Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Past and Future Presents: Existential Time and Futural Materialism

Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Past and Future Presents: Existential Time and Futural Materialism

Article excerpt

Futural materialism is not a theory or position which seeks to compete with or deny historical materialism, nor is it a position which seeks to draw attention to the importance of planning or care for the future, as one might initially think. Rather, it is complimentary to historical materialism and merely seeks to extend and refine the logics of this body of knowledge by suggesting that the future and past are equally materially present in the present, or equally absent. The suggestion then, is that if there is a historical material connection from the past to the present and the present to the future, so too is there a material connection from the future to the present and from the present to the past--the arrows of causation point both ways. Put differently, it is suggested here that the past and the future materially bear upon the present in much the same way because the present bears upon them in similar ways. Such an understanding of temporality more fully acknowledges the various fields of possibility that open before (and behind) being or subjectivity in each present moment, rendering the possibilities within those fields more immediately realizable. It is in this way that the enactive futural dimension enriches the transformative possibilities of historical materialism. Moreover, just as we must be cautious when it comes to using and abusing history for life, as Nietzsche (2010) would warn, we must also be cautious of the ways in which we use and abuse the future for life. Futural materialism is firmly grounded in philosophical material monism in that there is a commitment to the idea that anything one speaks of is, in some way or another, material and is located in a relative position within spacetime, though this is a point historical materialists might contest. It should be noted that the material monism underlying the work here is a nonreductive one grounded in the phenomenological tradition of Husserl and Merleau-Ponty and bearing similarities to the neurophenomenology of Francisco Verela (1991) or what we might call the neo-emergentis non-reductive physicalism of Evan Thompson (2007). Put briefly, this version of non-reductive material monism holds that in complex dynamic systems, 'the whole is greater than the sum of its parts' in that what emerges from constitutive parts is not reducible to them and the part/whole division is one of co-constitution and mutual causation. (1) In what follows, the theoretical background for futural materialism is laid out. What remains for a future project is to deploy this more concretely in methodologies and practices which seek social transformation, especially in relation to historical materialist projects.

As human beings, as beings highly capable of copious amounts of self-induced reterritorialization, as Deleuze and Guattari (1983, especially p.273/5 would note, there is a way that time can be understood which corresponds to a mode of being that is conducive to social transformations and creative affirmation: existential or phenomenological temporality. Existential temporality is not necessarily non-linear. Time is still understood roughly as a movement of present, future, and past, but this movement is understood as a movement throughout the entire length of the moment or life in question (Merleau-Ponty, p.419, 1967). That is to say, every 'event', including those events which are past and future, shifts and alters as (space)time moves. The past does not become an unalterable, objective, and static, fact bearing on the present and the future is not an open field of possibilities which does not bear upon the present or the past. On the contrary, they both move and shift or are sketched (2) and resketched by the present being who interacts with them, always with the flavour of a new situation. The present possesses a certain presence in both past and future. Moreover, the present plays a causal role in them through active and passive interpretation and interaction. …

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