Jazz Thoughts

Basic Mechanics,
Concepts of contemporary authority

Concepts of contemporary history

History tells us what happened, and so (at least implicitly) what has existed — and so (presumptively) what does exist now [1]: It thus projects & reflects an ontology (along with the segmentation & typology that such an ontology always already entails [PA]). Given that historical narrative is — necessarily — selective, it also involves the reification of particular (chosen) events along with their interpretations, and that's often meant the universalization of one hegemonic narrative, today that of liberalism & its (fundamentalist) successor, neoliberalism. However, postcolonial perspectives have also led to rejections of modern unidirectionality (& especially singularity), yielding increased sensitivity to multiple histories, some more active than others.[2] The reification of historical events also allows "history" itself to act in the contemporary moment: Beyond the "real" activity that history notes (or traces), its own narrative becomes instrumentalized [3], serving to format & inflect subjectivity per se. (Indeed, history remains a critical ingredient in most education systems today.) In short, narration of the past becomes constituent of present perception [PA], and thus of future expectation, such that its interpretations become self-fulfilling. (In specifically modern terms, history only becomes "history" when it comes to be interpreted progressively, i.e. as having a goal?[Koselleck] Modern history thus continues to suggest a kind of fatality....[4]) As reminders of segmentation & typology already suggest, though, not only might expectations be formatted differently, but events themselves can be parsed or remembered differently: Their ontologies might be perceived differently, both in their own times & now, and their apprehension — e.g. according to a "sound studies" approach [5] — can thus potentially become more dynamic or variable. (Historical reification otherwise tends to forge historical ontologies as self-referential, i.e. as already limited by their own empirical or conceptual scope.) If history is then ultimately another means of tracing relations [PA], how might such relations (actually or potentially) be traced or articulated (differently) today?[6] And further, is history (still) bound to time, i.e. is its capacity to trace always (only) relative to the temporal?[7] (Satisfying answers to those questions are unlikely to emerge here, i.e. within what still remains a rather preliminary investigation, at least relative to the variety of challenges to hegemonic, liberal notions of history over only a few decades....) Moreover, as a primary means for both saying what is & formatting expectations, history is also significantly intertwined with law (in both its anecdotal & institutional guises), both as a reference for the latter & as a parallel structure of knowledge (perhaps as aligned to violence, etc.[CA]): So justice then both invokes history as precedent & inscribes history via decision, i.e. both traces history & rests upon its repetition [PA] (& traditionally, indeed its reification & even amplification).

  1. Elaborating on the ontological centrality of motion (& so, in a sense, change, and so in a further sense, history), Nail emphasizes the historical structure of ontology per se. (He also adopts what he calls a "transcendental realist" position in order to "determine minimal conditions of ontological emergence.") In other words, change is constant, and what is perceived as something might change as well (even without "real" changes), with Nail attempting to delimit (historically) the emergence of particular ontological perceptions & formulations — & indeed their emergence as (historical) actors. And of course, what once existed (or acted) might not exist (or act) now — or only at a distance, i.e. historically....

  2. Of course, historical activity becomes a matter of perspective.[PL6] One might go on to posit that a history remains active (perhaps subconsciously, or in another veiled register) even when it's not being perceived.... And Koselleck's image of various (historical) "sediments" or strata — potentially involving different temporalities, some hardened & others more active — is thus apropos: Reified (perhaps older, hardened) histories nonetheless remain actors in other (actually active) strata, then, on account of having (already) preconditioned perceptions or forms.

  3. In other words, in simple terms, dominant historical strands or strata both derive from & are used to advance (or broadly, to articulate) power. In that sense, historical narrative is itself potency per se.

  4. The "ends" ascribed to history by modernity can be interpreted in their progressive guise, if desired, but an eerie sense of agency remains: Whether it was e.g. the "invisible hand" of liberal icon Adam Smith, or the ultimate end to history anticipated by apocalyptic Christianity, the fate of modern history was nonetheless portrayed as largely beyond human action & often as inevitable. (And I use the present tense above, since modern history continues to be an actor today.)

  5. "Sound studies" is a rapidly emerging field whose techniques will surely come to be applied elsewhere: How does one strain to hear or perceive something new, beyond prior limits or resistance? What else has been happening, whether all along or only now? Was it ever perceived? Was it ever traced to its actual production? In some sense, these questions emerge from an orientation on fragility.... (Following Barthes, Bonnet thus frames listening as a kind of "theater of operations" for a basic struggle between desire & power, i.e. between production & apprehension. And prior to sound studies, Koselleck had already framed history as a sort of justice — but how is e.g. karma actually perceived? Does historical justice even require perception?)

  6. Since the tracing of relations today might involve the tracing of relations yesterday (etc.), history has tended to forge dualistic chains of relations (& so meaning [RF/6]), e.g. according to the three pairs [Koselleck], earlier-later (i.e. around human filiation & its temporality), inside-outside (i.e. us-them) & above-below (per hierarchy & modes of domination). These pairs or duals are then reified (or "mastered") by their own language of description, yielding further ramifications for the power (& legality) that they also (seek to) trace.... One should not assume, then, that e.g. historical synchrony establishes priority or causality: Such relations must be traced on their own terms (& in motion [Nail]), and not left (merely) to a presumed temporal order (& particularly not in this era of rupture).

  7. Positing (or prioritizing) time yields the historicizing of being [Nail], rather than the self-emergence of difference, which in turn yields time as a measure of that motion, i.e. of differing. (In other words, does time have any independent existence, and since when?) Beyond a different causality, then, might even a different sequence (or series) emerge through differing historical perspectives?

