Imagining the Future
6 April 2021
Outside the Darul Aman Palace, Afghanistan; Image credit: wsj.com
The age of the world picture is fully upon us, with an excess of visibility that blinds our imagination. Imagination is not an infinite catalogue of images or a management of the possible. It is action, transport, momentum, abandonment, passion. It will surely be from a child with a vivid imagination that the image of a different future will come out. This article was first published in Italian in February 2021 in Antinomie.it.
For almost a year now, our days have been reduced, for the most part, to the fruition, or perhaps it would be better to say, the consumption of images. The world and its daily existence have become, in a sort of paroxysmal acceleration, images. We have truly landed in the age of the world picture, as Heidegger called it. (1) We scrutinize the world, we analyze it, we make ourselves an image of every aspect of existence. We live in an absolute scopophilia. Nothing escapes us. Every detail can be zoomed in on, magnified out of all proportion.
Yet, in this excess of visibility, it has become almost impossible for us to form an image of the future. Or, to put it better, it is not so much an image of the future that we lack, if by an image of the future we mean an image chosen, in a more or less idiosyncratic way, from the infinite catalogue of those circulating. Dystopian images, sweetened images, filtered images. But what is really difficult for us today, in the age of the world picture, is to imagine the future.
The endless production of images, not carried out by a dictatorial apparatus that would govern us, but by our unreflective, sometimes enthusiastic adhesion to a biotechnological development with intoxicating and anesthetizing features, has inhibited one of the main faculties of thought and, in particular, of political thought - the ability to imagine, the action of imagining a future not given in the present.
The act of imagining, the ability to see that which is invisible to the eyes, is the engine of any political thought worthy of a radical transformation of the existing. Without the ability to imagine, in fact, only the management of what exists is possible. Without that radical and, in many ways, useless and unproductive gesture that is imagination, there is no possible metamorphosis of the current conditions of stasis.
Imagination is not the image. Imagination is action, it is transport, it is momentum, it is abandonment, it is passion, it is "the breath of the soul". The image is only what remains of this whole process. There is no political action capable of real transformation without a radical ability to imagine the future, what is not yet there. No enthusiasm, no political passion animated only by data, by numbers, by pre-packaged images.
Artists, dreamers, visionaries, those who lose themselves in the unrealistic images that their lively imagination creates will not save the world. But it will surely be from a child with a vivid imagination that the image of a different future will come out, certainly not from a mere post-productive user of the great flows of the world-image in which we have sunk, in good conscience of the ideologists of nothingness à la Bourriaud (2) (who, instead of creating clichés or slogans of thought, perhaps due to their training as creatives, would do better, in addition to not citing Debord and Deleuze out of turn, to reread - perhaps read - old dinosaurs such as, for example, Kant, Friedrich Schlegel, Bachelard, Sartre, Ernst Bloch, Arendt ...).
Don't leave the world, don't throw away your cell phone, don't close your social media, but find the time to close your eyes to lose yourself in your reveries, in your useless dreams, in your images without contact with reality. Close, at least once in a while, your eyes on the present and imagine the future.
1. See Martin Heidegger, “The Age of the World Picture”, Question Concerning Technology, translated by William Lovitt, New York: Harper & Row, 1977. 115-154.
2. Nicolas Bourriaud is co-founder of Palais de Tokyo, Paris, dedicated to contemporary and modern art.