July 2002
volume 1, issue 1


Writing the Future- Technoscience and theAvant-Garde

"More than anything, artists are men who want to become inhuman."- Appollinaire, quoted by Ray Kurzweil in The Age of Spiritual Machines


The instant that we begin to look at the future we are off-track- often to a shocking degree. The myriad forces shaping technoscience- economic, theoretical, academic, and productive- combined with the importance of experimental methodologies and theories to development have contributed to the field’s highly unstable mix of conjecture and hallucination, false hope and achievement.

In recent years the number and type of futurisms designed to address the problem of prediction has multiplied as the field has complexified and epistemic procedures have become increasingly dispersed: Strategic futurisms have been developed by institutions dedicated to increased performativity in the service of profit. Models include ‘scenario planning’ on the part of supranational corporations and nation-states; technical analysis and ‘wave theory’- employed in the analysis of futures and commodities markets; and the many brands of conventional analysis with projections based on examination of mundane facts and historical trends. The goal of all of these futurisms is increased predictability, manageability of risk, and capital accretion. They constitute a conservative, rationalizing approach -one pole of the variety of futurisms shaping discourse.

An entirely different body of futurisms, born in the nineteenth century and recurrent throughout the twentieth century, is constituted by the projects and manifestos of the artistic avant-garde (now referred to as the historical avant-garde) and exerts an increasingly tangible influence on technoscience production. Under this grouping are Utopian projects launched by artists affiliated with revolutionary movements- Constructivism, Suprematism, the Bauhaus- as well as aspects of ‘Visionary’ and Imaginary projects, including the Surrealist, Lettrist, and Situationist movements. At the core of all of these movements is a doctrine of the possibility of transforming social and political practice through the production of art objects and ‘acts’, texts and theories in the interest of detailing and prescribing a ‘future’.

The constructivist, like Marx, does not seek merely to interpret the world as a philosopher, he or she seeks to change it. The question is how the artwork is supposed to accomplish this feat. The answer, while multiplex, has to do with how the artwork is meant to be turned into a perfectly prefigured embodiment of philosophy, an object whose form will exemplify and call forth the revolutionary future of life turned into philosophical truth. - Herwitz p.27

Due to the complex interweave that binds technoscience infrastructure to academia as well as to marketing, mass publication has for many years been a tool for the dissemination and popularization of its ideas. The popularity of the concept of memetic reproduction, combined with the performative advantages of mass culture acceptance, has had far reaching implications for the technoscientific community. Mind Children by Hans Moravec, the head of robotics at Carnegie Mellon, and The Age of Spiritual Machines by Ray Kurzweil, inventor and head of a research and development zaibatsu with ties to various producers, including Microsoft, represent the futurisms of members of a ‘new collectivity’ of technoscience producers who write a new type of futurism. It is a tendency of these technologists- made explicit in Kurzweil’s citation of Apollinaire- to regard themselves as heirs to the visionary futurism once championed by the artistic avant-garde. Their texts invoke an avant-garde , part Utopian project, part Visionary or Imaginary methodology, comprised not of artists but of men like themselves: inventors, heads of technology companies, research institutions, etc. In so doing they prescribe a new narrative for high-level corporate technoscience production with theory and production explicitly informed by the literature and practice of avant-garde art and the speculative, ‘visionary’ futurism of Science Fiction as much as by the rationalizing brand of futurism originating in the interest of capital markets and production.

Moments of the formation of new genres in literature are inextricable from the convergence of social factors into new formulations. Frederic Jameson characterizes the process of analysis of such moments: "(The process is) to detect and to reveal- behind such written traces of the political unconscious as the narrative texts of high or mass culture, but also behind those other symptoms or traces which are opinion, ideology, and even philosophical systems- the outlines of some deeper and vaster narrative movement in which the groups of a given collectivity at a certain historical conjuncture anxiously interrogate their fate and explore it with hope or dread. "

In these texts, these technologist/writers perform such an ‘interrogation of fate’. Sometimes, like their chosen forebears in the artistic avant-gardes, envisioning themselves engaged in near-mystical battles regarding the future of human life and intelligence, sometimes mobilizing the performative procedures necessary to scientific legitimation and production.

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