History per se is structured as narrative, extrapolated from the material "real" of events, and presented (with authority) as a linear description (or exposition) of the sensible (i.e. of what has been perceived, framed as what has occurred): Historical authority is thus intertwined with narrative authority, the latter becoming formal.[1] And even exposition in the moment becomes historical once the moment passes, meaning that it's a very basic & common form of human interaction, i.e. telling someone what happened: But then, who is to be believed (& to what degree)? Such stories might be regarded (now and/or then) as mythical, fictional or literally true (to a greater or lesser degree).... Moreover, their grammar (in a generalized sense) comes to define subjectivity, whether individual (in e.g. the modern sense) or collective (in various senses), particularly when "history proper" forges the(?) narrative of a people. And at least within the modern tradition, grammar has tended to reflect & reinforce patriarchy, such that "great man" histories not only orient themselves on hierarchy (& conquest, etc.), but often seem more akin to travelogues than to situated tales of daily life [2]: The narration of history has consequently emphasized broadly decisive elements (& so various duals [Koselleck]), stories told to tout the triumph of a new or established power, and usually to underscore or realign structures of power in general. The late modern — i.e. imperial — period thus constructed & experienced history as rational & inevitable, even as it was heard — perhaps — as having its own progressive motor.[PL8] (To some extent, history came to be seen as a burden, but also as something for which no one was truly responsible, including collectively....) In its narrative imperial function, again until the late modern period, history also continued to encompass all of what is now called "social science" in general [3] — with its patterns of rupture & repetition forging the primary locus of meta-narratives [PA], the rejection of (many of) which was decisive for the postmodern break.[Lyotard] The aesthetic quality of historical patterns, moreover, continued to involve a nexus with religion, itself based (in part) upon a variety of narratives ("especially" origin stories [4]) — again, shading into structures of authority that might today be associated more with marketing. (And the authority of both religion & marketing also tends to be figured as "baseless" today [CR], although marketing actually derives from modern empiricism....) Now the history-religion nexus becomes even more fraught, not only due to their mutual relation to filiation [PA] (& so e.g. to racism), but because of increasingly diffuse (religious) inclinations broadly permeating society [PL9]: Indeed, alignment (& so enforcement) of authority continues to escalate via narrativity (& neoliberal chains of meaning more generally), which history (largely still of the modern variety) both forges & buoys. (And such enforcement is further accomplished by the basic reification of names & concepts — as deriving from history — as these remain the only conceivable subjects & objects of law.) Hegemony thus remains about controlling (historical) narrative (aesthetically & otherwise).

  1. If history involves a weaving of genealogy & fiction [Foucault], so (ultimately) does (at least the exposition of) archeology, etc. Moreover, narrativity always involves evocation of the sensible per se [Bonnet], such that its soundings are about belief. (What's out there, what has happened to produce this sound or sensation?) Narrative form is thus about establishing (collective) perception per se (including so as to suggest an ontology per the previous paragraph).

  2. The situatedness of women versus the traveling armies of men is, of course, a generalization — in this case, taken straight from Melanesian notions in which the "great man" emerges only from a volatilized sea of the generically masculine.[Strathern] However, the grammar of history has emphasized & enforced patriarchy far beyond relative (gender based) differences in motion: Filiation (especially via inheritance) has served e.g. to elide queerness, and so to enforce a particular (familial) temporality on historical narratives, even tending to prioritize biological reproduction over social reproduction (which can seem to have no time at all) — & all intertwining the modern colonization of biology. (The contemporary era then comes, slowly, to forge or recall narratives contesting patriarchy....)

  3. Per the previous note, one might even hear (modern) "political economy" (now "economics") as a disciplinary consolidation of patriarchy (& so wonder about alternative disciplinary configurations): Inherited wealth per se becomes another mode of history — itself (always already) involving collective semiosis.[PA] (And moreover, such historical semiosis forges its own temporality, suggesting e.g. the notion that some people exist outside of time. What is different, then, is not their/our time, which is also contemporary, but rather the differing structure of historical narrative — or of technology, which is what most observers have actually meant.)

  4. Note that an emphasis on "origin stories" does not necessarily arise from religions themselves, but rather that these were (narrative) elements emphasized & attacked by modernity: Particularly with the progressive (i.e. linear) orientation of modern history, origin marks not only a beginning but a (supposed) command, a command that continues perhaps in hidden fashion (& so is to be unearthed).[Agamben] In other words, the relevance of the distant past is constructed — linearly & by reflection — from an emphasis on the distant future (& its supposed superiority, in contrast — or perhaps supplement — to "golden age" narratives). Christian eschatology, in which the resurrection is actually prior to & includes all history [Laruelle], has thus persisted within modern historiography....

