ESR 3 Blog June/July 2022: Maria Mkrtycheva

I’m writing this June blog post in November, re-enacting writing it back in June. These five months between June as I remember it and June as it really was seem like a one uncapturable moment, constructed from multiple – long and short – periods of time that precede one another, overlap and run late. I have evidence of the fact that I started writing this blog in June: there is a document titled ‘Blog-June’ with just one line which reads: “The privileged are ignorant of their ignorance”[1]. I don’t remember what I was going to say but I clearly had the intention “I will write”. Future simple tense. It was supposed to be simple.


Yesterday was Halloween, yet I’m writing my June blog post as if the whole summer is still ahead of me. Except that June is a pure memory now, a loss even. This loss today overlaps with my intention in the past: “I was going to write”. Future in the past tense.


“Future in the past is used to express the idea that in the past you thought something would happen in the future”, says the online dictionary.


Why didn’t I write it back then by just going ahead?


It seems it is the past – trapped both in the future and in the present – that does not make it so simple.


This complex temporal framework is in opposition to linear time – one that sequentially runs through notions like ‘summer’, ‘June’ or ‘Halloween’ and enables human fulfillment by means of successiveness and temporal order. Going ahead is a continuity driven by persistence, accumulation, and acceleration. Going back, however, is not simply a reverse but rather a temporal disorder where “objects and desires from different time periods coexist in the present self”[2].


While the future-facing mindset is built on the idea of leaving the past behind in favor of moving forward, the past-facing mindset never completely lets it go. Instead, it accommodates different times that synchronize in the present and abolish each other. This “temporal homelessness – when you inhabit a time that no longer exists”[3] – is a characteristic of melancholia.


Melancholia has long been believed to be a disease grounded in the self. Ancient Greek physicians adhered to the system of four bodily fluids: black bile, yellow bile, blood, and phlegm. The imbalance of these fluids could cause disorders of the mind and body, and the excess of black bile could lead to depression, unsociability, and a reduction in the sense of self. As Julia Kristeva writes in her book Black Sun: “Melancholia then ends up in asymbolia, in loss of meaning: if I am no longer capable of translating or metaphorizing, I become silent and I die”[4].


Since the Middle Ages, though, understanding of melancholia as a condition that emerges solely in the self has shifted towards the idea that it can be determined by something external – for example, demonic possessions or, later, ideology.


In her book The Melancholia of Class Cynthia Cruz identifies the gap between the middle class and the working class by drawing a line between happiness and sadness, with the latter understood as insanity or even a sin, much like in Christian theology: “those who are unable or unwilling to conform to neoliberal culture and its ideology find themselves cast off, living at the margins: institutionalized, in poverty, or labeled “insane” ” [5].


The distinction between the vanishing and melancholic self of the working class and the prospering happy self of the middle class also corresponds to the gap between the future and the past: “This idea that the future is where all improvement will occur, and indeed the ideology of aspiration that is entwined with it, is deeply connected to neoliberalism. By default, such an ideology insists that the past and history is of little to no use”[6].


Somewhere in-between this gap there is an opposition between writing a June blog post in June and writing it in November, one marginalized by the other, being the lost past that one seeks to retrieve somewhere in the present.


Within this framework speculating about the future through writing, exhibition-or-art-making seems to be an exclusive practice because of its outward-facing character. Although past, future, and present blend together in the process of fictioning, the focus remains on the future (even if this is a ‘not-yet’[7] type of future) and on ‘becoming’, rather than on ‘standstill’.


I’m wondering if the speculative mode of contemporary art would be able to fill in the gap between the ‘not-yet’ and ‘once upon a time’ – not only through re-enactment but through allowing the lost past to be in front, and this might serve as a key for radical accessibility.

[1] Cynthia Cruz, The Melancholia of Class: A Manifesto for the Working Class, Repeater, London, p. 181

[2] Anne Enderwitz. ‘Modernist Melancholia and Time: The Synchronicity of the Non-Synchronic in Freud, Tylor and Conrad’, in The Literature of Melancholia: Early Modern to Postmodern, eds. Martin Middeke and Christina Wald, Palgrave, London, 2011, p.174

[3] Ibid.

[4] Julia Kristeva. Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia (European Perspectives), Columbia University Press, NY, 1992, p. 42

[5] Cynthia Cruz, The Melancholia of Class: A Manifesto for the Working Class, p. 160

[6] Ibid, p. 135

[7] Jeanne van Heeswijk. ‘Preparing for the Not-Yet’, in Slow Reader. A Resource for Design Thinking and Practice, eds. Ana Paula Pais and Carolyn F. Strauss, Valiz, Amsterdam, 2016

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