A conversation between Armen Avanessian and Suhail Malik
continues from the previous post:
SM: One instructive manifestation of the operationalized speculative time-complex are derivatives. Of course, derivatives are now key to speculative finance, and they are “speculative” in that they use the unknown future price of an asset and the risks involved therein to draw profits against a present price. As Elena Esposito shows really clearly in her contribution, with derivatives the uncertainties of the future are used to construct prices in the present and this scrambles the standard time structure of past-present-future. The derivative is a clear example of how profits are not extracted on the basis of production or from fixed capital like equipment, plant and construction, all of which depend upon the history of investment, nor from variable capital like labor or wages. These belong to traditional industrial models of accumulation, in which a factory is built, workers are employed and paid, materials are used at a certain price, a product made or grown, then sold at a higher price than the costs, and profits made. All of which means that the profits are accrued from production that has happened in the past and subsequently exchanged on the market. The exchange of the product is the completion of a sequence that must have already happened. With the derivative model, on the other hand, a price in the future which is yet to happen is anticipated, and it is this future eventuality which is unknown that is operationalized to extract profits — on the basis, to reiterate, of a future that is unknown and unactualized.
Derivatives are, in Natalia Zuluaga’s phrase, a specific kind of future-mining, an extraction from the future in the present. But this mining of the future in the present changes what the present is. The present isn’t the one that you started with. The very construction of a speculatively constituted present — the “pre-” — actively puts the present into a past that it also is, the “post-.” There’s one version of this configuration that you and others have described through pre-emptive policing, pre-emptive strikes, pre-emptive personality and so on, which are also anticipated through big data, and the use of algorithms through consumer information. But it also differs from the logic of preemption where, taking the example of a preemptive strike, you eliminate a possible enemy in order to prevent what might have happened — but which also may not. It’s rather that your act — price setting in the case of derivatives, but the construction is generalizable — is itself modified because you take this very proximate future into account as a condition of the act that should then be made. The future is acting now to transform the present even before the present has happened. As Esposito argues, it is not only the linear schematic of time that is scrambled, but also the very openness of the present to the future.
But aren’t these conditions just what you and Anke Henning were also dealing with in your Speculative Poetics project, be it more in relation to formal literary and linguistic analysis?
AA: Anke and I wanted to problematize certain initial assumptions, such as the very easy and oversimplified tension between speculative realism and poststructuralism. You and I also sought to rework that opposition with the essays collected in Genealogies of Speculation, which looks to vindicate a speculative dimension in the philosophy of the last decades. But, in particular, Anke and I explored how a prehistory of the current speculative philosophy took up the idea of speculative temporality.
SM: One of the things you and Anke do in Present Tense, which is really important to emphasize here, is to introduce grammar structures within language as a kind of time-complex. Language for you seems to be a cognitive, plastic and manipulable medium of the time-complex.
AA: Language has one unique and key feature in this regard: a tense system. The tense system is really important to our understanding and construction of time, even more fundamental than the experience of time because it structures that experience — though not in a relativist sense. Most continental philosophies of language or time actually don’t deal with what is specific to this system because they don’t really focus on the grammar. It’s a problem with phenomenology as well as with a lot of deconstructivist and post-structuralist philosophies. What is more instructive than those traditions has been analytic philosophy and non-Saussurean linguistics. For example, John McTaggart and Gustave Guillaume think a lot about sentences like “every past was a future” and “every future will be a past.” These basic structural paradoxes — or apparent structural paradoxes — can be tackled via an analysis of grammar. There are some important technical issues here that I had better not go into--
SM: Yes, maybe later. The core point seems to be that formulations like “every past was a future” and “every future will be a past”--
AA: And so on: every present as well--
SM: That’s what I was going to say: what’s very relevant about those two formulations for the identification of the speculative time-complex that we are here calling the post-contemporary is that they articulate a time structuring in which the present drops out. So determinations of time can be established that don’t require the present as their basis. The tense structure of language allows for that, formulating the non-necessity of the present as a structuring condition of the tense structure.
