Thinking the Future

Deleuze and Science Fiction within the Limits of the Present and the Past Alone

Simone A. Medina Polo
25 min readApr 1, 2022

As of recent, I’ve been interested on the notions of science fiction and cyberpunk insofar as both genres hover over how they construe a notion of what is to come next — that one of the primary finite sources of imagination to such genres rests on how we draw blank over what the future may be like. The very gap in thinking the future is turned into a way to envision something of ourselves in the gap — for instance, what if we keep practicing unsustainable practices? Or what if nuclear weapons have developed uncanny mutations in the natural kind of humanity thus overcoming the notion of the human in some disastrous sense? Or what if other species evolve in such a way that we may very likely see a dolphin be the world’s greatest scientist, Ice-T is the world’s revolutionary leader, and Henry Rollins from Black Flag is a scientist like in the movie Johnny Mnemonic?

Yes, we can draw specific examples from science fiction and cyberpunk, but the problem I want to highlight resides in the very notion of these genres — that the aesthetic of the future can only be construed in some reference to what is present and what has passed into the past to be so. For instance, and as in the case of the video game Bioshock Infinite, these stories’ notion of the future take their queue from some change in the past with ramifications present and future. The aesthetic of the future in science fiction and cyberpunk offers us only the future within the limits of the present and the past alone — the radical difference in the abysmal gap of the future is therefore rendered identical to the present and the past present. For instance, with the rise and popularization of vaporwave and 80s nostalgia pieces such as Stranger Things, we find that the content of the future is the repetition of the past present — the past as we see it through the rose colour lenses of nostalgia, which we find teasingly illustrated in Stranger Things where every so often you may spot some canvassing sign advocating for Reagan’s presidency in the midst of all sorts of fetishized vintage vignettes. This is most evident moments of disbelief in the future: for instance, from the point of view of the massive disenfranchisement of the early 21st century, who can seriously believe that federalism á la Star Trek is the political organization of the future? The question of the future is one that, all answers considered, any attempt to answer it and to answer to the future is in some respect or another inadequate.

In many regards, this is nevertheless a deeper philosophical problem that has constantly teased us since Hegel — How can we think the future? And in answering the question, how is it that we answer to the future by committing to certain notions over what the future is? For instance, this is in a major respect, one of the most popular disputes surrounding the project of 20th century Marxism: How can Marxism answer for the perversion and fall of the Soviet Union? As an account of the development of history, and thereby the future, the problem with Marxism is therefore at a tension between what it can make apparent in the future of historical relations and what exceeds the scope of its accounts thereof. Marxism is found at a deadlock between making the future what informs its theory and wanting to make the future fit its theory — this is even more so preoccupying in the very practice of political organizing, for if the attitude of vulgar Marxism is to make everything fit its theory and all things are the same to it, then Marxism is at a radical vulnerability in being unable to think after-Capital at the moment when we truly overcome Capital and its fetishistic intuitions.

Thinking the future is a general problem for theory, for in some respect or another the same could be said with the excesses of Foucauldian theory in the classic playful joke: so, Foucault, gender and sex are like prisons, the mind is the prison of the body, and prisons resemble prisons… is the future also a prison due to the microphysics of power? In this regard, Hegel, Marx, and Foucault all coincide in that in their respective responses to the Enlightenment and the future, as they provide some form or another of modernist narratives. In short, the problem at hand is that in trying to think and answer to the indeterminate future, we immediately shoot ourselves in the foot in recreating the determinations that shape what is present — the future is only understood as present and in the terms of the present. Or we may consider Francis Fukuyama’s tenuous claim that the end of history and the end of ideological strife are here with the end of Soviet communism and the striving survival of democratic capitalism — it is needless to say that in turn the future replied to Fukuyama with a simple “not so fast!” a couple of decades later. And the problem is much deeper when it is not simply a matter of how we answer the question over what the future is, but that the future may answer back to us.

And I bring up science fiction in contemplation of a question posed by Gilles Deleuze in Difference & Repetition in regards to it: “How else can one write but of those things which one doesn’t know, or knows badly?” (Difference & Repetition, xxi). Deleuze’s answer is that we can at best only write at the frontiers of our knowledge, the future is only at the fingertips of our representations and apprehensions. In his case, Deleuze diagnoses the problem of modernist narratives and their accounts of the future in the failure of representation — in this case, the failure being that of faithfully representing the future for its own sake without turning it into the present and the past — for representation is always in reference to some primary identity and thus returning to the simulated same, insofar as “All identities are only simulated, produced as an optical ‘effect’ by the more profound game of difference and repetition” (Difference & Repetition, ix). In other words, when we envision the future, the ways in which we make the future determinate in its appearance are only determinate insofar as these determinations try to give form and identity to the indeterminacy at the hand of the question of the future.