Historical narrative is also articulated in language, and beyond grammar, the specifics of language mark a particular social context: History per se is thus always already immersed in a collective setting, and if that's a sovereign setting (& it need not be), history generally serves to articulate that sovereignty (or non-sovereignty), perhaps as its primary justification for power.[PA] (One might in turn speak of sovereignty over language, but also over time or temporality per se, all deriving from history.[1]) The generic object of sovereignty is territory (which can certainly include people), and so one should not only inquire regarding the history of territories, but the territory of history: Temporal sediments [Koselleck] & regimes of historicity [Hartog] can also articulate spatially, and so produce notions that other cultures are "untimely" [2], but historical territories include abstracted spaces as well. In particular, science & technology have become an increasingly dominant territory for broad historical narratives [CR], particularly as deriving from the modern "progress" narrative & its continuing obsession with speed (& consequent competitive superiority). Moreover, technology continues to change the form & structure of history per se, forging not only an "infinite" archive of textual exposition, but various multimedia formats too — coming to include e.g. audiovisual records of increasingly many events. (Note that e.g. a video is still likely to be presented in a narrative manner, but more possibilities for non-narrative form do emerge....) So history also becomes a territory for technology.[3] And as modernity has been defined by its technology (along with its capitalist imperialism [BM]), technological territories per se continue to collide in the contemporary world [4]: Imperialist disinhibition fades, at least in part, into basic liberal disinhibition — i.e. as (paradoxically) institutionalized opposition to state constraints on hoarding wealth [PA] — & in turn into a broad, neoliberal war of consciousness.[5] (The "goal" of postmodern history thus appears to be private accumulation per se, i.e. "liberating" wealth from any collective territory or object.[6]) Literal war narratives are then supplemented by the internalized violence of competition & e.g. (globally) involuted attacks on migrants.... Further, as the (liberal) subject can emerge only in time (i.e. temporally, as temporality itself becomes increasingly subjective [Nail]), i.e. as the fruit of an ongoing collective process of individuation [Stiegler], consciousness itself becomes a contested territory — i.e. a territory subject to both temporal & narrative sovereignty (as the latter multiplies & shifts in form). Difficulties of historical memory — i.e. not only those of competing narratives, but repression & suppression per se — thus come to (again, paradoxically) dominate the contemporary moment despite & even because of its (technological) saturation by media & generalized narrativity. (And so "personalized" online histories are coming to be non-collective...?)

  1. Rather than an intersecting set of cycles — which could, at least in principle, continue to be augmented by more cycles & intersections — in its ongoing attempts at mastery, Western imperialism has increasingly imposed an abstracted "scientific" & universalized notion of time based upon arbitrary divisibility: What was once "settler time" [Rifkin] thus increasingly collapses (rather, transcends) into a singular global stream, i.e. invokes ongoing (& indeed unilateral) temporal sovereignty as potency itself.

  2. Of course, historically, (geographic) spatialization has often meant racialization. And the latter has also conditioned notions of other people as being "outside of time" or untimely, but so have technological differences, particularly when technological development does have a chronology — or at least a Western chronology (that might or might not reflect a necessary development sequence). Neoliberal globalization then reemphasizes spatiality as it also attempts to impose a single, universal temporality (i.e. that of its financial markets).

  3. But then, history has always been a territory for technology: E.g. the written word is a technology, largely displacing (or at least supplementing) oral culture in much of the world. So whereas the computer changes the structure & operation of historical archives, in some ways it's simply another extension of memory beyond the body & so akin to writing (i.e. tertiary retention [Husserl/Stiegler]). (And particularly given the explosion of retention technologies, critiques of maps versus territories also continue to be relevant — history having traditionally been a map.)

  4. E.g. Hui has discussed technology from a contemporary Chinese perspective, also hearing modernity as defined by technology, with the end of the modern era being distinguished by even greater technological consciousness — in part due to recent technological innovation outside the West. For Hui, then, historical consciousness demands technological consciousness, and in particular a different reckoning with technology (at least for China) outside of prior notions of cyclical time & history. (And note that although "technology" tends to invoke the internet & smartphones today, medical practice — including e.g. anesthesia — continues to be one of the social pillars of technological modernity [PA] & indeed an endeavor that forges its own temporal narrative.)

  5. Contemporary war machines thus adopt a sort of "fractality," i.e. a drive to reproduce (identical, neoliberal) capitalist relations in even the smallest spaces of personal life — such that every moment is not only a profit opportunity, but another confirmation of machinic hegemony: The formatting of subjectivity per se has thus become the overriding strategic concern for power (at least within the involuted interior).[Alliez&Lazzarato] Such is the all-encompassing, contemporary war on the subject (liberal & otherwise)....

  6. Territory or object is then not the fulfillment of (e.g. sonic [Bonnet]) desire, but the latter's motive & instrument.... (In other words, territory — & even sovereignty — becomes only a means to another end — which exists outside of such dated, i.e. modern considerations. Similarly, the supposed banishment of the political facilitated by the triumph of liberalism — as philosophy of opposition — leads to neoliberal fundamentalism moving beyond the state form....)

