Thoughts on the Future
In July 2000 I picked up W. Warren Wagar’s A Short History of the Future at my local Chapters, and spent the next couple of months reading it. I found it really inspiring, since gathered together many futurist trends that I'd been intrigued by since childhood. This was written as a personal essay to articulate some of the thoughts it inspired in me, and so it’s heavy on quotes. The Star Trek part at the end never really came together and remains a fragment. — September 2015
I was sitting on the floor, upstairs in my room. There were photographs and postcards in front of me. I was thinking once again, trying to bring forth the visions I have into words, trying to create something that speaks of the future landscape which I am enthralled by. There was my favorite book, A Short History of the Future, by W. Warren Waggar.
I was thinking about Halifax, because of the photo above. It looks like a city of the future. In the book Waggar uses letters and other documents of the time to paint the pictures of context. The narrator uses these disposable documents to show the rhythms and the flavors of daily life. This has been partially responsible for awakening within me the interest in post cards.
Des traces et taches, les choses que humanite se laisse d'arriere sois meme. [Traces and marks, the things that humanity leaves of itself behind].
In the Short History, what strikes me with the most eloquence is the nature of the community. The presence of people living and interacting with one another in a town or a city. I am most struck with the diary entries of Eduardo Mistral Ortiz.
Quoted from page 245:
To give you a sense of the rhythms and dilemmas of life in the early days of the new era, here are selections from the private diary of Eduardo Mistral Ortiz, a North American cardiologist and cardiovascular surgeon, whose father (also a physician) emigrated from Buenos Aires to the Department of the Finger Lakes in 2088. Dr. Mistral has practiced in the same community for fifty-five years and was kind enough to send me a copy of his diary for the year 2159. […] The community in which Dr. Mistral serves, Cloudland, was once known as Binghampton. Before the Catastrophe, it was an industrial town noted chiefly for its fine university, the alma mater of Mitchell Greenwald. Not a target of the CSE attack, Binghamton survived the war more or less unscathed, as did a good part of its population.
From there is the series of entries from the early days of July 2159.
Tues. 3 July 2159
A typical life of a harried and worried man. The Community Gathering finally legislated a new currency this morning, to replace the Commoncent, but I don’t imagine they’ll get around to minting or circulating any of it for another six months. I suggested they could use the Chenango shekel coined in Norwich, but they won’t. Community pride!
This afternoon I saw five new patients. A boy with a leaky valve, nothing serious. An old woman who needs a new heart, which I can’t grow in time to do her any good. A man with chest pains caused by eating too many raw beans. So it goes.
Met Wisp tonight, for stargazing. (Our second clear night in a row!) She was wearing a diaphanous red and green sari. I could have eaten her alive, but it was hands off, and pay attention to the stars. We argued for a while about astral influences. Ecomystics don’t exactly believe in them, but they don’t exactly not believe in them, either. Wisp refuses to take sides, but she was very solemn when she explained the latest theories. I kept a straightface.
Wed. 4 July 2159
The skies have closed up again, and we had some light rain tonight. The big event today was Will Pepper’s appointment. As I suspected when we stressed him last week, he’s got almost total blockage of all three arteries. I borrowed Crowley’s scanner and did a scan first thing. His percentages are 90-95-85. The collaterals aren’t doing much better. Cholesterol is 450 mgldl, with only 25 HDL, in spite of taking kilograms of that god-damned enzyme blocker and living on bread and water for five years. Poor guy. He hasn’t had any blocker since we ran out in April, but it wasn’t working too well anyway. Some of these cases of familial hyper-cholesterolemia are just about incurable. At least with what I’ve got. Too bad he never had genetic intervention. I could send him to a genetech, but that would only slow down future deposits.
What the man needs now, I mean like yesterday, is a complete reaming in a functional laser cath lab. But Cloudland doesn’t have one, and neither does Pocono or Montrose or – why bother to even ask? – the Johnson City Ecomystical Solar Village. When I think we used to have two working cath labs in the area! But you don’t dare risk a catheterization if you can’t align the sensors, and the sensing equipment in both labs is completely shot.
I have two options. I can send Will to Syracuse with a bag of Chenango shekels and hope the surgeons there accept him, or I can try one more time to induce that unimaginably stupid robot to fix the sensors. Tell me, diary, which is it?
And while you’re in the mood to give advice, work on this one, too: by the middle of the month I will have used up the last batch of general medical supplies from the dark days when we groaned under the oppressive yoke of the infamous superstate. Some supplies we can do without, I guess. Some I can beg or borrow from better-stocked colleagues. Some I can buy from the new medical marketing co-op on Hawley Street. Some I can make my self, in spite of being all thumbs. But some I just won’t have the time or the wits to scrounge. In fact there’s half a dozen things I need that I can’t find already. Would you please give me a week of 48-hour days so I can catch up?
But diary just says, Hell, I’m not your medical log, Ed. Stop it! I’m your own personal little book. Have some fun in life. Go persuade Wisp that the stars want you to fuck her. Meanwhile, good night.
Thursday 5 July 2159
More rain today, and the skies are slate gray. I spent an hour on the net contacting robotics people in Pocono. They showed me how to program Roger to realign the sensors, but I did some tests on a recently deceased collie, and I wasn’t satisfied with the results. Of course there’s a lot of difference between a live man and a dead dog.
Then when Will came in this afternoon, I scanned him again just to be sure, and the percentages are 75-95-70. Still poor, but the figures don’t square with the first set (except for the 95 percent on the circumflex), which means either I didn’t perform the scan correctly or Crowley’s scanner is misfiring. Crowley wanted it back, but I’ll try again tomorrow or the next day. I need a more complete scan anyway for the surgery, if there’s ever going to be surgery.
Talked to Nightingale and Fossey on the net about growing a heart for Ms. Parseghian. They wonder if she'd even be strong enough for the operation.
You’re getting restless, I can tell, but, yes, diary, yes, I made it with Wisp tonight. She was in a lazy mood. We took an electric raft down the Susquehanna. It was about nine o'clock, the light was fading fast, and just before we docked the boat, Wisp docked me.