When the future is minimally different, we observe multiple repetitions of the present and the past giving representation and determinate identity to the future — for example, we can tell the difference in determinate identity between Star Trek and Akira as both of them determine their fictions of the future differently. But more crucially, in repeating multiple different aspects of the present in the future, they are both engaging in a deeper and more basic repetition: they are both circling around the future only being different in identity from the present, they both try to tell the future within their own restrictiveness.

When a show like Black Mirror rolls around to present us with a minimally different future, it is only to ask us if it is disgusting to see ourselves in the future — in Black Mirror, we encounter a dystopian universe that thrives on nostalgia aesthetics, as in the case of the episode “San Junipero” where the main characters of the episode jump through various decades; or the “Black Museum” which plays on this very notion to show that when we try to declare violences such as racism as history gone and past, while these nevertheless haunt the future; or the comically timed first episode that pertains the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom fucking a pig released just as news came out pertaining conservative PM David Cameron doing the same thing for some college frat stunt. Much like the exhaustion of narratives in Hegel, Marx, Foucault, and others, we find that “Modern life is such that, confronted with the most mechanical, the most stereotypical repetitions, inside and outside ourselves, we endlessly extract from them little differences, variations and modifications” (Difference & Repetition, ix) — in other words, we are just waiting for someone to throw us a bone here!

And when the future is minimally repetitious, then the repetition sustains the space of indeterminacy of the future as radically different. Deleuze defines minimal repetition as “a repetition reduced to two, echoing and returning on itself; a repetition which has found the means to define itself. Repetition thus appears as difference without a concept, repetition which escapes indefinitely continued conceptual difference” (Difference & Repetition, 13). Rather than fitting into a conceptual framework or a means of representation and resemblance in thought, the difference of the future appears only as the stubbornness and power of the singular, unique existent — let us consider the case of vulgar Marxism and Foucauldian theory again, for in both cases the conceptual framework tried to take the non-conceptual future and rendered it conceptual in such a way that each minimally repeated the same problem twice but differently. The stubbornness of the future shows its radical difference insofar as the radically different future makes itself apparent as the repetition in both the coordinates of Marxism and the coordinates of Foucauldian theory while exceeding the scope each moment has determined itself for.

The difference of the future is an indifferent difference, indifferent to the determining differences that construe the identity of Marxism and Foucauldian theory — whether this pertains the determinations of economic class conflict or the discursive formation of docile bodies, the future is indifferent to the negative determinations that make Marxism and Foucauldian theory what they are. In this regard, “Repetition appears here only in the passage from one order of generality to another, emerging with the help of — or on the occasion of — this passage. It is as if repetition momentarily appeared between or underneath the two generalities” (Difference & Repetition, 3). Beneath the narratives of the future, whether it is Star Trek, or Akira, or Johnny Mnemonic, or Hegel, or Marx, what sips in between them is this excess of the future that only makes itself apparent in roundabout ways — that I may only notice the future beyond Marxism by encountering Hegel, or that I may envision the future beyond Johnny Mnemonic through Star Trek. This is not to say that the destination of the passage from one moment of the repetition to next is closer to the future, but that something of the future shined through in the movement itself.

For Deleuze, the task of modern philosophy is not so much choosing between camps like Marxism or Foucauldian theory, but rather the expansion of the means of philosophical expression and the creation of concepts otherwise inconceivable and irrepresentable (Difference & Repetition, xx and xxi) — in this regard, Deleuze situates his inquiry in the text in reference to Friedrich Nietzsche and Samuel Butler. In reference to Nietzsche, Deleuze’s task of philosophy is untimely as an affirmative acting counter to the historical tradition of philosophy and philosophy concerned with eternalized notions. And in reference to Butler, Deleuze refers to the term Erewhon, “signifying at once the originary ‘nowhere’ and the displaced, disguised, modified and always re-created ‘here-and-now,’” of which he elaborates that in this “individuations are impersonal, and singularities are pre-individual: the splendour of the pronoun ‘one’” (Difference & Repetition, xxi).

