Theater of Cruelty

Time has changed direction and is now coming from the future

Future Metaphysics
Forfatter: Armen Avanessian
Forlag: Polity Press (USA)
PHILOSOPHY / We are now in the violence of the future: the most important thing in life is increasingly something that has not happened yet. Philosophy must re-evaluate its old metaphysical categories.


Armen Avanessian's little book is an extremely rich sketch, which tries to say something about both the future of philosophy and the philosophy of the future, but which most of all is a philosophical status report from our own time and the changes we are going through. The conditions of thinking have changed drastically due to biotechnology, IT, new discoveries in science and the form of society we live in.

If philosophy has been in a crisis in the last century, it is because it has continued to understand itself as reflection, Avanessian suggests. The indictment is reminiscent of Marx's famous Feuerbach thesis, which is about changing the world, not just interpreting it. Philosophy must replace the longing for eternal truths and fixed patterns with a reality that is constantly changing, where philosophy and thinking come into play. Such thinking is speculative in the most positive sense of the word.


Avanessian's input into a new metaphysics breaks up old divisions in refreshing ways. The distinction between form and matter cannot be maintained when matter itself is information, as in the DNA of cells, or when the forms of language also have direct material effects, as in the integrated circuits of computers.

As artificial intelligence develops more and more independently, the distinction between subject and object, the tool and its user also collapses. Matter is thus far more intelligent, far more malleable and self-shaping than we used to assume. The material, physis, is already metaphysical and carries within it the immaterial – meaning, sign, culture.

That we live in an age that is increasingly dominated by algorithms, means in the first place only that biological and cultural "programs" have been expanded to a new level. We talk a lot about how a runaway technology can lead to a drastic loss of freedom, Avanessian points out, but freedom is just the wrong side of an overwhelming new freedom: When intelligence detaches itself from man, reality itself has taken on new dimensions.

The future

Are we willing to open up to not only times changing, but that time as such is changing? Avanessian claims that even our time thinking is stern: We are used to thinking of time as a line, where causes in the past play out against the future, but this is too simple: The future is constantly changing the past. Time has changed direction and now comes from the future, which pulls the strings.

A runaway technology can lead to a drastic loss of freedom.

One reason is that we are increasingly oriented towards what is to come, what we have predicted, what we will avert or produce. Attempts to control the future turn into a situation where the future controls us. The military concept of «pre-emptive strikes» becomes a pattern for a number of practices, where we react to the future before it arises, often with fatal results. The future has been materialized in financial capitalism's trade in assumed future income and expenses and bargaining on unpaid debt. It is a speculative business that goes a long way in the medieval indulgence trade.

The therapeutic question Avanessian asks is whether the future, which by definition is the Other and the Unknown, can at all be woven into the logic of the present. Alternative future narratives, such as Sinofuturism and Afrofuturism, can be liberating. For the majority of us, we can be paralyzed by apocalyptic future scenarios, where joyless survival struggles are the only thing left of humanity's long journey through history.


It is sometimes difficult to see how the "new" time logic Avanessian speaks of differs from known forms of political utopianism, religious notions of salvation and the whole menagerie of prophecies, warnings and predictions that are part of older notions of destiny.

Avanessian insists that philosophy itself must become more productive and speculative if it is not to be neglected by new religiosity that is forcing itself everywhere – often as fundamentalism and extremism leading to violence and war. Such a thing probably requires a far greater rhetorical impact than a philosophical contemporary commentary that this can mobilize.

Richard Rorty was one of those who at the end of the 20th century criticized metaphysical beliefs and Truth one with a capital S on a political basis. Metaphysics can be used to legitimize violence, and therefore we should banish metaphysics from the political sphere, he argued. He wanted to discuss pragmatically, and in small letters – without referring to unfathomable revelations, the authority of tradition and dogmatic beliefs.

Avanessian argues that philosophy's attempts to escape metaphysical claims have led it to be helpless in the face of metaphysical questions. Put another way: as a mumbling loser in the slang of history, pragmatic philosophy becomes complicit in the self-righteous violence of fanatics.

Fellowship with the future

In an interesting passage, Avanessian emphasizes that we have made a mistake of violence when we only see it as action and event – and talk about another "slow violence" that works over time. If metaphysics haunts us today, it is above all in the form of ghosts from the future – animals and humans who will suffer under today's society, remove victims of the slow violence of pollution. At a time when future thinking is hectic, impatient and sensational, it is good to see that Avanessian is also in favor of a slow shift to a thinking across generations, a coexistence with the planet's unborn heirs.

Although in what we know today are new corona times, it is increasingly uncertain what we have in store, Avanessian suggests a "friendship with the future." This means, negatively formulated, that we must engage in a philosophical speculation that does not claim to know the future or the will of the gods, and that does not require a sacrifice of everything and everyone for new utopias. In a positive sense, it means discreetly opening up to new worlds by changing the grammar of thinking.

also read interview with Armen Avanessian about accelerationism.

Anders Dunk
Anders Dunker
Philosopher. Regular literary critic in Ny Tid. Translator.

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