Saturday, August 2, 2014

Ab Imperio 2015 annual theme

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annual theme:

Does the Past Have a Future?

     So many substances (styles of thinking, occupations, types of text) are indiscriminately called “history,” and there is no way everyone would agree on a single and mandatory definition of what constitutes “true” history and what is just a low quality surrogate and profanation. The answer to a related question − “why does modern society need history?” − seems to be more clear. Paradoxically, the main aim of our interest in the past is connected to the future, or rather with the “politics of the future” through its invention and construction. 
One key aspect of this connection is the need for history as a mode of thinking about the past for sustaining the future open to different possibilities. Multiple directions of potential developments in the future become possible only when society realizes the plurality of the past: both the plurality of possible interpretations of the same events and the variety of possible courses taken by history at certain junctions. It is a common mistake to perceive “the unpredictable past” as a pathology. There can be no other past from the vantage point of free social thinking, because the past is an integral function of social development – just as the future is. The past becomes relevant today (and in a particular interpretation) inasmuch as the society faces new challenges. Interest in the history of wars and individual heroes at some point yields to interest in longue durée processes and social structures, while fashion for political history gives way to the popularity of family and private life history. The past actually needs to be reconsidered every ten to fifteen years, or at least once in every generation: such a revision indicates the arrival of new people with new questions about the society, and the past as the sole completely accomplished reality is thus open to analysis and interpretation. 
The second key function of historical thinking is its role in the formation of “possibilities of imagining.” By itself, history not only cannot teach anyone about anything, it also cannot explain anything about the present because historical circumstances and individuals are always unique and inimitable. What history can do is to forge a possibility of imagining – a mode of social thinking elaborated through contemplation about the past. Past events are relevant today only to the degree that they are recognized as such by a new generation of historians and their readers with their selective interest in social reality. Therefore, the outlines of the future depend not on what took place in the past (“serfdom” or “parliamentarism”) but on how this is described and comprehended today. The very possibility of a different future as well as of an active public stance vis-à-vis current events depend on the quality of historical thinking in the society. 
This vital public function of historical thinking raises the bar for modern historical scholarship, which also becomes responsible for the “politics of the future” in the society, or, more precisely, for the “crisis of the future” that has become so prominent. An “eclipse of the future” became a registered fact after the publication of The End of History by Francis Fukuyama in 1989. Soon thereafter, the USSR and Yugoslavia broke apart, while the past decade has been overshadowed by the tragedy of 9/11. But these global catastrophes seemed to have little effect on the perception of temporality by their contemporaries. History has ended. All the sufferings and sacrifices have been made not for the sake of one’s own future, but for the sake of someone else’s present, now conceptualized as the pinnacle of desires. The time vector is twisted into spatial drift, time ceases to be the fourth dimension. Of course, history never stops, but the perception of history can freeze for years or even decades. The utopia of a better future has all but disappeared from books and the silver screen: the place of science fiction has been increasingly taken over by the genre of fantasy, which is a deliberately reactionary (oriented to the past) attempt to reinvent the past. Instead of starships seeking to expand the horizons of an improved mankind, we have steampunk, dragons, and goblins in medieval historical landscapes or the fictional worlds of parallel reality. The same thing happens in the more serious venues of public life. Nobody expects from the future the coming of communism or, at least, the triumph of liberalism. The popular fantasy of a zombie apocalypse (when the walking dead attempt to destroy everyone alive) has been symbolically implemented by the counterrevolutionary movement in East Ukraine: headed by writers of nationalist fantasy and historical reconstructors, they strive to push the whole vibrant country into the imagined ideal Soviet past, not allowing it to grope for an unknown and self-determining future. To these people, “the future is no more.” 
In the issues of Ab Imperio planned for 2015, the editors invite authors and readers to think about the question: What is “wrong” with the way that many modern societies think about the past if they see no perspective in the future? In four thematic quarterly issues we plan to publish articles by historians, anthropologists, sociologists, literary scholars, and political scientists on a variety of topics, with a single common feature: we invite authors to discuss their case studies as elements of a broader process of constructing the future through contemplating the past. Where do the sources for a new vision of the future come from? What happens to societies that are locked into the preservation of the existing order of things and glorification of the past? Is there a future for a society espousing an attitude to the past similar to the present-day Russian Federation? We believe that historical and social studies inquiries into these questions have a bright future.
1/2015 The Dialectics of Past and Future  