To expand on the phrase “the splendour of the pronoun ‘one,’ this is a reference to the French “On,” a singular indeterminate pronoun — in occasions we may encounter a similar usage in English, in talking about “oneself” or that “one should do this and that.” In this respect, the future is one that is impersonal, singular, and indeterminate to individuations of it that are in reference to the primacy of identity. The untimely future is therefore a future made and unmade, always shifting its horizon, temporal orientations, and its determinate coordinations that introduce it as future — in the case of philosophy, Deleuze turns to the history of philosophy, not as a book and history of facts, but a hypothetical text that helps develop philosophy — for instance, for Deleuze, the history of philosophy is akin to collage in painting and is the reproduction of philosophy itself (Difference & Repetition, xxi). This hypothetical text of the history of philosophy, Deleuze points out, is much like a feigned book in the work of Jorge Luis Borges. Here is Deleuze’s example of Borges’ Don Quixote:

…he goes further when he considers a real book, such as Don Quixote, as , though it were an imaginary book itself reproduced by an imaginary author, Pierre Menard, who in turn he considers to be real. In this case, the most exact, the most strict repetition has as its correlate the maximum of difference (‘The text of Cervantes and that of Menard are verbally identical, but the second is almost infinitely richer…’). Commentaries in the history of philosophy should represent a kind of slow motion, a congelation or immobilisation of the text, not only of the text to which they relate, but also of the text in which they are inserted — so much so that they have a double existence and corresponding ideal: the pure repetition of the former text and the present text in one another. It is in order to approach this double existence that we have sometimes had to integrate historical notes into the present text (Difference & Repetition, xxii).

We can think of Borges’ Don Quixote just the same way that vaporwave stands next to the musical pieces from which it was sampled and recycled — in a sense, a vaporwave version of a song being infinitely richer than whatever was supposed to be the original. For instance, it is now possible to argue that Macintosh Plus’ “リサフランク420 / 現代のコンピュー” is recognizable by its own right despite the content from which it was sampled, like Diana Ross’ “It’s Your Move.”

And in this respect, we are well within our rights to talk about vulgar Marxism or vulgar Foucauldian theory despite the specifics of Karl Marx’s and Michel Foucault’s work — this double existence of the text is in essence effective both in the notion of the future it sways around and the future it enacts. The vulgar Marxist is as much worth a response as the highly sophisticated one — the stakes are the same in both hypothetically speaking.

For instance, in the case of Marx, we may say that he himself partook in this in his critique of Hegel — that it has been noted that Marx has more in common with Hegel than he would like to admit, but to overcome Hegel in a Hegelian gesture, he had to portray him in a vulgarized form while Hegel nevertheless survived in the spirit of Marxism. The repetition of philosophy as the history of philosophy and the commentaries over philosophy are crucial to its development and exceeding of itself — Deleuze writes: “a commentary should act as a veritable double and bear the maximal modification appropriate to a double,” meaning that the commentator as the doppelgänger of Marxism or Foucauldian theory nevertheless acts as if it were the ‘original’ despite all modifications considered. In this sense, one could say that the committed vulgar Marxist sincerely believes their Marxism to be the one, despite being just a double or even entering the simulacra of Marxism — which inversely means that Marxism is caught in an uncanny state of simulacra over its own sense of original identity having been caught by the oceanic duplication of itself. “(One imagines a philosophically bearded Hegel, a philosophically clean-shaven Marx, in the same way as a moustached Mona Lisa)” (Difference and Repetition, xxi). In this regard, I present my own caption meme based on Deleuze’s expansion of the concept and Zizek’s expansive elaboration on it:

(“And, to go EVEN further, is the practice of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure mouth-fist-fucking not the exemplary case of what Deleuze called the “expansion of a concept”?”)

With Marxism outgrowing itself, with internal identical differences arising from changes such as Marx to Lenin to Mao or divergences between the Soviet model and those in China, Yugoslavia, and Latin America, as different turns to the past came from these duplications of Marxism. One such response to the state of Marxism and its dissolution of course was nostalgia — something that Slavoj Zizek is very persistent about. As he writes for the New York Times: “But the Communist nostalgia should not be taken too seriously: far from expressing an actual wish to return to the gray Socialist reality, it is more a form of mourning, of gently getting rid of the past” (“20 Years of Collapse”). But while noting of the state of China’s communism, Zizek adds that:

In a crazy double reversal, capitalism won over Communism, but the price paid for this victory is that Communists are now beating capitalism in its own terrain.