Friday 6 July 2159
Wisp buzzed at daybreak and we had a long talk. She is so fresh and happy and untroubled, just like everybody in the village. But somehow, in spite of all the differences between us, I can talk to her, open up as I’ve never done with anyone. I mentioned marriage again, but she dodged the issue. I don’t think it’s the age difference. What’s 20 years out of 200 (if you can believe the geros!)? All she’ll say is that when she turns 40 next year she’ll think about it. None of her friends is married yet, either. I understand how she feels, but it doesn’t offer much consolation. I’m lonely.
I envy the geros, though. They have at least twenty journals still publishing in the net. You can dial through one and believe it’s 2140 again. Our people in cardiology have to get better organized. It’s embarrassing. Tonight I ransacked the JCS and found only one article on realignment of sensors, and that was published in Chinese in 2149! Took me ten minutes just to get it translated.
Saturday 7 July 2159
Rain again, and this time a deluge. 3 cm in two hours. Wisp left me a message on my screen. She’s gone up to Lake Cayuga with some people from her “pod” in the village. They count squirrels and thrushes and screw all day long. I know I’m not supposed to be jealous of podmates, but it’s next to impossible, especially when I need her so very much myself. How is the new age going to handle jealousy? What’s the party line? Ah, right. No party. The Smalls barely exist any more, and they’ve pledged themselves to disappear as soon as the Congress rings down the curtain next week.
When I used to belong to the World Party, I believed in answers. Not certainties, perhaps, but answers. You knew things. Diary, tell me. What do we know nowadays? What are we, besides an assortment of bipeds consecrated to our own amusement? Where are we going?
Had to attend a Community Gathering this afternoon, rain or no rain. We met in Ross Park to hear motions on the new antimatter blender. The physics people need to know how big a blender we want, and nobody knows what we want, as usual. With the Sun Ring shut down, we’ve got to have a more reliable source of power prontissimo. I’m tired of brownouts and fadeouts because the sun’s too dark (this is Cloudiand after all, what do they expect?) or nobody thought to haul in enough sugar beets for alky. Anyway, only 4,000 people showed up, probably because of all the wet. Just between you and me, diary, I pine for the days when the good old district secretariats did all the work and let us alone.
Almost forgot. Roger the Robot went over the sensors again and this time everything checks. I think we’re in business, which is good because Will is showing symptoms of galloping angina. I write about Will Pepper but my thoughts are really on Wisp Brightfeather and a certain picnic on the shores of Lake Gayuga. If any of those feckless villagers harm her in any way, I will personally arrange to make them fuckless villagers. With one swoop of my trusty laser scalpel ... !
Don’t take me seriously, diary. A man in love is a man in love, and a man in love is a man in no condition to write in diaries. You understand.
Sunday 8 July 2159
One perseveres. I led a chaste and blameless life today. Saw eight patients in the a.m., ten in the p.m. Ms. Parseghian is getting worse. I’ve scheduled Will for surgery tomorrow. The full scan confirmed my first diagnosis. I fouled it the second time, somehow or other. There’s 90 percent blockage in the distal circumflex, 95 percent in the second and third marginal branches, and multiple lesions all through the left anterior descending system, including the diagonals. I sent my scanner data to Herskowitz in Buffalo, and he concurs on every point. As soon as Will is okay again, Blumfeld will give him some gene modification to help quiet that hyperactive liver and build up his receptor sites.
A long talk with Wisp before bedtime. She’s learning to read shadows now. The latest spookery. “The way your shadow lies is the way your future flies.” So says Ambience, the village guru. Wisp hinted that maybe I should come practice in the village. They have no cardiologist. They don’t have a lot of things. Most of the people are young and superbly healthy. They eat only what they grow, and they grow everything to perfection in spite of the stony soil around here. They till several thousand hectares across the river, where the university used to be.
The only problem is, they’re slightly mad. Wisp, too. Lovely and radiant, in the full flower of young womanhood, but not entirely connected. For example, they’ve taught her that the earth (did you know this, diary?) is alive. It has a mind, diffused through all its spheres, planning each step in its evolution to self-consciousness. Did you know?
The ecomystics are great picnickers. I didn’t ask about the festivities yesterdalf, except the usual “Did you have a good time?” but I know how they love to picnic. They maintain communal shelters for the cold weather, but much of the time they just loaf around in the great outdoors in tents.
Living in the J.C. Ecomystical Solar Village would be grand for, say, two weeks, especially if Wisp could fend off her podmates. But moving there is something else. Be honest with me, diary. How would you like to go camping in the woods with all of the folks, forever?
Tuesday 1O July 2159
No time to write yesterday. The laser and the ultrasonics performed beautifully, Will is clean, and he’s already on his feet. I’ll send him up to Blumfeld tomorrow. It’s a good feeling, fixing up a man all by yourself. It’s an even better feeling, knowing you did it with equipment that you taught your robot to repair. I suppose that’s what the Smalls mean by “autonomy.” I could do with less of it sometimes, but when it works, what can I tell you? It works.
I see Wisp tomorrow. She promises me a “treat.”
Wednesday 11 July 2159
The treat was learning how to read shadows. Wisp wore her phosphorescent red and green sari again, and learning meant a lot of being close, so I cooperated, but my brain was not the organ principally affected.
It’s all drivel. Just between us, it isn’t even that good. What makes a beautiful, intelligent, caring young woman devote half her waking hours to the pursuit of rainbows, moonbeams, and cuckoo birds?
I visited Ms. Parseghian in the afternoon. She’s quite sick. We don’t have the right drugs for her, but I plan to synthesize a few batches tomorrow. The net has the formulas I’ll need, and Roger is an old hand at organic chemistry. Together, we’ll do it, or bust.
No sunshine for four straight days. And in answer to your question, no, Wisp and I did not, repeat, did not make love, unless you want to count kissing her neck afew times during shadow-throwing lessons.
Friday 13 July 2159
Another very busy day yesterday. Slept over at the clinic making drugs. Roger needs an overhaul. Wisp is away again, this time at a podfest in the mountains, which means all her podmates, every last one, will be there and it will take ten days.