Culture and Temporality:
  • Politics of social time: “reality” vs. “authentic past” and “true future”; history of history studies; time in literature, architecture, and music. 
  • Discourses of authenticity (gender, national, ethnic, or cultural) as “self-evident” justification of one’s historical rightfulness; authenticity as the language of appropriating past and “selecting” future; history of the concept of “historical source” and of inquiries into its “trustworthiness.” 
  •  Moving in space as reorientation in time: the irregularity of “imperial chronotope”; the passage of time as a cultural code: evolution, revolution, progress, “stability”; past and future in a closed society 
Wars of the Past and Future:
  • “Generals always prepare to fight the last war”: paradoxes of militarist futurism; history as a master narrative of war; armistice of memory: celebrations of the centennial anniversary of the outbreak of World War I. 
  • “Premonition of civil war” as realization of an irreconcilable conflict of group subjectivities; ideological formation in past, present, and future; after postmodern: the twenty first century – the return of ideologies?
Managed diversity, then and now:
  • Regimes of the future as envisioned by imperialism and postcolonial critique; history and criticism of modern approaches to conceptualizing diversity; how multiple chronotopes were dealt with in historical perspective: in the analytical language of social sciences and humanities, and in categories of political practice; political novelties: the quest for stability through working on “mistakes of the past.” . 

2/2015 Designing the Future

History of imagination:
  • Preoccupation with the present versus idealization of the future (mimesis vs. catharsis); crises of historicism and overcoming them; imagining the future; science fiction: the rise and crisis of the genre; problems and paradoxes of imagining the future of empire and nation. 
  • Who sets imaginative horizons? Historical ruptures and new ways of imaging political space; reprehensible and approved imagination; imagination and prosperity: what to expect from a future that has “everything”? 
  • Aphasia and inability to imagine the future. 
Politics of the future:
  • Democracy as collective designing of the future and direct connection between past and future; who and what prevents time from getting “out of joint”? direct democracy as self-expression of a subject through future; does “the third path” between liberalism and fascism exist (past and present)? Nationalism: the dialectics of the politics of the past and the future; the future of dictatorships. 
Memory as a mechanism for forming the future:
  • Creating the future by forgetting and distorting the past; postcoloniality: realization of the future and the problem of trauma of colonial memory; plurality of collective and individual historical experience vs. singularity of a common future; memory and subjectivity: how people and communities remember their individuality.
Cultures of the future:
  • Elite culture as the ideal of a “future” plebeian society; proletarian as the immanent future for bourgeois; can particularist cultures have equally nonuniversalist futures? Utopias and anti-utopias in “non-Western” cultures; the future of religious fundamentalism.

3/2015 Future no More: Fighting Novelty

Crystallization of a “memorial culture”:
  • Who is afraid of changes? Forms of conservative practices: fantasy, punk, historical reconstruction; death of lyrics in a society giving up on the future; politics of the past in modern autocratic regimes; “the dead seize the living”: nostalgia as the ideology of a tamed future; history of projects of “thousand-year Reichs.”
Discursive neutralization of possibilities of imagining the future:
  • How do they succeed in persuading a denial of the obvious? Political demobilization: freedom from group interests; how to distract from planning for the future? Is future as a nonideological project possible? Was there a “future” in “traditional society”? “Preprogrammed future” in a totalitarian society and unexpected change: what did they fail to foresee?
 Allies and fellow travelers of antifuturism:
  • Ecology: a Rousseauist anti-utopia or an alternative future? The “party of retirees” against “troublemakers” offsetting the status quo: historical precedents; “enlightened administrators” as engineers of perestroika, nonconformists in the service of the system; post-Soviet cynicism and renunciation of one’s subjectivity as a response to the “challenge of our time.”

4/2015 Overcoming the Dualism of Past and Future: Making History

Forming the subject of history as architect of future:
  • The moving force: attractions, desires, emotions, and their role in history; the self-proclaimed novelty of the sexual revolution and the seemingly stable forms of family and marriage in historical perspective; “common people” in search of means of self-expression and the theory of subalternity; the social ideal of a person ideally fitting her social rank in different epochs and the real situation.
Languages of future:
  • Aesthetics of futurism and the everyday life of futurists; history of constructed languages (Balaibalan in Cairo, Common Slavonic Language of Yuriy Krizhanich, Volapük, Esperanto, Russo-Chinese pidgin in Harbin, etc.); divination, fortune-telling, predictions, prognosis, and the status of those practicing them, in historical perspective; politics of “guided selection” of population in history; history of adventurers and adventurism.
Historical schemas of building a better future:
  • Social dogmatism of “scientific” designing of the future society; class struggle against the ideal of preserving the status quo of the class society; “the new order”: a conservative ideal of a static future; the future as an improved past vs. the future as a well-forgotten past; teaching history in schools and colleges in the past and today; popular history.
Historical practices:
  • Phenomenon of social self-organization; mechanisms of creating and ruining solidarity; the schism as a driving force of history; the perception of time in the struggle for freedom and the struggle for power; historians in power: reactionaries or visionaries? The eleventh “thesis on Feuerbach” and the eleventh hour of history: social theories that have changed the world.

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