This is why today’s China is so unsettling: capitalism has always seemed inextricably linked to democracy, and faced with the explosion of capitalism in the People’s Republic, many analysts still assume that political democracy will inevitably assert itself (“20 Years of Collapse”)

Besides Zizek, the mutation of Chinese communism has been also noted by Byung-Chul Han surrounding the Chinese neologism “Shanzhai” and how it pertains all aspects of Chinese life, as it is associated with other expressions such as shanzhaism, shanzhai culture, and shanzhai spirit.

Shanzhai pertains subversion and creation, a kind of ingenuity where the new emerges from surprising variations and combinations — Han highlights examples in what would be considered crude forgeries of cellphones in the West, Nokia turned Nokir, Samsung turned Samsing, and so on. The difference of the shanzhai spirit is that they draw attention to the fact that they are not the original, while also playing around with it. Han describes shanzhai as decreation and active differing, as earlier in his book he has seeked to establish a genealogy of the aesthetic Spirit of places informed by beliefs surrounding process, as in religions in the Far East. In this regard, by taking Being as a process, where “The creativity of nature itself relies on a continual process of variation, combination, and mutation… Shanzhai operates through intensive hybridization.”

In this regard, when it comes to Maoism and the communist situation in China, Han elaborates that Maoism was itself a kind of shanzhai Marxism — or in the Hegelese terms of Zizek, a concrete universality where the truth of the theory came from how it answered to its situation in and through its transplantation. In this regard, and with the account of major foundational metaphysical differences between worldly regions, Han elaborates that there is no contradiction in the Chinese turn to turbo-capitalism. For indeed, “contradiction is not a Chinese concept” as indeed it was foundational of much of the Western tradition due to Aristotle, and it is one of the aspects that burden upon that tradition which has manifested itself in the contradictions of fixated ideology. As Han concludes that “Over time shanzai communism may mutate into a political form that one could very well call shanzai democracy…” (Shanzhai, 72–78). In Zizek’s and Han’s comments over the nostalgia of communism, we may note a difference between the state of ex-Yugoslavian communists which is associated an Event as its demarcational break, whereas the mutations of Chinese communism allude to more subtle variations and mutations than grand events.

Indeed, there are various ways by which one is confronted by lost futures. In many cases, many commentators on the matter have turned to Sigmund Freud’s “Mourning and Melancholia.” It suffices to say that in the face of loss, one is confronted with various idiosyncratic questions. For one, identity is developed through attachments, and when I lose you, the question arises wondering what have I lost of myself in losing you? Attitudes such as mourning and melancholia reflect how either one incorporates the loss in a self-affirming way or one gets lost at one’s loss. Regardless of our response to the loss, we are nevertheless reminded of the Thing that one has when, in playful terms, one has a Thing for a Thing — in the face of loss, one is confronted to face the Thing in its uncanny recurrences.

Interestingly enough, both Slavoj Zizek and Byung-Chul Han have commented on the same film as it pertains to this matter — in Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, we may begin by discussing the general plot before splitting the movie into two acts. The general story is about Justine, who on her wedding day spirals into a depressive episode effectively breaking off with her husband — Justine only gets worse, as she ends up staying under the care of her sister Claire, her brother-in-law John, and her nephew Leo. By then, an underlying aspect of the movie becomes more so apparent, that what was at first a distant blue star has turned out to be planet called “Melancholia” — for a time it hid behind the sun, but afterwards when it reappeared and headed close to Earth, there was a split in opinion between whether it was just going to pass by or whether it would collide with Earth. John acts as the scientistic realist and Claire is filled by hysteric doubt, Justine succumbs to the narcissistic introspection of her depression, and Leo remains clueless and yet extremely important to all of them. Despite all his reassurance to Claire, upon finding out that Melancholia was heading for collision with Earth, John commits suicide only for Claire to find him and hide him from Leo. In this occasion, we see a major change in Justine’s character; as in the disastrous occasion of that unlucky star, we watch Justine reversing roles with her sister — whereas Claire was supposed to take care of Justine, upon this tragic occasion, Justine remains unperturbed throughout the confusion and agitation and takes care of Claire and Leo. If we split the movie into its two acts, then Act I pertains a weak promise of the future in marriage; and Act II is about the abolition of future all together. Though at the beginning of the movie we find Justine in a depressing spiral rendering her unable to love or where love appears to her as impossible, this takes a reversal as the impossibility of love turns to be the source of her depression (Event, 16–20; The Agony of Eros, 3–8).