We made love just before she left this morning. As she was leaving, she took my hand and smiled and told me what happens at a podfest. She didn’t want me to find out from somebody else.
The rumors are true, I guess. It’s her turn to podslave. She will help all the men, all hundred and five, to commune with Gaia, the earth mother. You don’t want to hear the details. She promises me they will be gentle. I promise myself not to think about it. Not once.
Ms. Parseghian died this evening, without pain. She was 103. I could have saved her with a cloned heart, even a donor heart, but we just don’t have the facilities, and anyway she ran out of time. Ironically, the sun was shining brightly all day.
Saturday 14 July 2159
I took the day off. Will Pepper stopped by, looking fit and happy. We drank a glass of Cayuga together and talked politics.
While he was still here, the holo came on with news about the final adjournment of Congress. They also replayed the scene from twelve years ago when the voluptuous Vaudesir de Lamothe hauled down the flag in Krasnoyarsk. We tried to reflect on the solemnity of the moment, the end of the Commonwealth, the dawn of a new era, and so forth, but all I could do was stare at the president’s tits.
I think I’m over Wisp.
There is more, of course, including a temporary revival of interest in the much-soiled Wisp, but what Eduardo wrote on 14 July was essentially his last word on the subject of Wisp, the House of Earth, and life in general. When I showed him the parts of his diary I planned to use, he laughed and laughed.– Warren W. Wagar, A Short History of the Future, pages 246-252, [day names added]
The Department of the Finger Lakes is upstate New York, which is just across the lake, those wisps of industrial smoke I sometimes see on a clear day. Binghampton is where the author is from, so its nice to see that he lets his hometown survive the nuclear war of 2044. It is also interesting to see that the university he works at graduated this Mitchell Greenwald character, the author of The Service of Being (2042), the bible of the Commonwealth government that exists between the years 2062-2147.
And so, this entry seems to be a sort of imagined scenario of the author in the future, more personal and less contrived. He is imagining his hometown 170 years ahead (since the book was first published in 1989).
And the entries themselves: I imagine a doctor in his 22nd Century office. In my imagination there are shades of Star Trek stylin, their versions of 24th Century domestic fashions. This is characterized by sparseness, a lack of clutter, and natural materials. Behind his desk there is a window which looks out onto the hills. There is the presence in these future narratives of the Rural. Rural rhythms, and rural values, which manifest themselves through all the talk of community.
Looking at the photo of Halifax again. Here is a city, which looks futuristic because of the Purdy Towers. And another thing that recontextualizes the city for me: in that intro he says he moved from Buenos Aires to the Dpt. of the Finger Lakes. Throughout the book there is frequent mention of the cities and nations that don’t presently make it onto the map of the world. By this I mean when we talk about the world, and about contemporary civilization, we always hear such talk through the media, and we thus always hear about the cultural stars, the Tokyos, Londons, Paris', and especially New Yorks of the world. Ignored are small cities like Halifax. Yet this is where people are living, and there is the idea that these cities inherit the future away from the big names metropolises of the contemporary age.
In that sense then, a place like Halifax is the seedbed of the future. Here is where the real future is being born, because it is The Underground. What they wrote about Seattle, seven years ago after all of those rock bands "exploded" out of there: "In Seattle there was no chance of success, and thus no chance of failure" - an attitude that encourages experimentation. It is also why all of those Halifax bands were so good, because they did what they wanted, but of course they all wanted to be rock stars as well. Behind every goddamn good tune was the yearning for the cover of Rolling Stone.
And yet, Rolling Stone was putting Christania Aguliera and Eminem on its cover. In Halifax there is a very basic sense of being ignored, of being ostracized. But since moving to Toronto, there is a feeling that this is all a historicism. Well, of course it is. But there is the sense that in the future what is done here will be seen with a sense of shame. And the future doesn’t even have to be that far away. Like the 1980s shame and embarrassment about disco. The rampant crass commercialism that makes up the fabric of these international cities, of that I am already ashamed.
There is the sense then, that in such underground overlooked cities is where the future will be lived. And I am beginning to feel, that my job as an artist, is to be a part of my community, to educate by example on the "proper" ways to live, that is, by respecting the environment and the people within it. That the revival of such close-nit communities, requires actors to take roles in the society. It was a revelation when I was walking through the streets of Halifax to think that what we consider ancient Greece represents Athens, which at the time was "a city with a small town feel." Off hand I can probably say that its population was less than that of contemporary Halifax. Socrates would go around and harass people. This was written down, and since it was the only place where exciting things like Socrates happened, these writings were copied and spread over Europe. Given something catastrophic like a nuclear war, a small town like Halifax with such characters can easily become an internationally and historically important city, rather than the so-called middle of nowhere.
There is then this idea of belonging to a place, of carving out your existence amidst documents that you leave behind, and being in a center of social webs, the so-called community. There is at present a feeling that I am a Halifax artist, and what that means is what I have been trying to develop here in this essay; that what I am belongs to that place, and it is non transferable to other places in the world. That I am an artist of the Harbor, of the Dartmouth footpaths, from whence that initial photograph was taken, that I am of those streets, because that is the community in which I formed friendships, and spent six years developing my being. What is most important to me is the pedestrian. The places where you walk belong to you. They form the stage of your play. Hence my mind travels often along those tree-lined sidewalks of South Park St. I think I will always miss Halifax, but I could never return to my Halifax. It changes while I am away from it, and as long as I am away, the city grows apart from me, rather than growing and changing along with me.
On how a family might live in an ideal community of the future:
As a young married couple with one child, you might be living close to the town center, or as a young single person in an apartment above the store. You don’t have to leave that community when you get married and start having a family. You just move two blocks away to a larger house. And once you have a large family and you’re very successful and you need a large house for entertaining, you move to the edge of the neighborhood where that happens. Once you get older and you’re an empty nester, and you don’t want such a large place, you can move three or four blocks away and back to a smaller apartment. During that whole time you’ve never left the community with which you’ve developed a bond.
– Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Delfn of Architecture at the University of Miami cnn.com/Specials/1999/future/architecture
Reading this, I can’t help but think of the neighborhood where I lived. There was Eva, Jessica and Sara around the corner, and the magazine and the video stores. Ed lived down the street in the other direction. Halifax already displays these qualities. And this is the life my grandmother has lived in Campbelton, New Brunswick.
From page 256 of a Short History:
Not quite a philosophy, but surely a characteristic thought system of our time, is the militant neofeminism of Christine Bergonzi of New Chicago. She has written a trenchant critique of the worldview of the Commonwealth era, The Ideas of Men (2175). Here she attacks the Prometheanism of Commonwealth institutions and beliefs and also the allegedly Promethean character of much contemporary public life. She subjects phrases like the conquest of space and the march of history to neofeminist analysis, arriving at the conclusion that a life-denying stratum exists, indelibly, in the male psyche that renders the whole sex unfit for public service. [written from the vantage point of 2200]
Commentary by me: I must be two hundred years ahead of my time then because this is how I feel. But since I am a man, I disprove that this characteristic is indelible. It is my belief, arrived at partially through observation and self-reflection, that such attitudes are taught to men, through the socio-cultural processes of genderfication. As such they are not indelible ("incapable of being erased or obliterated" Collins English Dictionary 3rd Edition, 1991, 786). If they are learned they can be un-learned.
I am in the process of un-learning such things. This then, is one such example of a set of beliefs I have to refute by providing a living example, that my responsibility to the community, is to do this. Like buying groceries with a cloth bag, I do this as an example of a better and more environmentally healthy way to live.
Buying groceries with a cloth bag: In the illustration above, our actors have just returned from the market. We can well imagine that the market from whence they have just come is a very different experience from what we are used to. Perhaps there still are large grocery stores, but I imagine that it is a small maket similar to what we call a "farmer’s market" with individual stalls and friendly retailers. Such a market system fosters relationships amongst the patrons and the retailers. They have come from the market then, and returned with leafy greens and yellow fruit amongst other things. And they have carried them home in a cloth bag, it looks woven and sturdy. Such bags can be used again. Such bags are not the ubiquitous disposable plastic bag that pollutes North America and represents a pure waste of non-renewable resources. This scene is based in New Orleans, in 2372.
The continuance of the quote:
Maleness is summed up, she writes, in the myth of Prometheus, who stole fire from heaven and inspired "the pseudo-heroic trampling of nature and womankind that men call the ’march of history.'" Bergonzi does not condemn technology as such, but she deplores the mentality that attaches the highest value to "productive" labor rather than to nurture and healing. The new worldview has given rise to a bewildering melange of arts, literatures, crafts, and multimedia creative spectacles, even richer than those of the preceding age, but typified by an underlying mystical sensibility in striking contrast to the neorealist trend of Commonwealth art
Commentary: The neo-realist trend in Commonwealth art is an indicator of a sort of communist socialism. The rise of realist propagandistic art in the USSR created distaste for the style, and fueled the rise of the abstract in the United States under the burning fire of the Cold War, between c1950-1991. A subsequent resurrection of the style in the Commonwealth era indicates a thorough rejection of the contemporary value in the United States.
One of the most distinctive products of our aesthetic culture is the all day Geistesfest, a festival of electronic mantras, aleatoric holoplasty, and demonstrations of hypnotrance technique linked to a text in Mandarin, Sanskrit, and classical Greek declaimed by children. The members of the audience wander through the stadium and participate spontaneously in every event. Spontaneity is a critical element in the new arts. Many works are designed to be created in performance. Critics lament the several centuries of "fossil art" that preceded our time, when theatre and music directors struggled to achieve a precisely faithful re-creation of the original writer’s or composer’s intentions, when every word of every text was scrutinized for authenticity, and every painting was deeply analyzed to be certain of its genuiness. Contemporary artists reject most of the products of modernism and early postmodernism in favor of the styles and models of medieval, folk, and primitive art. (Waggar; 257)
The Coming Neo-Medievalism
Commentary: The arts of the late 22nd Century reflect a neo-medievalism. Here, the author, Waggar, is presenting trends in current thinking about the direction that our society is heading. That is toward a new medievalism, a second dark ages.2
In recent times, the idea of the neo-medievalism is primarily evidenced with the talk of the return of the city state, the elimination of the nation state (both of which serve the interests of corporations and their agendas, of which Waggar warns us in the descriptions of early 21st Century society), both of which were hallmarks of the first medivalism. What is supposed to enable this is the internet, according to the proposers of this thinking. However, it is of course not as simple as that. The following is an exchange between myself and Blake Gopnik, the art critic for the Globe and Mail newspaper, conducted in late March of 2000:
Author: "Timothy Comeau" (email@example.com)
Date: 3/22/2000 8:32 PM
Subject: please consider the following
Dear Mr. Gopnik,
[…] Art seems so faddish and cultish and so much about identifying cliches and either associating yourself with them or moving away from them (either way the cliche is the center and source of your action, and we should link the word cliche with the word style) that it seems like certain death to get serious about art. I see so many of our colleagues out there and to me they’re like the Salon painters of 100 years ago. Which makes me think who is going to be the 21st Century’s Duchamp and exhibit a pisser? Does the 21st Century even have room for another art movement? Does art have a future?
Date: Thlf, 23 Mar 2000 11:14:19 -0500
Subject: Re: please consider the following
Thanks for your note.
Just one thought: DO we have to buy in to the basically Romantic, avant-gardist view of the artist-as-rebel. I’m afraid that artists are inevitably closer to shoemakers or other craftspeople than to revolutionaries, and that we all might want to accept that, and go back to an older, Medieval view of the artist as purveyor of sensory and intellectual pleasures -- since I think that probably is the inevitable reality.
