Editorial: Future/ No Future
If you follow political, economic, scientific or cultural life – anything outside the everyday and personal – you may have noticed that the future keeps getting cancelled.
We latch onto a hope that something positive and progressive will come about – the full Brexit catastrophe won’t actually happen, fascist bullies won’t win power, wars in Syria and Yemen will be resolved peacefully, a new way to stop climate change will be found and progressive social movements will bring back some democratic power to people. Repeatedly and rapidly these hopeful havens come undone.
The contemporary, with these frequent shocks coming in quick or even simultaneously through the medium of fast media, is a strange place to inhabit, a seizure of confusion, ‘lossy’ to use Nathan Jones’s words here. The narratives we reassure ourselves with, the analyses, the explanations, the predictions, very quickly come unstuck as events unfold beyond our grasp.
There has to be a positive conception of the future in order to survive and get on with things. In order to resist aggressively there has to be a vision of a future to move towards. And there will inevitably always be a future despite how grim it appears in our present. Cancellation has not actually happened; to say that there is no alternative to our present paralyses just as much as the disappointment that the future we had in mind has not materialised.
Artists, musicians and poets and writers keep forming utopian strategies in the hope that some ideas will catch up / catch on. So the antithesis of Future/No Future is the theme for this issue. Nathan Jones, Peter Finch, Elizabeth-Jane Burnett and Ailbhe Darcy explore the anxious experience of a future-present with its disappointments, its insistencies. Nicky Arscott, Cris Paul and Gareth Leaman consider dystopia and utopia. Harry Giles gives us science fiction poetry in Scots, coincidentally anticipating Nihaal Faizal’s discovery of sketches made in the sci fi future. Meirion Jordan offers a warning for the future of Welsh language culture. Many other poets included here give us their latest which in itself is a futurism in language. Meanwhile Miriam Elin Jones asks why there are no poets in future Wales, or at least in Welsh language science fiction.
This Cymruddyfodoliaeth – Cambrofuturism – is in fact one of the inspirations for this issue. The fact that a small oppressed minority culture can think big and think forward, at the prompting of Afrofuturism and Afro-pessimism, is quite a spur. Instead of turning, as we so often do here, to the nostalgic past, these writers and artists imagine something else ahead. Chwyldro. Cymruddyfodoliaeth is both pessimistic and optimistic. With a utopian hope, a dystopian rationalism and a necessary radicalism. On her recent Cambrofuturistic album Gwenno echoes Saunders Lewis’s stark 1962 warning Tynged yr Iaith , (The future of the language). She sings (and translates):
Paid, paid anghofio fod dy galon yn y chwyldro
paid anghofio, fod dy galon yn y chwyldro
Don’t, don’t forget that your heart is in the revolution
don’t forget that, your heart is in the revolution
Raymond Williams wrote that to be radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing. But how to make hope that helps us survive without placing our selves in false refuges, distractions from the need to act? We can now note that revolutionary hope can probably never be one promised land, a singular utopian deliverance, but many turnings towards the sun and back to earth. After all, dystopia is already here and it is far more complex and glitchy than fiction has presented it thus far.
Our dystopian present continually contradicts the already-past imagining of the future. And we can really only access the future via this present. So this issue, though it names the future is actually taking measure of the anxious present. Or presents. Peter Finch describes the ‘destination’ of the contemporary after a 1950s childhood of anticipation: ‘It’s an ante chamber stop off layby kerb backroom sidecar flap pocket edge liminal redoubt fog of Sargasso debris dust detritus washed up beach line bust and […more].’ Meanwhile, Nathan Jones makes an extensive exploration of this ‘traumatic time’, ‘that turning out of anticipation’s slack into regret’s puppet’. This is a contradictory moment where the ‘manbaby’ politician-businessman holds violent power over the prematurely aged child refugee. He asks what happens to language in this conflicted moment, imagining the neologism as a refugee camp – a temporary one-use refuge in language overspilling at the fractures of the techno-geological era – the violent warping shifts of the anthropocene.
This present is our only resource for the future and for hope. It can also be beautiful. Elizabeth-Jane Burnett writes of a moment swimming in the water between political leaders, ‘this is the moment/ we own in the shoulders down/no air’, here there are ‘no post-facts unless that means poems’. So this ‘future’ moment is glitch, fluxy, lossy, sublime, poem, an antechamber that bleeds. It insists. What is it. This starts to wonder…