Adequately, the future can be understood too in the terms of the non-place, atopos, of radical Otherness — especially if we understand the future as that which is yet-to-take-place, it is thereby not in place. In Melancholia, the placelessness of this radical otherness as the space of love beyond depressive narcissism plays a central role in Justine’s transformation as a character — “The disastrous event (Ereignis) — this invasion of the Exterior and wholly Other — unfolds as dispossession (Ent-Eignis), an annulment and voiding of the Own” (The Agony of Eros, 5 and 8). What allows Justine to love and overcome her depression is the indifference of the future in the face of Melancholia, where only she had the means by which to take care of those collapsing under the unfortunate stars — in relinquishing one’s will and in being able not to be able to, Justine finds an optimism in disaster by making a difference in a radically indifferent occasion.

In the traces of lost futures, we also find two distinct responses by Jacques Derrida and Mark Fisher. In Derrida’s notion of hauntology, Derrida stressed that the key aspect to deconstruction rests in the notion of traces, excesses to the present that contour the way the present is present by what is absent. For example, memory and time-experience in Derrida are non-linear, elusive, and full of gaps and contradictions that prevent any total and complete mnemonic recollection. In Of Grammatology, Derrida gives a detailed account of time being out of joint and dislocated in his decentered, (post-)phenomenology of temporality qua textuality (Of Grammatology, 65–67). It is in this sense that “the other is in oneself” such that “the present is the past,” in that the past lingers as the haunting contour in the presence of the present as such such that the present spills out of itself… in traces, the ontological present is always already marked by the past as unborn dead time (Of Grammatology, 68 -71). In the differentiation and determination of the present, the traces of the past contour its being present and the future is differentiated and deferred as différance.

Fisher argues that the 21st century has been characterized by the cancelation of the future, “this stasis has been buried, interred behind a superficial frenzy of ‘newness,’ of perpetual movement” (Ghosts of My Life, Ch. 00). In this case, we may elaborate on the influence that vaporwave derived from vaporware — vaporware refers to those aspects of popular digital culture that are announced but never released in the future. One may think about unreleased video games or the 80s hyper-fantastical aesthetics of the future (“Vaporwave — Down The Rabbit Hole”). Fisher writes: “Rather than the old recoiling from the ‘new’ in fear and incomprehension, those whose expectations were formed in an earlier era are more likely to be startled by the sheer persistence of recognisable forms” (Ghosts of My Life, Ch 00). One may consider, for example, the astonishing persistence of yuppy aesthetics and dad rock prevailing still in the 2010s — Oh yes, another person doing Bohemian Rhapsody at the karaoke session.

Or even more prolifically, the Simpsons still being around 28 seasons into the show’s production — in the context of vaporware, it is only amusing to consider Simpsonwave in the undead era of the Simpsons, as it only highlights the erosion of identity in the Simpsons. After Season 8 and with the departure of most of the influential writers to the Simpsons, the future of the Simpsons disappeared into the late “Zombie Simpsons” in a manner akin to Fisher’s description of the disappearance of the future, which is gradual and subtle: “This dyschronia, this temporal disjuncture, ought to feel uncanny, yet the predominance of what Reynolds calls ‘retro-mania’ means that it has lost any unheimlich charge: anachronism is now taken for granted” (Ghosts of My Life, Ch 00). The Simpsons had become unlike themselves, where they were once contained in the mundanity of family life despite all pop culture, it had become exaggerated by the erosion of the character of its characters and the shameless injections of celebrity features to fill in the gap. Or in The Simpsons Movie, a climatic moment of the zombification of The Simpsons, which opens with the pop punk band Green Day as the kicker celebrity feature. The Simpsons and Green Day cross paths in an instance where they are undergoing the same process; once Green Day represented a critique of pop culture — for instance, in a last vocal counter political expression to the Bush Administration in their album American Idiot — but by the time the band was in The Simpsons Movie both The Simpsons and Green Day had become unlike themselves. In short, we see a future lost in the Simpsons and Green Day becoming strangers to themselves losing their Thing.

