BARCELONA.- A very recent history of the idea of future, when it reaches its final chapter, cannot ignore an indisputable fact: after amassing an extensive biography, for some decades now the notion of future has been falling under suspicion and becoming somewhat discredited.1 It is true that in recent years we have seen the emergence of a number of collective movements that have reacted to this circumstance by turning back to a form of prefigurative politics that encourages new practices, but, at the end of the day, their appearance is also the latest and clearest symptom of the true magnitude of the collapse suffered by the idea of future. The best prism for seeing the roots of this difficulty in thinking about a different future is the one offered by its main consequence: the dictatorship of the present. If we measure the extent and causes of this apotheosis of the present, we can indirectly see the main reasons why it is impossible to imagine futures. The list is not a short one. The obscene triumph of the present is based first and foremost on the hedonism of consumption, on the imperative to constantly update based on the logic of planned obsolescence. Compulsive shoppers find themselves condemned to a state of general uncertainty that prevents them seeing life as a project; both their working and emotional life demand the necessary flexibility to live solely in real time. In addition, the politics of fear leads to a withdrawal that traps victims in a dumbfounded, frozen, closed-in state when they have the slightest temptation to try unknown experiences. Nor are precarious, scared consumers in any position to image anything different once the welfare balm has softened and tamed their imagination. If we take these motives from the personal spherebiopolitical mechanismsand turn to collective accounts to add the trumpeted end of politics, end of history and failure of mass utopias, then, under this string of arguments, the dictatorship of the present is so radically overwhelming that there is no legitimate room for dreaming of promising futures. The future has been cancelled, just as Margaret Thatcher declared: There is no alternative.
Thinking about the future has become an agonising endeavour; it appears to have been converted into a space of replication, the unbearable repetition of a present that endlessly clones itself. At the other extreme, a small privileged class has shifted the idea of the future towards an extravagant idea of immortality, placing their trust in the biotechnology revolutionthe only revolution sanctioned. In this scenario, we have to recognise the vital importance of repairing the damage caused by the dictatorship of the present and revive other forms of conjugating our time. The commonest reaction to repairing the lack of futures has been nostalgia. The past and memory have become the main counterbalances for the excess of present. This backwards lunge has led to a mushrooming of museumsthere are all kinds of museums for everything. As suggested, though, this turn towards museums can only compensate so much. A museum reinforces a symbolic order of meanings that only deadens our poverty of experience2 and, above all, does nothing to guarantee the articulation of future expectations. This historiographic turn has also had a notable effect on the area of artistic practices, throwing wide open the possibility of preparing parallel stories to the official one, speculating about historical events, true or otherwise, and even deconstructing history to reveal the hidden faces of recorded events.3 The figure of the archaeologist artist has become so widespread that they have even been called shovel artists.4
The art of digging, with all its virtuesquestioning traditional systems of classification, complementing or distorting conventional historyis limited to extracting raw memory, as it appears at each stratum reached, and this kind of operation can only reveal pasts; it ventures barely any theories on the present and, above all, offers almost nothing on the need to think about futures. It is not enough to replicate the absolute present through memory. The raw, unfiltered past cant give us what we cant get from the idea of future. As Andreas Huyssen says, Perhaps it is time to remember the future, rather than simply to worry about the future of memory.5 Remembering the future means distinguishing between the past and the vanishing lines that still point forwards today. In this way, the past is not approached in a de-ideologised fashion, but quite the opposite; memory now works with a filter that lets it recover what is pertinent in order to follow the imperative to open up new horizons. To carry out this archaeology of futures, we have to begin with the conviction that history can be shaped in different ways. Instead of a simple linearity that arranges events in the sequence pastpresentfuture, historical time can be conjugated in all the possible combinations of the three time units, so that, just as there is a present present, we can also think from the perspective of the past futureclosed offand a future past full of possibilities yet to be carried out.6 This plurality of conjugations of history is what makes it possible to identify the past where there are accelerations, slowdowns and, among other determinations, where we can locate the not-yet past.
Promising ruinsbe they material, textual, ideological or poeticwhich keep history open as a process, have a political dimension, since they restore to us what the dominant thought defeated and forgot. Unrealised dreams are always the defeated ones, so when they return on the horizon of the present, they shake history to give it the opportunity to carry out what has not yet occurred. This operation, which eschews the simple representation of the past and aims to forge ties with the lost opportunities, is the function Walter Benjamin sees in historical materialism.10 This proximity is also highly pertinent for adding a final consideration to this tribute to the potentiality of promising ruins or abandoned futures. As Benjamin says, despite the fascination we might feel at any past brimming with possibilities, the transformative drive should always remain open, without reconciling itself to any model, however attractive it might be. The goal isnt to consume unfulfilled expectations to celebrate a rebellious anachronism, but to bring about the clash between these very hopes and a present with precious few expectations of its own. Only then will the crack of the future remain open, for both today and tomorrow.