A doubly haunted now

Today, history seems to be both more & less important than ever. Indeed, it's never been more certain, nor more in doubt — and that basic paradox extends to its underlying, postcolonial ontology as well: A single narrative becomes more universal than ever, increasingly reproducing itself within even the smallest of relations — yet narratives (& so ontologies) also proliferate. (There is constant, repetitive media chatter in support of universal capitalism, yet both new critical monographs & new popular conflicts appear every month....) The world (finally) has its supposedly perfect system, but nothing (yet) seems to be as it should (actually) be.... And so historical ontology takes on increasingly crushing weight while actual historical investigation is conducted amid increasing indifference [1]: Nothing can (or should) really change [2], but change is constant... [PA] (& so ahistorical?). And while history happened (or didn't happen) in the past, it's contemporary narrative that's a real actor in the present, and not only on the contemporary moment, but in turn on the future: Explaining the structure of "now" (i.e. via history) facilitates anticipation & so prediction [3], historical narrative thus transforming memory into expectation — but whose memory & whose expectations? So many historical narratives (or sediments) intersect in the contemporary moment — including narratives of a single, universal narrative — that not only do a variety of arcs & continuities present themselves, but contemporaneousness itself has been (repeatedly) called into question.[4] And as opposed to the history of influence, the influence of history (per se) is only ever contemporary, such that e.g. chains of reference take on meaning only relative to their actual impingement & instrumentality today: Meaningful arcs are thus those that intersect in the moment of action, i.e. the contemporary moment, and such moments are increasingly knotted (rather than linear or smooth). As much as one might seek e.g. to multiply temporal sovereignty & consequently contemporaneousness, then, the moment (of action) still resists [MA] — not only via (its own) proliferation of narrative perspectives, but via various hardened historical strata as well. So how does one come to act in the moment today? Moreover, how does one anticipate history in order to act before it's too late? (One might otherwise remain basically a spectator, as the moment shifts prior to the actual effectiveness of action.[5]) And does the second question undermine (the potential directness of) the first? Indeed, is action salvation (is history?) — particularly as new forms of control provoke new intersections (with art-as-work [CA,PA])? Of course, from the perspective of hierarchy, the postcolonial condition demands new forms of control.... and the latter do emerge (in part) from new preoccupations with a future that never arrives, i.e. not only with narratives of progress (or related, religious narratives of salvation), but of environmental catastrophe (that one truly hopes never does arrive). The modern, progressive enfolding of Christian eschatology had always posited an end, and now that narrative has been reframed: And not only do the forgoing questions interrogate the blunting of contemporary action via history, but how an increasingly apocalyptic future comes to haunt & limit the present, even as the past is mined for (ongoing) narrative justification for present conditions (of exploitation).

  1. One might suggest that it's not so much the truthfulness of history that fades — since, if anything, there are more challenges than ever to mainstream historical propaganda — but rather the usefulness of history that's been transformed: It becomes less about a grand balance between faith & reason, or even between center-periphery perspectives, but comes to serve smaller & more practical (i.e. instrumental, specific) concerns. And increasingly often, that involves simply fostering confusion (e.g. so as to blunt resistance).

  2. The notion that we've reached some sort of "consummation" of history — i.e. a neoliberal paradise in which capitalist principles march forth into every domain without further resistance — parallels notions of Christian eschatology: Beyond such a "limit" we can only seem to reach an age of post-truth [Stiegler], yet the center-periphery dual always already traced a (material) nexus of untruth, such that "post-history" isn't merely apocalyptic, but a retroactive explanation (indeed based on Christianity [Agamben]) for all that had happened before. Today then, (neoliberal) history needs to act only very simply in order to glorify contemporary social hierarchy (with its emerging, financial concept of divinity & consequent disinhibition).

  3. By bringing the past into the present, historical narrative effectively doubles time or temporality, such that one can speak of e.g. past present (i.e. a prior era as perceived at that time), present past (i.e. a prior era as perceived now), past future (i.e. prior expectations), etc. Such doubled narrative then allows for the positing of structures of repetition — that might also involve rupture — & that, in turn, condition anticipation of possible or probable histories: In other words, in order to anticipate the future, i.e. in order to plan, aspects of history must repeat.[Koselleck]

  4. That some people have long been portrayed as untimely was an early sign of historical multiplication of contemporaneousness. And universal history for some continues to be upheld by denying the timeliness of others.... (Events in their lives thus also become ahistorical, i.e. meaningless changes as opposed to the meaning that accrues within & via historical structure. Social reproduction likewise comes to feel increasingly, or yet again always already, outside of time — especially labor-time.)

  5. Simply put, between the increasing speed of postmodern events & the latency of e.g. complex political & business decisions, anticipation is increasingly critical for successful action. (Even marketing, which had made its reputation based on researching actual consumer preferences, is forced to anticipate today: What will the consumer want — what might the consumer be made to want — by the time the next product actually hits market?) Indeed, there is increasingly little difference between an event & its media response, as these now tend to occur (almost) simultaneously & as entangled not only with each other, but with other sorts of anticipation & explanation.[Koselleck]

Despite being haunted by both past & future, the present doesn't simply collapse (e.g. to a point, i.e. as temporal intersection of a linear history). Rather it also seems to expand, increasingly yielding a sense that "the present" (as historical construction) is everything as well as nothing: One might figure such a "present present" as "the moment" per se, both constructed & consumed simultaneously....[1] Yet such an "eternal present" raises constant questions of "now" — particularly as change itself becomes increasingly rapid — & consequently, questions of perspective [PL6]: Is time moving faster or slower? Indeed is "time" per se an a priori for history, or is it forged from historical events — i.e. processes of differing themselves?[2] As increasingly many (historical) arcs & strata come to intersect (in so many different moments), notions of underlying narrative form (i.e. meta-narrative per se) splinter & ramify as well, such that the structure of both thought & communication become increasingly intricate or complex. (For instance, as here, increasingly many instances of "and..." appear.) And further, materialism per se can perhaps (best) be defined by the physical now — i.e. rather than as removed from the moment, as e.g. via both future expectation & past filiation (i.e. as practiced by both Christianity & capitalism) — from which one can perceive (contemporary) exploitation most directly. Yet is "the moment" properly outside narrative, and thus already being (contingently) historicized by such a framework? Of course, that so much is moving faster has been largely about yoking time to profit: Financial capitalism has unleashed the generation of money from nothing but time & (prior) money itself, turning many (proliferating) theories of history ultimately into theories of wealth (& certainly not for the first time).[3] And as so much keeps moving faster — yet remains mired in the same historical moment — history per se has increasingly become about the (presumptively bare & instantaneous) moving image (rather than resting on the reflection of oral tradition or writing...), thus adding to basic sensory & information overload — which increasingly become the very basis for neoliberal governmentality, i.e. marketing & propaganda (with their perverse concepts of "freedom" as freedom to exploit or deceive). So yes, "time" is increasingly forged & spurred forward, rather than simply emerging as given. And a "politics of speed" thus reflects a politics of war, as war (for profit) is pressed into every subjective moment [Lazzarato] & as information asymmetry maintains & forges an ever-growing (transactional) advantage for the powerful.[MA] (Some have simply suggested following this arc of "acceleration" through to its grisly conclusion and then picking up the pieces, but that's ultimately a universalizing strategy around which most people have never had their moment....[IP]) Forging a counter-politics of speed, i.e. differing (yet intersecting) contemporary (postcolonial) approaches to the moment & history, thus becomes increasingly urgent, as the war for (a different future) history is occurring in the tiniest of spaces — i.e. is increasingly splintering & historicizing (& so monetizing) every moment.

