Toward a Comparative Futurism

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This essay was published in the accompanying volume to Cosmological Arrowsa group exhibition at Bonniers Konsthall in Stockholm (August–November 2019) exploring the works of contemporary artists who engage with science fiction as a medium, a source of inspiration, or a site of critique.

Ethics of Time Travel: Toward A Comparative Futurism: An earlier draft of this essay was presented at Art After Culture, “The Twilight Symposium: Science Fiction Inside Colonialism,” organized by e-flux journal in collaboration with La Colonie, Paris, February 2019.

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What, then, [is] geo-specific [or geo-sensitive] futurity? And how would it contribute to possibilities for thinking about the future as such, [that] which can again and again get instantiated in particular futures? There might be a clue in a review of those futurisms that together carry a variety of navigational agendas with regard to different regional micro-histories and technocultural orientations. They provide different outlooks upon the horizon of change, endurance, and survival. Accordingly, the attempt to set up a framework of comparative futurism hopes to not only find some shared patterns of imagining the future among a constellation of practices, but more particularly to form imaginative patterns that allow for sharing the future as such and in all its plurality––a planetary politics that is often hindered by tensions between conflictual imaginaries and instantiations of the future here and there.

[As a preliminary move] this study draws the sample contours of a comparative futurism in an “ethnofuturist” register, which is set to resonate between the scales of the ethnoracial and the techno-universal. Ethnofuturisms simultaneously contain understandings of a terrestrial spectrum, an inter- or supranational order, as well as the planetary infrastructures that are required for such ensemble. Attending to the rhythms of change on various scales ranging from the individual to the collective, from the human to nonhuman, and from the natural to the naturalized, ethnofuturisms strive to leave behind the stagnating either-or of multiculturalism and ethnopluralism. In other words, ethnofuturisms respond to an intensified condition where “the only truly alien planet is Earth,” while the “future is here” and has already arrived on Earth, but “it’s just not evenly distributed yet.” Ethnofuturisms address the question of planetary chronopolitics in terms of future imaginaries immanentized on an alien Earth. By tying ethnic and racial diversity to the universal impulses of technicity, ethnofuturisms reflect on the ways in which processes of alienation in fact intersect with and perhaps mutate the processes of anthropogenesis, or hominization. Ethnofuturisms investigate the Human status (as distinct from nonhuman, subhuman, superhuman, etc.) through a look at the history of technocultural traditions from the vantage point of immanent futures. The inquiry into the Human status is often carried out via some sort of reverse engineering: Ethnofuturisms begin by asking whether alienation, as in the effects or residues of dehumanizing mechanisms, can be repurposed in the direction of becoming not the other but another human being.

Ethnofuturisms can be considered as emancipatory movements that take the possibility of change seriously only if they seek to abolish the conditions that made it not only possible but also necessary for them to evolve.

These observations manifest the need for techno-biopolitical transformers, the (in)human residents of mutating nation-states, and the (non-)subjects of ethnoracial differentiation to reclaim, repurpose, and radicalize the means and conditions of alienation and indifference. For this, further work needs to be done on the principle of comparison, and its counterpart of combination, in order to navigate futures and futurisms beyond the scale of the ethnos, moving on to the cosmos [as in a Cosmofuturism] as well as registering the xenos [as in a Xenofuturism].