Yrs, Blake Gopnik
Author: "Timothy Comeau" (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: 3/23/2000 11:30 PM
Subject: No subject given
Thank you for taking the time to respond. Regarding your comments: I entirely agree. Yet it seems simple to say in the forum of internet correspondence, yet when I am interacting with my artist peers and gallery going, it doesn’t seem that I am browsing shoes. To stretch that metaphor, I inevitably end up examining the stiching. If everybody is employing a standard stitch, isn’t the craftsman who uses a new design going against the flow, and thus acting revolutionary?
I find your response intriguing in many ways. I am especially intrigued by the notion of the return to a medievalist view. I mean, there’s the talk of the collapse of the nation state and the rise of the neo-city state to replace it, and what seems to be a decline in standards of education, leaving a large, tasteless populace (do you agree, or is this a crutched form of snobish thinking which seems to be the refuge of all the Bach lovers that have to listen to Nsync being piped in from somewhere?) contrasted by a minority of educated and "cultured" elites, and the rise of footnotes (by this I mean that the act of sourcing everything reminds me of the mediaeval scholastics who always assumed that some ancient source was a reliable authority).
This is partially why I am approaching you with these thoughts, given that as art critic for a national newspaper, I respect your "authority" on these matters. Art for me isn’t a matter of a weekend’s entertainment, but is an important social indicator, a status report on the state of society. Which is why I am so frustrated that art in the public sphere, and within the community, seems dominated by the cliches of the artist founded in the 19thCentury, like you pointed out. No we don’t have to buy into the view, but in my experience many people are wearing that uniform (which Katy Seigel described as "worker drag" in an article on Mathew Barney’s work, in last summer’s Artforum) (there you go, footnotes).
What do you think of that Mike Kelly and MacCarthy show? Doesn’t that show rely on artist as rebel a little? I mean the whole shock art thing as being the presentation of an enlightened view brought forth by artists who are critics of a culture dominated by sugarcoated elements, and thus acting revolutionary? To me it seems a little infantile, in an educated sort of way. I imagine your review will be appearing soon, so I’ll wait and see.
One question that I'd love to have you answer is: Given that I imagine the typical art experience in 2000 to be spending a few hours in a gallery, or browsing through monographs of artist’s work, what would the typical art experience be in 2100, considering that you believe that artist will be by then, "purveying sensory and intellectual pleasures," as craftsmen?
I suppose you’ll tell me that my job as an artist is to figure that out.
Anyway, I hope this hasn’t been a bother for you, I'd like to know what you think.
Sincerly Timothy Comeau.
Date: Fri, 24 Mar 2000 11:38:10 -0500
Subject: Re: No subject given
Thanks for yours, Timothy. Afraid I don’t have time to digest its length and depth right now -- deadlines call -- but hope to take a closer read soon.
[There was no further correspondence between us]
In August 2000, a book entitled The Twilight of American Culture by Morris Berman, was discussed on CNN.com.
"The greatest country on Earth, which used to export ideals like life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, now flogs fried chicken and mind numbing sitcoms […] Berman sees [then presidential candidate] Bush as the poster child for America’s collapse, which he likens to the fall of the Roman Empire. "Now," says Berman in the interview, "there is a spiritual apathy and a feeling that regardless of who you elect, the government is corrupt. It’s become materialism for its own sake, as if there were no other purpose in life except to make money." […] America’s malaise is not something that can be remedied with a Band-Aid or even a brilliant president. Things have gone too far for that, Berman believes. He predicts America will fall into a deep economic depression leading to a "dark age" like none before. "Every civilization in the history of the world comes to an end. There are no exceptions," he said. "We are not going to beat the odds, American hubris and optimism aside."
The interview ends with this from Prof. Berman:
“Twilight implies a dawn. So in some ways this book is a clarion call to people to do acts of preservation of the culture and leave a memory trace that then will get picked up maybe 200 years from now in terms of a cultural revival”. But there is a consolation. He does not expect the Dark Age to start until late in this century when, thankfully, most of us will have shuffled off this mortal coil. – Reuters/Cnn.com 3:04pm (est) 25 Augusg 2000
The author of the review in this last paragraph displays the lack of responsibility, the apathy toward community, which characterizes this age. It’s their problem, the future’s, "thankfully" we can live out our disgusting greedy lives and let our great grandchildren deal with our mess.
The fossilization of art today is partially achieved by copyright laws. When thinking of the contemporary world, through the lens of this book, I see a man in a suit behind a desk cluttered with papers…he is in a high rise. The air is thick and hot and smoggy. There is such hustle and bustle, people are scurrying. Flash forward to these quotes, the late 22nd Century. The sun is shinning, the air is clear. People stroll. People are relaxed, and they enjoy their lives. There are less of them on the planet due to population controls imposed by the Commonwealth. We are thick and heavy; they are light and airy. Measures introduced by the Commonwealth altered human lifespan, towards 200 years. Today you’re lucky to make 100. Humans then will live longer, richer lives. They have rejected the art of our era. We have been swept aside and blown away, our graves are there, those of us that weren’t blasted by the nuclear bombs of 2044.
"A special horror was the problem of the unburied cadavers - of people and also of wild and domesticated animals - that littered the suburbs and the countryside, poisoned the strealfs, bred disease, and putrefied and stank throughout July. […] The Australian demographic team that toured North America in 2047 reported encountering "bone fields", stretches of open country near incinerated cities where thousands of skeletons still lay, partially covered by thick overgrowths of coarse weeds, telling a story of sick and injured refugees overtaken by brush and woodland fires. (131)
Of course when he writes the word suburb I imagine dead people laying in the yards across the street. I imagine these homes without roofs and collapsed walls. I imagine silence, and all of these boring bourgeois people laying face down dead in their shorts and flip flops.
But no one can truly imagine that horror. ("That first year, from August 2044 to July 2045, was the worst. I cannot tell you how terrible it was. None of us can imagine. I doubt that even people of the twentieth century could have imagined it." Waggar; 129). I see the war of ’44 described in this book as a fiction, but also it is the point at which anger toward the system as it currently exists, ignites with its flash point. After the war, they swear, never again! Never Again will we allow the world to become so damn crappy. They clean up the environment and the economic system. They begin to act intelligently. I would like to believe that we are capable of that now, and that we don’t need a nuclear war, and the death of six billion people, to accomplish that. But then again, listen to Top 40 radio…. What is interesting is that he says, 6 billion people are killed, which is the current world population: which means there will be more. But it is also important to note, to see it as, we are lost we are hopeless, and we are clogging the system. Only our deaths, our complete removal from the scene, allow the sensible to take over. This is one message that seems clear in the narrative. But I don’t believe that really. I don’t believe that we are that hopeless.