  1. Contemporary media has indeed become presentist (including per above) [Hartog] — such that the nexus of experience & expectation is constantly being refigured in the moment. (What has happened is immediately transformed into historicizing narrative about what must happen, often without further context.) One might thus suggest that the "present present" is determined by nothing but itself, but of course (a double) haunting (or impingement) by prior & future acts only intensifies: One might consequently speak of the thick fog of presentism with all of its layers....

  2. Time isn't so much a priori — although it's abstracted that way per hegemonic science — as it's a consequence of repeating events & counting. And each event marks a difference, with time emerging perceptually around the semiosis of difference.... (Temporal sense is thus about noticing that the moment is not identical to itself.) It's even been suggested (including pejoratively [Jameson]) that the present has become nothing but an inventory of differences — yet this situation might in turn be figured via a politics of speed: Literalness per se comes to shift (including via information asymmetry), as speed continues (increasingly) to trigger & align perception, including of (historical) time.

  3. Industrialization had already linked time directly to production via (regimented) labor, and contemporary (global) politics still seems (so often) to be an ongoing labor negotiation: The time of neoliberalism thus becomes increasingly elastic [Nail], not only as a (supposed) response to demands for flexible consumption, but as a means of manipulating (& so leveraging) labor time (& social reproduction) per se. (Countermeasures blend into counter-countermeasures....)

Momentary sensation can be figured as ahistorical, such that perception per se (& thus, aesthetics [PA]) initiates historicizing & then (perhaps) narrative. And much sensation (& even perception) continues to be subconscious, such that the apprehension of (generalized) aesthetic patterns comes to underlie (much) historical anticipation: Broad sensory overload & resulting obfuscation — undertaken in large part so as to overwhelm resistance to neoliberalism — mark contemporary history as increasingly (reductively) aesthetic. Moreover, history itself has become a sort of entertainment too, such that "concepts of anachronism" continue to act in the contemporary moment (e.g. forging such popular ahistorical genres as "ancient aliens" & "medieval" fantasy). Of course, notions of entertainment suggest many more uses (i.e. beyond "truthfulness" & socializing meta-narrative per se), such that collisions proliferate, not only involving cultural multiplicity (& so narrative multiplicity), but hybrids more generally: Historical & fictional narrative have thus been merging (e.g. as they already had in myth...), not only shifting the nexus of rhetoric & literalness (& rendering universality itself as basically allegorical [Jameson]), but suggesting worldly disintegration as the contemporary form of history. Consequent dream-like (i.e. increasingly aesthetic) layers of reality are then further spectralized by rampant technological proliferation — itself a kind of materialized speed, not only (increasingly) monetizing the moment, but constantly re-instantiating past (& now future) production. (Explicit tertiary retention thus comes to fade, in part, into a sort of temporal unconscious....) And so the present present [1] comes to require a sort of (perhaps atemporal) hauntology [Derrida], not only in order to address proliferating intersections & collisions between various historical arcs & strata, but so as to apprehend various (active, yet) unrealized futures: Even contemporary philosophy comes to turn to various speculative enterprises... although one could argue that (Western) philosophy has always involved speculation & even outright fictions, at least since Plato. (And so one might come to speak of generalized contemporary fabulation, not only bringing myth back to history, but fiction back to philosophy....) Speculation is also increasingly practical: Historical anticipation (most basically around time as an input for production) has long been an important theme for financial markets — indeed going back to e.g. wagers on imperial voyages & beyond [RF/3] — but now various "hypothetical futures" are factored increasingly rapidly & systematically into risk assessment models. And these models, in turn, impinge upon contemporary action — again overwhelming the moment with not only information (including of the hypothetical sort), but futurity — to the point that we might now be said to live in the "future past," i.e. in the common past posited by the many (active, speculative) futures. So not only must history (be made to) repeat in order to anticipate & plan, but the "time" of the present is increasingly constrained (by impinging pasts & futures [2]), further universalizing it around the temporality of global financial markets, such that the future comes to haunt the contemporary moment more than ever — continuing to ramify & narrativize it — & along multiple arcs (of possibility), thus paralleling (i.e. countering?) the multiplicity of historical pasts.

  1. In some sense, an "omnipresent & omnipotent present" [Hartog] can seem to be a cure for (specifically) modern futurism, i.e. something for which many people have yearned (e.g. in calls to "live in the moment" etc. — which extend far beyond critique & into self-help, etc.). And in that sense, "the moment" (i.e. the very present present) is here now & won't leave, presentism only seeming to generate thicker historicizing — as in e.g. the "increasingly" so often noted in this text, i.e. another sort of "and..." [Berardi] — with such thickness in turn proliferating through & into various intersections & conflicts, including via the ongoing ramifications of counter-countermeasures, etc. (In other words, far from having banished the future from the present, contemporary presentism has merely reconfigured modern futurism.)

