Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Future Lives in Everything: Care, Conatus and 'The Road' [2]

Much has been written about how the past is fading from the present of The Road. Just as nature seems incapable of sustaining life any more, so have the supports of individual identity in culture been lost, and even language itself seems to be under threat.
He dreamt of walking in a flowering wood where birds flew before them he and the child and the sky was aching blue but he was learning how to wake himself from just such siren worlds. Lying there in the dark with the uncanny taste of a peach from some phantom orchard fading in his mouth. He thought if he lived long enough the world at last would all be lost. Like the dying world the newly blind inhabit, all of it slowly fading from memory.
The world shrinking down about a raw core of parsible entities. The names of things slowly following those things into oblivion. Colours. The names of birds. Things to eat. Finally the names of things one believed to be true. More fragile than he would have thought. How much was gone already? The sacred idiom shorn of its referents and so of its reality.
Without the webs of meaning that link objects and people together within a culture, the possibility of feeling what Martha Nussbaum has called the ‘upheaval of thought’, the disruption of identity consequent on loss of attachment and grief, is undermined.14 The symbolic dimension of the past is as prey to entropy as is the natural complexity produced by billions of years of evolution. For this reason, the stories that the father tells his son as a way of weaving a last thread of cultural continuity are, as he recognizes, hazardous at the same time as being necessary: becoming involved with the past, either through invoked memories or simply through imagination risks awakening dynamics of mourning or melancholy (in Freud’s sense) or mere fantasy.

The Future Lives in Everything: Care, Conatus and 'The Road' [1]

What place does the future have in human experience? A certain tradition, of which contemporary Western societies are the heirs, has long viewed it as a territory to be mapped, controlled, conquered. To this way of thinking, the future is most easily imagined as a linear axis along which the trajectories of economic variables, of social change, of and so on unfold. The future of planning, projection and forecasting feeds into our experience of the world around us. Yet this future co-exists with others, rooted in more intimate dimensions of experience. To uncover these dimensions and the kinds of future-orientation to which they give rise, it is necessary to reach down beneath the assumptions and habits of minds on which the planned, forecasted future rests and which mark it out as a more or less domesticated zone populated by our short- and long-term goals. To do this, a thought experiment is called for. And luckily, we have an example of such an experiment to hand.