And in the meantime, we begin to act elegantly, bringing beauty to the trivial and the ephemeral. Conscious acts of protest against the acts of the status quo, as such we set the ball rolling down the hill. Such acts are inspired by sparks, and one such spark is the domestic visions of the future we see in the Star Trek shows.
From the film, Bicentennial Man, released in North America in December 1999 (Touchstone Pictures/Hollywood Pictures) the character Little Miss, played by Embeth Davidtz is reading a letter. Sent by the android Andrew, in 2058. She is not reading an email; rather she is reading a letter written on what is obviously handmade paper.
This connotes that in the future, there has developed a certain epistolary aesthetic amongst the well off and the literate. The film’s basis in humanism, and the wealth of its protagonists, tells a story that ignores the proletariat and the poor of the next two centuries. The question is, is this because these classes have been eliminated through humanist principles, so that on an afternoon, people play chess in the park rather than do something else? Or is this another typical example of 20th century politics, where the finer classes simply ignore the poor and the proletariat?
The epistolary aesthetic…that correspondence should not be done through email, rather through handwriting, on "beautiful" paper. Email is still considered too "cold" a medium, not warm and human.
"I don’t use e-mail," writes Pino Luongo in his cookbook, Simply Tuscan, "especially for personal correspondence; instead, I send hand-written letters on beautiful paper that I personally select. "
He continues, "To be Tuscan is to honour all your senses. We love fragrances - colognes, scented candles, and the aroma of wine and food. Our clothing is made of lush velvet, rugged corduroy, and crisp linen. […]We appreciate visual beauty is everything, from the landscapes of Le Crete Senesi, Marema, and Garfagnana to clothing that reflects those landscapes in its earth tones, to architecture that favors flowing spaces and as much natural light and fresh air as possible…"
The book is printed using a font suggestive of an old typewriter using brown ink. It is illustrated with drawings, watercolours and collages depicting Tuscan imagery. The page numbers appear hand-written, using a font similar to Bard.
Being Tuscan, Being Rural
Received on 11 September 2000, a small letter from Edward Deary. The package, handmade, carefully constructed, revealed a small booklet, made of high quality water colour paper, stitched-bound. The handwriting written with a fountain pen.
A letter received in November of 1999. The envelope handmade out of scraps of old wallpaper.
These are only two contempoary examples of what I have called above, an epistolary aesthetic. It seems that here we have an example of the care and attention devoted to the simple, and what others might consider trivial and ephemeral. Here is an example in the early 21st Century, of quality of life being exercised through attention to detail. I find this to be an example of what Pino Luongo was saying. To be Tuscan is to honour all of your senses.
In the future, there is the sense of participation in the community. And in the future of Star Trek, quality of life is of paramount importance.
Much of what has changed can be chalked up to what the poets of the 24th Century call “Technology Unchained.” Technical advancement no longer focuses on developing things which are smaller, faster or more powerful than their predecessors, but on improving the quality of life. [emph. added] 5
What does quality of life mean? I like this definition by Mr. Luongo:
I believe that quality of life is something you either have or you don’t; it’s not something you compartmentalize or confine to ’Saturday from 3 to 5pm'. And lets be clear: when I say 'Quality of life,' I’m not talking about exercise or counting calories or what vitamins to take. Those things you can schedule. No- I’m talking instead about such intangible pleasures as flavors, senses, emotions, and even laughs. 6
Tuscany presents itself as a rustic, stereotypically rural place, in today’s urbanized media mentalscape. It is the birthplace of the Renaissance masters, whose paintings arising as they did during that era’s humanism, infuse our definitions of what is beautiful, sublime, and elegant.
In the Star Trek Deep Space 9 episode, “The Visitor”, we see this scene from a story line based partially in 2387. Paper by this time is an anachronism, or is there a retro trend at work in the 25th? Perhaps paper isn’t such an anachronism for the common folk, or perhaps this is an example of what artist experience: high quality paper is still manufactured for the use of drawings. Here, a writer has access to it so that he can write his stories with what looks like a fountain pen. Here is an example of what I am talking about…doing things with care, the old way, by-passing the modern technological conveniences so that one can experience something more beautiful. Because such things are uncommon, they have a psychological resonance, one of the "finer things" in life.
The infusion of daily life with some form of high quality artistic practice is already lived by artists today. In the future, such care is extended by all people.
I weave Tuscany into my everyday life right here in the United States.7 For example, though I’m a businessman, I never eat lunch or diner at my desk, but always take the time to enjoy a good meal, usually with a bottle of wine, even if it’s going to be a long day or a late night.8 When it’s warm outside, I wear loafers in the Tuscan style, with no socks, even with the best suits.
8 The following in an excerpt from an ICQ dialogue conducted on 25 February 2000:
|be right back have to get some wine (21.11)
|I had too much of that last night. (21.13)
|wine is nature perfect food (21.15)
|I drink wine everyday eh about 2 bottles a week.
I pretend I’m in Italy (21.16)
|wine is nasty...I dont know how those European elites can do it, drink it with meals and stuff. do you feel it? I’ve always been a cheap drunk and I can handle beer more that the lazy effect of wine. but what a wonderful social lubricant. (21.17)
|I just have like two glasses a day just like pop to me now (21.18)
The rural is reflected in the urban phenomenon, of the farmer’s market, mentioned earlier. On the Halifax waterfront, in the Keith’s brewery building, every Saturday morning, people come to buy foodstuffs and browse through crafty commodities. The aura of the rural, the landscape, being of the earth, brought in by truck to the city, on early weekend mornings, providing a activity for the workers of concrete and glass faced buildings.
