhibition at the Centre de cultura contemporània de Barcelona, After the End of the World. Search for tomorrow: it’s already here and now. So how does contemporary literature address and envision the very possibility of a future as such? This essay argues that there is a renewed diagonal force of the contemporary called epimodernism. The epimodernist values are superficiality, secrecy, energy, acceleration, credit, and consistency. These six values are necessary for envisioning any future that doesn’t involve hyperfinance, rating agencies, systematic calculation of behaviors—and their consequences for politics.

This essay attempts to show and think the way in which young artistic, poetic, and political collectives (e.g., in France: Catastrophe, Mauvaise troupe, Jef Klak, Le peuple qui manque) cope with the current social situation facing youth in order to imagine, through their everyday practices, the forms of a life to come. New collective writing, inventions of links, and ways of relating to work, affects, ecodiplomacies, struggles, theoretical mobilizations: all are inventions of ways to live in a damaged world. The future, here, is grasped through the figure of impatience (the impatience to make), and all the actual forms of precariousness find themselves braved and defied in those vigorous practices of imagination.

Dibur is a peer-reviewed academic journal dedicated to Hebrew, Jewish, and comparative literature.

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