AA: And what struck me as necessary for speculative realism or any kind of speculative philosophy was a better understanding of what I would call a speculative and materialist temporality. For Anke and me, this meant understanding time on the basis of the grammatical structures of language — language understood as something material — and to develop not a time-philosophy but rather a tense-philosophy.
SM: At the same time, you make the criticism that speculative realism, as we mainly have it, doesn’t take ordinary or literary language seriously enough because it consigns it to correlationism — meaning, effectively, the dimension of human experience that never leaves itself.
AA: Yes, but that’s their self-misunderstanding.
SM: And why did you call it speculative poetics?
AA: Because our work also implies a polemic against aesthetics and the general focus on aisthesis [perception] in modern philosophy; and, to return to your earlier point, also against the primacy of experience.
SM: By “constructive,” do you mean that tense can be operationalized in order to structure time differently? The sentences formulating that the past was the future and eclipsing the present are not just descriptive. They also construct time relations within language, especially through narrative. Does the same operationalization of tense happen outside of human languages, for example through the derivative structures we mentioned?
AA: The point is rather that “experience” of time and the construction of something like chronological time are only effects of grammar, not a representation of the direction of time or of what time really is. It’s the tenses in language that create an ontology of chronological time for us, and we live this time as the illusion of having a biography.
SM: Isn’t this limitation of consecutive ordering what the speculative time-complex surpasses? What we have with the speculative time-complex is that the future, which includes the future we don’t know, gets included within the current reckoning and the present is coming disconnected from the past. The dismantling of the linear ordering and the primacy of the present equalizes past, present and future.
AA: Absolutely. Some of today’s fiction and, more precisely, present-tense novels are far more dangerous than traditional narrative in really forcing time out of joint. As the result of 20th century vangardisms, present-tense novels subject readers to a speculative somatics of time. Maybe A.N. Whitehead would call this mode of sentience “feeling.” This time does indeed “feel” hallucinogenic, haunting, urging, hyperstitious, horrific, as David Roden shows in his contribution to this issue. In short, one feels time’s power coming from the future. In the most radical case this speculative feeling makes you change your life. Becoming on a par with the future you have speculated initiates a metanoia. But this goes very far…. The temporal phenomenon we were interested in is how all the aesthetic understanding of literature doesn’t understand that the present tense produces asynchrony.
AA: That the present is not fully experienceable but is split in itself, and that tense structures can actively operationalize this splitting. It is laden with innumerable past-presents. It presents actual phenomena as post-X phenomena and it desynchronizes time.
Armen Avanessian frequently teaches at art academies in Europe and the US. He is the founder of the bilingual research platform www.spekulative-poetik.de and editor-in-chief at Merve Verlag Berlin. Recent publications in English include Speculative Drawing (together with Andreas Töpfer, 2014), as co-editor #Accelerate: The Accelerationist Reader (2014) and Genealogies of Speculation (2016). Avanessian’s Overwrite – Ethics of Knowledge, Poetics of Existance is forthcoming with SternbergPress.
Suhail Malik is Co-Director of the MFA Fine Art, Goldsmiths, London, where he holds a Readership in Critical Studies. Recent publications include “The Ontology of Finance” in Collapse 8: Casino Real (2015), and, as co-editor, Realism Materialism Art (2015) and Genealogies of Speculation (2016). Malik’s book On the Necessity of Art’s Exit from Contemporary Art is forthcoming from Urbanomic.
4. See here
5. Armen Avanessian and Suhail Malik, Genealogies of Speculation (London: Bloomsbury, 2016)
6. Armen Avanessian and Anke Hennig, Present Tense. A Poetic (London: Bloomsbury, 2015)
A conversation between Armen Avanessian and Suhail Malik is taken from:
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