The presence of Tuscany in the contemporary, with its rustic charms….and what is that appeal, the appeal of the rustic? Why is Frances Mayes Tuscan memoirs best sellers…because they are inhabited by characters, neighbors…when in Tuscany, she is part of a community, and she is able to enjoy a healthy and respected environment, where farming follows traditional proven ways, and is not subject to the partriachcal experiments of pesticides.
Technological and sociological changes naturally go hand in hand, each resulting from and causing the other. Many of Earth’s great problems of the 20th and 21st Centuries have been solved - including those involving the ecology and human suffering. Earth in the 24th Century would seem a paradise to the people of the 1980s and 1990s, a world with large protected wilderness areas, grand parks, beautiful cities, and a literate and compassionate population. Many of these changes have resulted from the expansion of mankind into space, freeing the ancestral home planet of the great population burden that once threatened to choke it. – Patrick Daniel O'Neil, Star Trek the Next Generation Magazine, Volume 1, December 1987.
When I was watching the movie Gladiator, I wanted to walk in that field of wheat, and run my hand gently over the top of its stalks, like that opening scene. I wanted to live in that villa on a hill of blowing grass. Maximus describes his family, his home, "Wild ponies come into our house and play with my son. He wants to be one of them…" Throughout the film, these epic landscapes, gives you a feel for an unspoiled environment. And what do I know…pollution. Ruin. I see fields plowed under so that a shopping complex can be built there. Another place for people to "shop". I see homes maxed out with "stuff." There are multiple pairs of shoes by the door. All anybody ever "needs" is one pair. The walls are lined with books that just sit there, gleaming in their plastic protective covers, as decoration.
This began with me seeing a photograph of Halifax, and wanting to once again walk the streets beneath the gleaming Purdy Towers, buildings from the film set of the future.
Last night I watched Star Trek Voyager’s “Non Sequitur”. And on Friday night I had seen “Pathfinder”. Those images of San Francisco skyscrapers in the 24th Century. In “Non Sequitur”, the Transamerica building in clearly visible.
But what happens in those towers in a time when capitalism is dead? What kind of business takes over? I sometimes think that in the future shopping malls will be converted into apartments. What kind of people work and walk in the Purdy Towers? Of course, I have browsed its hall-ways, have ridden in its elevators. I have walked on the grounds beneath them. But in the photograph, the city is cast in the light of the future, when capitalism is dead, and the people who walk down Barrington Street wear the plain no frills clothing of Star Trek’s future.
This began as I saw Halifax as a city of The Commonwealth, from Waggar’s futurology. Why do I want to live in that time rather than this? For one thing, they have cleaned up the environment. In both futures, Star Trek’s and Waggar’s, the sun shines brightly through clean air.
The World party, too, was both Red and Green. In the 2060s, its attention centered on the elimination of the nation-state system and the capitalist structure of the world economy. But after 2070 its chief concern was to make the planet fit once more for human habitation. The reclamation of the biosphere was not something that could have been achieved on a local or regional basis. The biosphere was a sphere, as round as the earth itself. Its winds and waters flowed wherever the laws of physics decreed. No country could hold them prisoner. Their riches and their poisons flowed with them, indifferent to the angular boundaries contrived by men and women. Restoring the biosphere to good health required rigorous planning by a central world agency that could marshal all the human and technical resources needed for the task.
After several false starts, the Congress created the Planetary Restoration Authority (PRA) in the summer of 2073. By the time the PRA began its labors, some of the most serious problems had solved themselves, or nearly so. Radioactive contaminants from the nuclear explosions had decayed and lost their toxicity. No longer drained by overpopulated cities or agribusiness, major aquifers regained twentieth-century water levels. Largely stripped away by the blasts, the ozone layer over the Northern Hemisphere returned in fewer than ten years. While the ozone was depleted, ultraviolet radiation struck the unprotected surface of the earth in massive doses, damaging plant life, causing skin cancer, and injuring eyes, but by 2052 the amount of hard solar radiation slicing through the atmosphere had returned to prewar values. Most important of all, the decline of world industrial production by over 90 percent in the first two decades after the Catastrophe sharply reduced the consumption of fossil fuels, which in turn slowed the progress of the greenhouse effect.
To prevent a recurrence of the woes of modern industrialism, the PRA recommended, and Congress legislated, a phased worldwide ban on the combustion of fossil fuels. A variety of alternative energy technologies, some new, some old, were available. For the most part, the transition occurred effortlessly, although energy costs did rise by as much as 50 percent in some parts of the world.
The highest priority of the PRA was reforestation. Prewar developers had already eliminated most of the earth’s tropical rain forests. The synergy of sunlight, air, and bare soil leached of its minerals by heavy rains transformed many deforested areas in the tropics into "hard" deserts, with surfaces like brick, from which only the scrubbiest plants could wring sustenance. The temperate forests of the Northern Hemisphere had suffered losses almost equally severe, compounded by the raging fires of the Catastrophe, which destroyed millions of hectares of woodland.
The PRA fielded an army of foresters and went to work. Years of intensive land reclamation were followed by years of seeding and transplanting. Tropical plants grown from specimens found in greenhouses and botanical gardens in the Southern Hemisphere replaced many of the species wiped out by prewar developers. Hardy new varieties of trees created by plant geneticists also helped in the rebuilding of both tropical and temperate forests. It took thirty years, but, by 2105, the world had as much forested land as it did in 2000, and not a single tree was under attack from acid rain.
The PRA set as its next target the restoration of the forests and wetlands lost between 1900 and 2000, which it achieved in still another thirty years. The most devastated areas of the Northern temperate zone were transformed into permanent wilderness areas, reserved for wildlife and recreation. In some ways a visitor from the 19th century would have felt more at home in the early 22nd century than in the early 21st. In 2135, for example, at the close of the PRAs second Thirty-Year Project, the population of the former United States stood at only forty million. No city had more than 250,000 inhabitants9, and the ratio of agricultural land and wilderness to "developed" land was approximately what it had been in 1880.
