Our Future Present(s) | esse arts + opinions

Our Future Present(s)

Sylvette Babin
Laurent Lamarche, Fossible BM - 01, detail, 2016. Photo: courtesy of the artist

Futurity is tied to questions of liability and responsibility, to attentiveness to one’s own lingering pains and to the sorrow and agonies of others. Futurity marks literature’s ability to raise, via engagement with the past, political and ethical dilemmas crucial for the human future.
— Amir Eshel, Futurity: Contemporary Literature and the Quest for the Past

As we were assembling this one hundredth issue, in which we were trying to envision the future from a non-dystopic angle or one marked by a more optimistic vision, the present was confining us by an unprecedented health crisis. Concurrently, this same present continued to be a site for racism that remains deeply rooted in society and that has led to the brutal death of many Black and Indigenous people in Canada and the United States. Ahmaud Arbery, shot and killed on February 23 near Brunswick, Breonna Taylor, shot and killed on March 13 in Louisville, George Floyd, killed by asphyxiation on May 25 in Minneapolis, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, died under suspicious circumstances on May 27 in Toronto, Chantel Moore, shot and killed on June 4 in Edmunston, Rodney Levi, shot and killed on June 12 in Metepenagiag, and Rayshard Brooks, shot and killed on June 12 in Atlanta, join the too-long list of victims by law enforcement officers in North America and elsewhere in the world. Yet many people, including leaders, shamelessly continue to claim that systemic racism and state violence do not exist or are merely exceptional. (1)

The pandemic of the past few months has unquestionably lifted the veil on the extent of social inequality, and in so doing, obliged us to face our total ignorance of the structural violence existent in our institutions. The cultural milieu is not exempt from this discrimination, unintentional or unconscious though it may be. Yet, considering the anger that is rumbling in the streets and that is at last starting to be addressed by the media and the general population, many of us are torn between adding our voices in solidarity and listening in silence. However, we must bear in mind that simple moral support is not enough. We need to do a considerable amount of introspection to identify our shortcomings and develop concrete solutions, not only to expose and combat racism, but also to address the lack of cultural diversity in our institutions.

Without being a direct response to current events, the present issue is interested in different ways of deconstructing racist stereotypes in order to consider the future from a decolonial perspective. Practices such as Afrofuturism and Indigenous Futurisms, which address these issues in a specific manner, are therefore central to the considerations of futurity. The term, recently introduced to the field of art, perhaps requires some clarification. According to a chronological mode of conceptualizing time, the past influences the present, which then affects the future that, as a result, always remains dependent on the colonial past. Futurity, on the other hand, proposes that the kind of future we anticipate determines our present actions. In the field of social sciences, professor Jean-Jacques Gislain explains it in the following terms: “While in [the physical world] the causality of events moves from the past toward the present, in the world of human action, the principle of causality moves from futurity/cause toward the present/effect.”(2) The future we imagine acts directly on the present by shaping our actions.

In an art context, therefore, futurity is a performative conception of the future, leading to practices that can “[generate] forms of representation and sovereignty alternative to those existing in the present” (Desmet). To do this, several artists rely on fiction, which, according to Aliocha Imhoff and Kantuta Quirós, is envisioned as a means of composing possible worlds. Anne-Marie Dubois further argues that “the evocative power of science-fiction and its capacity to mobilize identity-related futures emancipated from history … thus paves the way for yet unimagined futurities.” We thus discover works that exist outside of temporal frameworks and that combine traditional knowledge and technology, ancestral myths and speculative fiction — works that are decidedly critical and committed to what’s to come.

True, the linear conception of time contributes to the apprehension we feel about the future (uncertainty, eco-anxiety, fear of death). Given the extent of climate change and the overexploitation of resources, this uncertainty has never been more palpable. Considering the future therefore necessitates appealing to an optimistic imaginary so as not to remain trapped in an apocalyptic vision of what’s to come. The exercise might seem perilous, particularly in these pandemic times and, more generally, in the era of the Anthropocene (or even the Plantationocene or the Capitalocene) when we can no longer deny the negative impact of human activity on the environment. Gwynne Fulton reminds us that the economy is also based on a linear concept of time, in which the endless expansion of capitalist power makes all other possibilities invisible. We therefore urgently need to envision new forms of power and the futurity that will shape our present next.

Translated from the French by Oana Avasilichioaei

Notes
(1) On this subject: Robyn Maynard, Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to Present (Winnipeg: Fernwood Publishing, 2017).
(2) Jean-Jacques Gislain, « Futurité et toposité : situlogie des perspectives de l’action », Géographie, économie, société, vol. 6, no. 2 (2004), p. 212, (Our translation).

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