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Theoretical Explorations Module XVII
Another Round? Towards a New Theory of the Contemporary
The history of capitalist modernity is one of recurrent cycles of boom and bust – unprecedented growth in economy, politics, life, art eventually declines, only to pave the way for ‘another round’ of high and low (Thomas Vinterberg’s astute film and title), and then another, and another….
We typically conceive ‘the contemporary’ as a time after past cycles of boom and bust, a fresh start, a ‘here and now’ pregnant with possibilities to establish a permanently just future. In this present-as-aftermath version of the contemporary, we enjoy theorizing, protesting, voting, reforming, redistributing, and creating, which, having learnt the lessons of the past, ought ‘never again’ succumb to producing the debilitatingly repetitive cycles of success stunted by failure. But if the history of capitalist modernity has taught us anything, conceiving the contemporary as a rebirth, a lucky break or second chance, has failed to evade this repetition compulsion of capitalist modernity, as our ‘contemporary contemporary’ makes all too clear: today, economic, social, racial, gendered, national, and environmental crises pile up at a rate that far outpaces our well-meaning efforts to overcome them. One step ‘forward’ amounts to two steps ‘back’, while just futures continue to vanish in a rescinding horizon.
And so this course will rethink the contemporary as not simply a time after the past in which we can enjoy another round of trying for justice because we’ve survived past failures, but as a ‘disjunctive’, ‘untimely’ time between, at the threshold, on the edge of past and future, within the time of an ending past and the emergence of a possibly different future. To this end, we’ll read relevant selections from Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Lacan, and Agamben, along with the Slovenian School, while considering what good art looks like in this version of the contemporary: a liminal, threshold, edgy time, full of desire.