Another major task of the PRA was the recovery of shores and lowlands lost to rising sea levels in the middle decades of the twenty- first century. The destruction of so many trees and phytoplankton (which metabolize carbon dioxide and excrete oxygen), combined with the injection of large quantities of carbon and nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere during the war itself, acted to keep ambient temperatures quite high throughout the rest of the twenty-first century. They began a slow descent in the 2080s, but, as late as 2100, the world was still measurably hotter than it had been at any time in the twentieth century, and sea levels had dropped by only one meter.
Adapting techniques once used by Dutch engineers to build polders in the Zuider Zee, the PRA first reclaimed most of the flooded areas of Florida, a task completed in 2079. Work continued in other parts of the world for many years, ending with the draining and full restoration of the rich delta lands of the former Bangladesh in 2091.
Other PRA teams restocked the new tropical rain forests with fauna bred from zoo animals, dredged the bottoms of lakes to remove billions of tons of pollutants, and, in war-devastated areas not converted to wilderness, constructed deep concrete landfill systems to entomb the wastes and rubble of the Catastrophe.
A favorable report on the progress of the PRA by a panel of independent scientists appointed by the Congress was made public on 15 September 2099. It found the earth clean, green, and safe at last. Forests, oceans, and lakes were in excellent health. Air quality was higher and freshwater supplies purer than they had been since the dawn of industrialism. Concentrations of all the major greenhouse gases were falling steadily. Desertification had been arrested worldwide, the fertility of topsoils had been renewed, and every useful square meter of land lost to rising seas had been reclaimed. Congress commemorated the occasion by declaring 15 September a world holiday, popularly known as Earth Festival Day, which we have celebrated ever since. –Waggar, p. 156-158, emph. added
The streetscapes of the Earth in the future…one of the reasons they seems so clean and unclutered in because of the lack of advertising. There are no billboards, or crass advertising. The un-crowding of the visual landscape frees up space, and makes the environment seem grander.
Appendix A: Star Trek (Life)Styling
What does a lack of clutter mean? The lack of clutter in these shots indicated to me that consumerism is dead, it is a historicism. Notice the sparseness, the cleanliness, the immaculate nature of the environment. Also notice the use of natural materials, the wooden bookshelves, though they are empty at the time. There only appears to be functional things. There is only a functional spacious environment. They appear to "value use over possession."
When watching these videos, styled in an aesthetic that ranges from the 23rd Century to the 24th Century, and when watching films set in the 19th and early 20th Century, there is a similarity in their style. That is, pop culture is absent, and people have surrounded themselves with fine and elegabnt things, which they use. In the film, Star Trek Generations, Picard’s ideal world is a 19th Century Chrismas celebration. There is a library in these scenes, which has an 19th century ink stand on the desk.
It seems apparent that by the time of Star Trek’s 24th Century, what we know as capitalism, has become a thing of the past. The following is once again from A Short History.
In the Commonwealth, personal vehicles were made available by transport cooperatives for rental, but the sale of anything larger than a battery-powered cart big enough to seat two persons was prohibited by law. Almost all travel, local or otherwise, took place on state-operated urban rail systems, supersonic magnetic floater trains, or air and spacecraft.
Public transport networks were so dense that a traveler could reach any chosen destination, no matter how near or far, at no matter what hour, without inconvenience or delay. The unavailability of personally owned means of rapid transport also helped reinforce the public philosophy of the Commonwealth, which valued use above possession. Capitalism had cultivated in consumers an insatiable hunger for personal ownership of whatever they could afford to buy, and more. Those who acquired one private vehicle wanted two. Those who had two wanted three. It was impossible to have too many. "Collectors" gloried in the hoarding of vast numbers of books or paintings or clothes or houses or guns, whatever caught their fancy. "Shoppers" took an almost sexual pleasure in browsing through displays of merchandise and buying as much as they could carry home. Men and women sought identity, respect, and status not in what they did but in what they owned. In the days of the Commonwealth, such behavior was diagnosed as sociopathic. It soon disappeared almost entirely. Increasingly, people opted for collective ownership of many kinds of durable goods. Neighborhoods established "goods pools," in which five or ten families joined to purchase appliances, cameras, tools, recreational equipment, and the like. Another popular institution was the consumers' cooperative, which functioned along similar lines and made it possible for members to have the use of many more goods than ever before at far less cost to each individual household. –Waggar p.162-163, emph.added
From Deep Space 9’s episode, “The Visitor”, we see Jake writing with the PADD (Personal Access Display Device). This is how Text is composed in 2372. This episode was first aired in the autumn of 1995. Contrast that with the introduction of the Palm Pilot PDAs (Personal Digital assistants) in 1997.
From the Star Trek Deep Space 9 episode, “The Visitor”: bookbinding in the late 24th Century. There is an impression that these are simply PAADs with elegant covers, like the Palm PDA device above.
I can’t talk about Star Trek’s styling or the lifestyle is promotes, without talking about technology. Technology is the great rescuer. The line recurrent in Star Trek production notes is that technology frees people from wants. They have reached a point where everything is possible, anything you could possibly want can be beamed into being using their replicator technology.
Gene Rodenberry interview : Earth is into a time of material plenty, and we’ve learned that out of the things we have invented. Humans are no longer interested in, for example, jewels. The reason being that through the transporter, you can replicate any kind of jewel. So, it has led us away from being a greedy race. But now what our race is striving for is knowledge, and quality of life." - Star Trek the Next Generation magazine, volume 1, December 1987.
A Short History of the Future, Third Edition, by W. Warren Wagar. The University of Chicago Press, 1999, 324 pages. ISBN 0-226-86903-2 (Amazon)
Simply Tuscan: everyday pleasures inspired by Italy’s most intriguing region, First Edition, by Pino Luongo. Doubleday, a divison of Random House, 2000. ISBN 0-385-49290-1 (Amazon)
Star Trek screencaps from Trekcore.com
- Mostly composed on 10 September 2000 and known to me as “The Futurology Essay”
- Composed as a Microsoft Word .doc with illustrations
- Included in my 2001 artist-book, Collected Writings
- Sept 2015: this version produced