Hopework

So thinketh one of our time travelers. The one who relives the past. Let there also be a traveler who seeks and conceives here in the dailiness of his lived experience a utopian future. As Joshua Chambers-Letson, Tavia Nyong’o, and Ann Pellegrini note in their foreword to the 10th Anniversary Edition of José Esteban Muñoz’s Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity, “Hope is work; we are disappointed; what’s more, we repeatedly disappoint each other. But the crossing out of ‘this hoping’ is neither the cancellation of grounds for hope, nor a discharge of the responsibility to work to change present reality. It is rather a call to describe the obstacle without being undone by that very effort” (x). The obstacle is a challenge we must both survive and surpass, Muñoz argues, “to achieve hope in the face of an often heart breaking reality.”

Wednesday June 16, 2021

A lifeguard blows her whistle and shouts “Pool break!” Better that than a trumpet. Families return to their seats. Some pack their things and leave for lunch, never to be seen again. A boy-child trails behind one such family mewling a bit, shouting “I want pizza!” Others arrive thereafter and take their place. My dissertation reckoned with these and other visions of the future, from the utopian to the apocalyptic. “How do such visions fare,” asks the one to the other across time, “in light of the consciousness revolution, the Revolution of the Eternal Now? How many or how few present what Esalen psychologist William C. Schutz calls ‘thoughts and methods for attaining more joy’ (Schutz, Joy, p. 10)? Must the Eternal Now be an eternal capitalist present, as per neoliberal ideology — as in books like The End of Ideology and The End of History? Or can we use the present to figure forth the Commune, beloved ones all living together in common, as per the slogan ‘Full Communism Now’?”

Friday June 11, 2021

Frankie’s down for a nice nap after a morning at the pool. Sarah saw to matters related to the air unit — so I remove my feet from my socks and think. The narrative we write is important, yes? For narrative is the stuff of which cosmologies are made. World-pictures. Cognitive maps. The shape of the world is determined at the quantum level, much like Schrödinger’s Cat, by the struggle to determine the shape of the world-picture. Unless, of course, struggle and determination are not part of that picture. By “shape of the world” I mean the mutable present’s arrangement toward the imaginal realms we call “past” and “future.” Origin and telos. The present’s mode of appearance alters according to the previous night’s dreams, and the previous night’s dreams are shaped by memory and desire. Those who wish to steer the world toward Utopia take these latter as the prima materia of the great work. Kim Stanley Robinson, meanwhile, steers us back to work of a more literal sort. The climate crisis demands reorganization of labor. Certain chapters of Robinson’s 2020 novel The Ministry for the Future are written in the style of “notes,” “minutes” kept by an international working group: the Ministry, the book’s actant or protagonist. Work thus finds its way back even in our hours of leisure, as this is what we read when we read by the pool. The book itself is work; its utopia begins with a disaster, a heat wave that kills several million people in India. From this disaster come a pair of nova: the Ministry itself, of course, but also a direct-action group called the Children of Kali. This latter group intrigues me, given its alignment with the famous Hindu goddess of time, creation, destruction, and power. After the disaster, it is she who speaks to us: “I am a god and I am not a god. Either way, you are my creatures. I keep you alive” (13). Kali is the persona Robinson dons to give voice to Nature. Kali, with her long terrible tongue. Kali, with her necklace of severed heads. Several of the book’s experts prognosticate “civilization kaput” before century’s end (55). It’s all rather bleak: countless species facing extinction in the years ahead. Against the backdrop of that abyss, the book conjures its hyperstitial alternative future of geoengineering and rewilding.

Wednesday April 21, 2021

Pranksters run loose across the country, reversing the journey West by heading east, unsettling what was settled. The future advertised at the 1964 New York World’s Fair: that was the destination toward which the Pranksters drove. Yet the Fair was just a ploy. They were also heading to New York for the launch of Kesey’s second novel Sometimes a Great Notion. With their doors of perception “cleansed,” however, the Fair appeared to them as it was: lame. The future as designed by clueless technocrats. And just as the Fair was a bummer, so was Millbrook. So they drove home and, as if in reply to the Fair, launched a series of “blissful counterstrokes”: the Acid Tests and the Trips Festival.

