Paolo Virno's book Deja Vu and the End of History is a brilliant argument against the end of history thesis. He shows on the contrary how it presupposes a kind of awarness of historical potentiality, of language and labor. He then goes on to show how this "mnestic faculty", or the memory of potential history is soemthing that capitalism has brought into history itself through the purchase of labor power. I reviewed the book as a whole here. Below is a small sample from the second part of the book.
In the first part of the book, we tried to get a clear view of the genesis and significance of the terribly contemporary idea of the ‘end of History’. In order to do so, we had to define – approximately, of course, though not only in the vaguest terms – what it was that here supposedly met its end. We can only explain the ‘end of History’, this spirit so characteristic of our epoch (thus in itself providing a historical index), through a fundamental investigation of the very concept of historicity. That is, we can only explain the ‘end of History’ if we devote ourselves to naming the fundamental conditions that give a ‘historical’ character to so-called ‘historical events’, and, indeed, all the aspects – even the least evident ones – of experience. To call into question the concept of historicity entails – has entailed – a considerable expansion of our research horizons. Indeed, how can we give account of historical time, of its peculiar status, emergence and eventual decline, without encroaching on at least some of the prominent hypotheses on the structure of temporality in general?
A conversation about radical or progressive futures in the twenty-first century clearly has to be a diverse and global one. Much more so than someone with my limited experience of the world could possibly manage. At least one component of it would have to be that current sometimes labeled Afrofuturism – even if some of the more interesting people making art or writing in such a space might adjure the label.
Just imagine we did all live in the future utopia that is Constant’s New Babylon. What would the library be like? I expect it would feature a greatest hits edition of the theory that helped us all get there. Here’s some notes towards it.
Sometimes to take three steps forward, you have to first take two steps back. I have been thinking that it might be worth stepping back into the archive of historical materialisms, critical theories and such, to see if there are neglected resources there. Perhaps we can’t just built on previous selections from it.
Perhaps we have to find new ways of reading even those texts that have become relentlessly canonic. New futures call for new pasts. So let’s find some! Here I have organized some working notes towards a revised resource guide to the past for this present.
If there was a high point for the radical imagination of a future for the planet, perhaps it was Constant Nieuwenhuys' New Babylon. Constant was a key member of the Situationist International in its early phase. He started work on New Babylon before he resigned from it, and continued working on it for many years. It embodied many of the situationosts' key ideas about constructing situations for permanent play, but here imagined at the scale of an infrastructure for a planetery utopia dedicated to nomadic play. Here's a few extracts from my book The Beach Beneath the Street about this amazing work.
Constant built a future out of offcut plexiglass and bicycle spokes.
Later he would say that his marvelous models of New Babylon were appreciated in much the same way as African masks were in surrealist times, as interesting forms, but stripped of their magical significance. What is lost from New Babylon is a passion gone from the world, a desire to seize the world itself as the object of desire, to find a form for the whole of life.