  2. I'd already noted how the stratification machine of financial capital operates on the present via both past & future, including around debt & inheritance, thus not only haunting the present but actively stratifying, i.e. producing progressive inequality.[RF] I've also (already) suggested not only that the stratification machine feeds on time, but that capitalist arbitrage feeds on difference, and further that differing yields time (as a measure of motion) — such that the stratification machine ultimately reformats difference into hierarchy.[HR] Such an operation also tends to empty the present of any significance beyond difference-as-hierarchy (i.e. typology), further thickening the moment of presentism. (More modestly, one might simply observe that financial capitalism invokes a spectral, "double" indebtedness via its attempts to capture, i.e. to predict the future — & so to hold the present accountable for its own anticipatory models.)

Decolonizing history?

Even as the present moment expands to saturate attention, a tripartite historical structure is ongoing (at least per postimperial conceptions): There's the now of sensation (& perhaps consciousness), the past about which one has (or can have) some information, and the future about which one can only speculate.[1] It's further tempting to suggest that the past is immutable, while the future is unknown & so open.... However, memory is partial & imperfect, and so the past is constantly being re-narrativized in the present, while multiple futures loom as predictions to haunt the moment.... Indeed, perceptions of the past change often — including via explicit activities of historians (as mentioned only implicitly in this interrogation of contemporary historiography, and of course as existing themselves in time), such that the multiplication of history yields an attention economy [PL] & (further) multiplies information asymmetry [MA]: To what does one actually attend? (The latter marks the "world" rather than the "real" of history, in Lacanian terms.) And in terms of "concepts of contemporary history" (rather than contemporary concepts of history), how are historical activity & apprehension themselves changing? If this is a new era, i.e. a rupture with modernity, a postmodern turn to difference & multiplicity & away from overarching narrative, its historical activity must become very different (rather than remaining a mere update of the same basic ideas): Modern history had not only emphasized "grand" narratives, but narrativity per se, such that the late modern period (also) saw the novel proliferate as a sort of personal historiographic narrative. And whereas one can already hear the fabulation of history with fiction, the narrative power of the novel is exactly that, the power to control a narrative, i.e a (personalized) strand of time, in short the authority of (liberal) subjectivity & in turn of declaration (of one's world or even, delusionally, reality) per se.[2] But now, everything is increasingly (already) documented (e.g. on video), and so historical activity becomes less about memory than selection (i.e. again, narrativizing) — amid a continuing emphasis on (& indeed battle for) everyday activity, which although (increasingly) documented, is not necessarily conscious (or rather involves increasing manipulation of consciousness). History thus becomes personal & ordinary (i.e. targeted, as opposed to monumental), while the past becomes whatever its authors want it to be (in the moment), presumably with the hope of influencing the present (& so the future).... And new forms of history do emerge, not only conceptually (to a preliminary degree), but technologically: Automated documentation comes to haunt the moment, allowing for various relations to be traced or conflated rapidly (perhaps to the point of atemporality or at least temporal equivocation, i.e. raising questions of sequence...). And both history & the novel (or more generally, personal narrative) were already technologies — with the instrumentality of the former often being downplayed — such that they materialize the past via ongoing semiosis, the increased "retention" of contemporary technology only multiplying its tracing capacity....[3] Contemporary retention also goes far beyond computer technology per se, as various (e.g. physical) strata remain — increasingly explicitly as "heritage": The past (especially of imperialism) is kept materially alive, while so much is swept aside — to the point that battles over ecology come to be figured (in part) as battles over heritage.[4] E.g. the archive, the trace, the relic... all instantiate a sort of material history, against which one might balance the (ongoing social &) natural world per se. That such instantiations continue to reinvoke the colonial era is unremarkable, but then how does one attend (differently) to the future?[5] Moreover, if time is the rhythm of difference, i.e. consciousness of the pace & repetition of difference, what is the history of various (other) concepts of time & their ontological emergence? Beyond "transcendental realism" [Nail], much of the structure of (modern) time & history was actually imposed by colonialism, and so has a very concrete history, at least from many perspectives.... (And as already noted, forcing an increasing pace for difference & therefore time continues to serve neoimperial profit.)

  1. Even here, the three by three (section, paragraph) format seems to recapitulate typical Western concepts of past-present-future. (And although I actually borrowed the format directly from CR, that's a fair criticism: To what extent is this essay already colonized?) Such postimperial conceptions not only emerge from modernism, but from Christianity & (haunting, philosophical) traditions beyond, such that even the structure of semiosis per se seems to be defined historically (i.e. around the before & after of moments of learning)....

  2. Narrative unity becomes "voice." And so, who or what has a voice today? And for that matter, how likely is such a voice to be delusional? The latter surely revolves around power.... (Concepts of narrative imperialism [MA] thus emerge & come to define the contours of racism, patriarchy, heteronormativity, etc... of ontological exclusion in general.)

  3. Of course, such tracing capacity might not yield actual (useful) tracing.... In the postcolonial situation, then, one must reconsider the nexus of technology & history, such that technology per se might be decoupled from coloniality & modernism. What does contemporary technology become (historiographically, conceptually), if not the driver of imperialism? How can or might it be deployed differently? (This is the topic for a subsequent, planned article....)

  4. "Heritage objects" [Hartog] are composed of relations, and even "nature" comes to be "transmitted" as an object of heritage today. One might also hear e.g. art objects (i.e. relationally) as heritage sites, such that their situation can also change their relations (contextually) — e.g. as dead or domesticated (or not) in a museum.[PA] (And e.g. extinctions, i.e. instances of non-transmission, only raise further questions of genetic ownership, i.e. of the globe as increasingly an archive or museum....) One might thus speak of various sorts of strata, sediments & retentions, such that historicity continues to shift relationality (including across an ongoing colonial, or postcolonial, nexus).

