The present imploding, with promises from the past haunting us.
BY BARDIA ASSEFBARKHI, CONTRIBUTOR
In a world consumed by the pursuit of progress, the past looms large in our cultural landscape. Within our modern, digital society, we find ourselves caught in a maze of unexpected detours… nostalgic journeys back to bygone eras. Whether it’s in the realms of music, cinema or video games, art appears to be confined to existing styles. Talented artists skillfully resurrect the sounds and aesthetics of the past, prompting us to confront a troubling question: Are we trapped in an endless cycle of indulging in retro culture, yearning for a time that has long faded away?
Enter philosophers Jacques Derrida and Mark Fisher, who offer insights into this phenomenon. Derrida introduced the concept of hauntology, proposing that we never fully experience the present. Instead, our current experiences are influenced by both the past and the future. For example, when we listen to music, it’s not just the individual notes that matter but also their connection and creation of a melody.
Hauntology, as popularized by Fisher, describes a cultural haunt that lingers through our media, art and entertainment… a peculiar situation where we paradoxically seek to live our future anticipations by revisiting the past. Fisher also introduced the notion of a “lost future”, a future that never materialized yet continues to haunt us.
According to Fisher, the pervasive dominance of the current system in every aspect of our lives has led to a decline in anticipating the future and envisioning new possibilities. Instead, the prevailing system demands short-term solutions, immediate outcomes and the repetition of established sociocultural forms.
A notable musical embodiment of hauntology is John Lennon’s iconic song, “Imagine.” Lennon encourages listeners to imagine alternative futures and possibilities, expressing the belief that such imaginings “aren’t hard if you try.” However, this song and its aspirations have sparked controversy among those resistant to change.
Conservative columnist and unsuccessful screenwriter Ben Shapiro, for instance, created an entire YouTube video criticizing Lennon for daring to envision a better future… a future where material possessions are forsaken and people do good deeds without expecting heavenly rewards.
This phenomenon is not just reserved for music and entertainment; it seems even in politics, daring to dream of a better world is met with scuffs from an exasperated public. In America, a place where mass shootings and gun violence are common occurrences, where wildfires burn entire states down and recreate scenes straight out of “Blade Runner 2049”, where many people can’t call ambulances during emergencies in fear of medical debt, and where the Senate has turned into a graveyard of progress, the most common belief seems to be a nihilist sense of futility, that this is how we are supposed to live and that all attempts to fix it will be completely perfunctory.
A professor once told me that young people tend to be left-leaning because they have nothing to lose, but older folk tend to be conservative because they have something to conserve, a sentiment popularly expressed by Churchill. However, these statements are simply trapped within the confines of the current system, lacking courage or imagination.
In reality, the present is scorching. We live with promises from the ghosts of the past that still haunt us, yet a love letter from a future clawing through the borders of possibility, a future repeatedly failed and refused existence by the limits of politics, economics, and fear, is crying to be born, shouting at us that one day it will return to our side.