Wednesday January 13, 2021

Let us hop in our rabbit hole and explore Internets gone dark. The Wayback Machine is more time machine than rabbit hole. Somewhere in that past that it stores on its hard drives is a clean, green cyberfuture awaiting reactivation upon retrieval. Other sites elicit collaboratively posited Objects From the Future. Both are desire-machines and means of production: tools for building and changing worlds. Friends, I suggest we get to it. When I think “Object From the Future,” though, the one that arrives is The Book of the New Alchemists. Let us see where we are. The poem by “my” that begins the book is an eerie one, is it not? Do psychedelics aid in reorientation? Can plant allies help us map our relationship to the totality? The New Alchemists teach the old Hermetic formula: “What is below is above; what is inside is outside.” For them, this means “the Earth is an organic being, itself in turn reflecting the life of the cosmos” (vii). The book’s foreword is by ecopsychologist Betty Roszak.

Friday December 11, 2020

Sarah retrieves my grandmother’s bracelets from a storage bin. Large colored plastics — the “costume jewelry” equivalent of the donuts from our daughter Frankie’s Fisher-Price donut toys. Frankie plays with these bracelets that belonged to my Nani. She holds them, admires them one by one. The persistence of Nani’s spirit in our lives gives me joy. A friend calls these final weeks of each semester “grading jail,” days busied reading students’ essays and assigning final grades. If it’s a sentence, let us bear it lightly. Such has been my motto. “Grade fairly and kindly, as would a ‘sharer’ — so that we may enjoy our well-earned break.” The break, of course, is not truly a break. One continues to work, plotting the semester ahead. And perhaps, too, beyond that, a new course for next school-year, on “portal fantasies” and magic. A former student who majored in game design complains that Cyberpunk 2077 was released too soon. “Despite seven years in production, and ‘patches’ to improve textures,” say the players, “the game is a disappointment.” “Well okay then,” replies my alias, the “Uncle Matt” character from Fraggle Rock. “By alternate paths,” he says, “we’ve arrived to an agreement. Shitty cyberpunk is what capitalist realism gets us. Let us try our hand, then, at something else.” I imagine that means authoring a program or script other than the capitalist-realist one we’ve been given. At the very least it means “shaping change,” as Lauren Oya Olamina counsels in her Earthseed religion’s “Books of the Living.” Weave fate toward a near-future other than the ones imagined by the cyberpunks.

Wednesday February 14, 2018

A curving rainbow path extends from a tiger’s eye viewed in profile against a starry background. In the time it would take for these stars to blink, the eye’s lower half morphs into the Millennium Falcon, out of which emerge tentacles composed of rows of cutouts of mechanically reproduced bees. This more fundamental language—visual signifiers assembled from scraps of pop detritus—is the one we think with. A conspiracy of forces, however, has stolen from us the various alternative modernities of our dreams. Our tastes as a culture have led us instead to remake reality into sequences of Apprentice episodes, Disney films, and bleak first person shooter franchises. How do we return to futures of nomadic tribes of ‘peace pipe’-packing hippies, hitchhiking and trucking along networks of cybernetic socialist settlements and encampments?

Friday February 2, 2018

Soggy bamboo hut versus cardboard cutout. Suboptimal work-life synthesis. Walk it off. Beware of laws that march ever onward, urged by unthinking decree. Like remaining always in pursuit of points and dollars. The future as highly suspect temporal form. Think instead of the means of production internally, “pulsating and available, like a brain-sprawl in waiting.” Is it, as Franco “Bifo” Berardi would say, as simple as clearing the head of any further illusions of the future? Berardi’s book After the Future offers suggestive commentary along these lines — particularly the section of the book titled “Zaum and Technomaya.” The best parts of my day, though, are when I put aside such things and walk. Parks, neighborhoods: I enjoy them all. Upon receiving word from on high of my fate, I bow in darkness and give thanks to the ones I love. Parts of narrative click into place. Parts of my childhood begin to make sense. A paper waits to be written on science fiction and the psychedelic revolution. Ahead of me lies the mystery of an unexplored, newly-unlocked segment of the gameboard.