  5. Not only does history trace relations, but so do art & technology [PA], including relations of semiosis.... One might then analogize sound as the real of (historical) listening [PL], suggesting a kind of acousmatic history beneath consciousness — but, what of use? If (narrative) authority plasters discursivity over breaches or lacunæ in sound [Bonnet] (or sensation more generally), historical (narrative) voice does the same, i.e. (always already) speaks the legitimacy of the perceiver & so of its (subjective, sensory) revelation. (Postcolonial, historical) listening consequently becomes about listening for (i.e. attending to) gaps, including in subjectivity....

Modern narrativity posited a particular sort of subject — i.e. a particular sort of voice (i.e. abstracted from a progressively liberal, sovereign or imperial formation). But within the basic (material) now, everyday history is lived (directly) in the body (i.e. prior to narrative voice), such that fundamental immersion in social ecology entails specific engagement with action in the moment, i.e. sensitivity to semiosis & time-as-differing [1]: A (hypothetical) generic [Laruelle] voice (then) isn't a narrative voice, particularly not in the sense of (modern, machinic) individuation, and so doesn't reflect the liberal paradigm of subjectivity (or e.g. its normalization in the novel).... However, one legacy of colonial modernity is that any posited (human, anyway) "generic" is implicitly gendered, racialized, etc. — such that a/the generic voice has (always already) been "the" imperial voice (i.e. that of white patriarchal sovereignty per se). Consequently, the early postmodern period has mainly seen a proliferation of narrative identities, rather than the reconfiguration of narrativity per se, such that one begins to speak of (often disconnected) personal histories, e.g. of aesthetic narratives & differences posited as rigid definitions.[WF] Personal senses of time then lend themselves toward an increasing array of fictions (e.g. virtual realities), as well as toward challenging modern notions directly: E.g. the "straight" time of modernity (i.e. constantly transcending the past), itself fades into queer perceptions of multiplicity & untimeliness, as systematic modern exploitation of biology [BM] yields (in part) to a simmering anti-biologism.... Yet, notions of filiation [PL7] also become more potent than ever behind the science of genetics (& so biological inheritance), such that notions of "use" & exploitation begin to operate (also, materially) beneath the skin: Narratives of genetic evolution come to yield new notions of both origin & (molecular) semiosis, paradoxically bolstering subjective individual identity. Indeed, modernity continues to reassert itself in this novel mix of "history" & technology, yielding new notions of progress....[2] But such notions now (also) operate below the level of subjective modern identity (e.g. as the human genome is far more ramified than early modern notions of race), and so perhaps a sort of generic does begin to emerge... only to be buffeted by an ongoing history of imperial exploitation, as the polarity of history remains largely intact: Interior perspectives continue to dominate [MA], such that patriarchy continues to dominate — & such that even the (posited) end to modernity is based upon the structures & patterns of modern history per se.[3] Moreover, changes in historical structure impinge upon perceptual hierarchies [PA], particularly according to notions of ever increasing speed (itself a basic biological attractor), such that e.g. discontinuities come to be felt more strongly than (lingering) continuities, as history itself seems to break into pastiche, not only reifying stylistic elements (e.g. of narrative), but dispersing (traditional forms of) agency [Jameson] — & ultimately bringing an array of destructive behavior, the (subconscious) aim of which can only be annihilation of the (unlivable, contemporary) world. Concepts of personal (e.g. technological) history then go on to subsume identity-in-biology, such that "history" becomes a broad constraint on a fuller & more improvisatory life, even to the point of suggesting that history itself becomes a comedy (the latter having embedded its own decisive, meta-historical crisis) — or simply instantiates the (hopeless) hope of (unsatisfied) love & (ultimate, e.g. religious) salvation.[Agamben] Perhaps then, the pairing of comedy & love does actually (still) come closer to forging a (human) generic....

  1. In other words, at least absent hierarchical transcendence, there's no "elsewhere" from which to perceive one's life: It remains an immersive maze of stimuli from the first sensation, with only ad hoc notions (i.e. ongoing semiosis) premising perception & action (i.e. art-as-work [CA]) — at least prior to abstraction & (worldly) socialization. (And then we convince ourselves that we're actually wiser than this iterative picture might suggest, until reality testing fails us once again....)

  2. Indeed, biological knowledge itself has been transforming rapidly, from a basically typological hobby based on natural curiosity, into the basis for broader capture & colonization, i.e. as a spur toward general expansion of extractive industries. (And such extraction continues to reflect the basic modern duality between humanity & nature, such that "nature" continues to be another term for industry or history per se.[Guattari] Biological hierarchy then both derives from & yields ongoing semiosis, which might itself be equated more generally to "nature" as well....) Of course, various domestications also date back millennia, so the differences are of scope & scale....

