Devising the Future in No-Future Times
I hope you’re well and safe, wherever you might be.
In the first blog post, I introduced you to my background and to the research I will be carrying out in these three years. For this second entry, I have decided to focus on something more personal and to combine it with the readings I have been delving into during the month. Specifically, I will try to reflect on my experience of Covid-19 through the concept of the de-futured present, which emerged several times – albeit in slightly different forms – during the month. I do not aim at giving answers here but rather at reflecting on how theory is contributing to my search for closure.
One thing that defined this March has been a renewed centrality of Covid-19 in my discourses and thoughts. A year ago, Italy – the country I come from – entered its first lockdown. All of a sudden, we had to close the door of the independent space where I was working and I had to take away what I thought was necessary. Uncertain and unaware of what was ahead of us, we began to reorganize the programme, producing content to keep the dialogue with our artistic community active and alive. In the spur of the moment, I networked with other art workers to discuss the systemic precarity within our sector, and to imagine new ways of working, as well as new tools and legal protections. In those months, I also worked in my mom’s grocery store, a village shop that abruptly found itself at the forefront of a health and social emergency. Every day, people lined up and came in to buy food and above all to meet other human beings, to share their fear and despair, to seek comfort in one of the few activities still allowed. Over time, the initial drive for self-organization slowly faded, defeated by uncertain and unequal (necro)policies. Every day the same, a long and continuous line of people waiting to enter another line. The will to react replaced by a great need for silence, for withdrawal. We are no longer able to place ourselves within this time that repeats itself; we no longer have a common horizon of action.
At the same time, this March I found myself reading and discussing a lot about time and specifically about the notion of the present. A permanent present. A present with no future. Antonio Gramsci’s infamous quote recurring over and over again: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” A suspended timeframe, dense of tensions and conflicts, that immediately took me back to the palpable feeling of disillusionment and menace of this moment, in which the fictional nature of the modernist idea of the future has been revealed.
A shared sentiment that returned in Gregory Sholette’s public lecture The Art of Activism and the Activism of Art, in which he brought up the notion of the unpresent. Drawing from Mark Fisher’s work, Sholette uses this concept to refer to “the growing sense that our current crisis is not a temporary detour, but is instead a permanent pathological state” – and then add shortly after – “fading fast into inaccessibility was even the memory of the memory that alternative possibilities once existed.” A humdrum routine that month after month has made us numb; we are no longer able to fully grasp our reality, nor to intervene on it.
In conclusion, the last source that I want to mention in this entry is the work of Marina Garcés, which proved to be fundamental to the devising of a different end. Building on similar ground, namely that of a de-futured present, the author presents us the disruptive potential of such a condition.
By acknowledging the oblivion in which we live, and the fascination exerted by this sense of impotence, we can actually experience in the irreversible destruction of our conditions of life a new totality and horizon of common action. Similar to the concept of honesty with the real, here Garcés asks us to deal with reality, even addressing our role in this process of destruction and devastation, to make the limits and dynamics of power in place visible and therefore act on them. We are not dead; we have been murdered. And in this new awareness, we find new space for self-organization and solidarity.
In this short post, I wanted to highlight how theory actually contributed to the elaboration of reality, allowing me to get out of a rational and emotional impasse and to position myself again in this unceasing present. The initial attempts at self-organization, among art workers as well as neighborhood groups, no longer seem clumsy efforts to go back to how it was, but small experiments of mutual care that could expand into other ways of being together.
On a different note, on March 5th we had the FEINART kick-off event and the first public lecture, giving me the opportunity to meet the entire FEINART network and the other researchers for the first time. It was nice to finally be able to see everyone, albeit virtually, and to get to know my colleagues, to learn more about their research, and to see how they might intersect. In this sense, this month I also started reflecting on the potential of this blogging platform and on the possible ways of engaging with it. I do have several formats in mind, and I’d try to experiment with some of them over the months. We’ll see!
Take care and speak soon,
 Gramsci, Antonio, Quaderni del Carcere, vol. 1, Quaderni 1–5, Turin: Einaudi editore, 1977, 311
 Sholette, Gregory, Take the Quiz: The Art of Activism and the Activism of Art, http://www.sholetteseminars.com/take-the-quiz/ (Accessed March 24, 2021)
 Garcés, Marina, Nueva ilustración radical, Barcelona: Anagrama, 2017
 Garcés, Marina, “Honesty with the real”, Journal of Aesthetics & Culture, 4:1, 2012. DOI: 10.3402/jac.v4i0.18820