  3. Beyond the "longue durée" itself [Braudel], one might e.g. ponder disciplinary segments (within "history" as formerly encompassing "social science") differing from the modern politics-economy dual (with the latter having been elevated progressively over the former per liberal hegemony): What of politics-ecology, say, aligning resource use with actual global constraints? (And of course patriarchy even continues to dominate the present article, as I'll be citing — explicitly anyway — only a couple of women: More citations didn't arise organically, and ultimately I elected to let that situation stand as implicit condemnation of myself & my milieu....[WF])

If a global postcolonial situation is ultimately going to be meaningful, it must continue to move away from universal hierarchy (per imperialist typology), and toward generalized (i.e. multiple) decolonization of various intersecting worlds & indeed historical articulations. Such (prospective) decolonization involves not only the various territories of sovereignty (including & beyond the human), but time & temporality itself, which remain the ground zero of neoimperialism.[1] That history proceeds in a single way & in a single direction was one of the basic tenets of imperial modernism, such that "post-" needs to involve temporal multiplicity & novelty as part of its basic overcoming (of the past), i.e. not simply as a reprise or continuation: For many people, notions that history has already happened [IP] come to remove them from participating (even symbolically [Stiegler]) in creating their own worlds, so attention to a variety of historical cycles & ruptures (rather than only to a singular "progress") becomes essential. Moreover, particularly as "history" has always involved a goal anyway, contemporary history must move past a dialectic of truth (or belief) per se & toward actual usefulness: What sort of knowledge is useful in the struggle against imperialism & patriarchy?[Santos] What sort of historical narrative or articulation, or indeed prior knowledge (or knowledge of prior per se)? History thus becomes a matter of art-as-work, i.e. knowing by doing.... So new regimes of historicity [Hartog] will be forged and/or come to attention, multiplying temporalities as well as values [CR] & even (e.g. technical) modes of historical production & retention. (And one might further consider an attention economy, not only regarding past events, but future projections — even reconsidering the sequence or "history" of time itself....) Applications of history — as both semiosis & technology — also move (well) beyond narrative per se, particularly as historical judgment becomes enshrined in law (itself a sort of historical ontology & language) & as frenetic postmodern changes create significant legal vacuums — often by neoliberal design — such that law comes to lag the historical moment more than ever: One might even characterize contemporary authority not so much as "lost" [Arendt] as increasingly allegorical, such that justice per se comes to fade from perception — & justice has traditionally relied not only on perception, but (long-term) reification of its terms & concepts. Law then flounders further on its fading notions of universality, leading back (perhaps) to notions of (intersecting) multiplicity (& even e.g. to the generic, as common shadow of equity): Postmodern sovereignty thus comes to involve a need for substantial legal innovation, now in its nascent stages....[2] And of course previously discussed "concepts of contemporary authority" — still subject of a "preliminary investigation" [CA] — intertwine history as well: That wealth instantiates a history has already been noted, but not only does knowledge entail a semiotic history, but so (obviously) does reproduction (especially as harnessed by dialectic biologism [BM]) — with even violence involving (& yielding) semiosis. However, although all four concepts are in play in history (& variously in law as well), knowledge is the field of battle here — but not from a position of stability.[3] Rather, postmodern knowledge remains an open matter for investigation, and so desire for planning & anticipation must be tempered by ongoing resistance to analytic, insured futurity (i.e. the basic goal of modernity [RF]): Who does own time then? Who owns its history? New concepts of temporal intersection & even conflation will come to form [4], such that history will (also, undoubtedly) come to be articulated very differently (& perhaps unrecognizably...).

  1. Beyond the colonization (i.e. universalization) of time & temporality by both imperial science & finance, one might go on to consider e.g. food sovereignty (which is emerging as an explicit topic, including as intertwined with the "local food" movement) or health sovereignty more broadly: What do people eat & what makes them feel healthy more broadly? Answers vary, and encompass relations extending far beyond the human.... (And regarding sovereignty per se, many of those answers start to be patented or trademarked, including from afar.) Sovereignty over language should probably be mentioned here again as well, particularly as language figures not only history, but law....

  2. In particular, the (prior & ongoing) proliferation of modern property relations under (neo)imperial regimes continues to be a significant issue: What one personally "owns," particularly as regards land & resources (i.e. a notion that barely existed prior to the modern era), continues to inflect legal status in general, and of course is based in historical situations of exploitation.... Postcoloniality remains little but a shadow of modernity (or worse) as long as the latter's (historical) property relations (& related laws) continue intact, i.e. those of inherited (differential) rights unmixed with labor, etc. (And note moreover that "labor" itself comes to be a "Luddite" concern, once again, in this new era of technological proliferation....)

  3. If institutional science involves a crossing of modes of reference & reproduction [Latour], and religion involves a variant crossing of those modes [CR], then history instantiates another such crossing (with its reproductions not being those of lab experiments, but rather of sociality per se): Hence modes of knowledge remain fluid, or one might say, intersecting or in doubt. In the contemporary era, then, one must leave certainty & even anticipation behind, and listen with a sense of wonder (& perhaps even apprehension or fear [Bonnet]). Moreover, if one is to move past the (historically) patriarchal orientation of history per se, one must continue to interrogate situatedness, and indeed the basic femininity of unique contexts & connections — including around knowledge — not as empirical weaknesses, but (counter universality) as real multiplicity (as particularized beyond genericity).

  4. Intersections can yield conflicts, often involving law (for better or worse), and so proliferating intersections can come to mean proliferating laws. In particular, how might one regulate time, itself as intersection (i.e. of cycles & otherwise) & object of power (as generalized desire)? One might thus seek to regulate finance, inheritance, property... temporal stratification & arbitrage in general.... And what again of conflation or temporal equivocation, i.e. thwarting the sequence or temporal doubling of history? Might a new historical or temporal sequence emerge (i.e. beyond presentism)? Notions of time have been far more fluid (across global histories) than the race for neoliberal hierarchy would have us believe....

Further orientation

Please see Basic mechanics of modernity for an introduction to this sub-project....
Or return to Concepts of contemporary authority.

Todd M. McComb
24 October 2019