And yet, all differences in the vision of future aside, much like in “Melancholia,” we may be faced by the indifference of the future given global catastrophes — for instance, we may see that there are various disastrous affairs in our given present, and that in each on them lays at stake some claim over the future. Despite all disputes over such a claim over the future, the indifference of the future reaches a point in which disputes will not suffice — as in the case of the ecological decay of the Earth, for all the Left can account for, Nature remains indifferent to the Left’s frameworks and its programmes just as much as it remains indifferent to the Right (… or even worse, Fake News); the future may very well answer despite our beliefs and our activity, in such a way that with the recent turn of the Earth into a hothouse effect, one cannot but say that the future will nevertheless turn towards us no matter how much we dabble around responding to it.

The underlying struggle at hand pertains again as to whether the future is understood for itself or for the sake of some notion of it already dipping its toes in the future; whether we actually arrive at something new or whether we only return to the Same. To this extent we are seeing a tension between the heterology of the future as opposed to the homology of the future — for on the one hand, we are concerned with the radical indeterminate difference of the future; and on the other, we encounter the future in reference to the same things of some identical present or as some minimal variation based around the same thing. As in the case of an ecological disaster or in the case of “Melancholia,” despite all homological variations of the future, we are faced with the future in its entire heterogeneity — in the face of the heterogenous indifference of the future, we find that our narrations and disputes over the future are all the same… superficial.

And it is in this respect that one of the major problematics surrounding narrating the future is the superficiality that the future takes on — by this I mean that the different determinations and characterizations we give to the future are futile in the face of the future’s indifference, insofar as our comprehension of the future amounts to an aesthetic makeover of the future — this is not to say makeovers are not fun. But rather, the future, insofar as it sustains its radical heterogeneity, remains a non-space of indeterminacy — this means at least two things: for one, that the indeterminacy of the future opens up a free space for action and intervention opposed to any all-too-determinate futures; but simultaneously, this means that, in as much as this indeterminacy opens a space of intervention, the indeterminacy of the future is despite all determinate decisions and actions we may put into place as we plunge ourselves towards the nowhere and nothing of the future. What is the status of any one narrative of the future if such a predicament is their condition?

In Difference & Repetition, Deleuze sees this question as a point of coincidence for Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche, as in both of them we see a concern with narratives of repetition, the philosophy of the future, and the theatre of the future in characters such as Job-Abraham and Dionysus-Zarathustra -”…this prodigious encounter in relation to a philosophy of repetition: they oppose repetition to all forms of generality” (Difference & Repetition, 5). Deleuze sums up these aspects of repetition to be four:

(1) Repetition makes something new of repetition itself, one turns the repetition into a novelty — for instance, how is it that the repetitions inherent in vaporwave came with their own respective senses of novelty distinct from those samples that composed it.

(2) In consequence, opposing repetition to the laws of nature, meaning that “if repetition concerns the most interior element of the will, this is because everything changes around the will, in accordance with the laws of nature” (Difference & Repetition, 6). Deleuze notes that Kierkegaard opposes nature as a mere aesthetic relation, though such a perspective in not shared by Nietzsche as he sees lawless repetition in Nature itself — Deleuze writes: “If he discovers repetition in the Physis itself, this is because he discovers in the Physis something superior to the reign of laws: a will willing itself through all change, a power opposed to law, an interior of the earth opposed to the laws of the surface” (Difference & Repetition, 6).

(3) Repetition not only suspends the natural law (either by an interventional will or/and an immanent self-differing will in nature), but repetition also suspends moral law — the state of the repetition nevertheless singular and characterized by the solitary. It is in this singularity as opposed to the primacy of the general through which Kierkegaard and Nietzsche set themselves aside from Hegel and Kant respectively just the same way they also set up figures like Job-Abraham and Dionysus-Zarathustra. And this case we can see an example of the theatre of the future in Kierkegaard’s Job and Abraham — in his characterizations of these biblical figures, we find Job in the face of an infinite contestation and Abraham in infinite resignation; what Deleuze notes of Kierkegaard’s characters is that “Job challenges the law in an ironic manner,… [whereas] Abraham submits humorously to the law, but finds in that submission precisely the singularity of his only son whom the law commanded him to sacrifice” (Difference & Repetition, 7). In Nietzsche’s Zarathustra and the Eternal Return — Zarathustra overturns Kant’s principles through the proclamation that “whatever you will, will it in such a manner that you also will its eternal return” (Difference & Repetition, 7). In the face of the immediate challenge posed by the Eternal Return, we find Zarathustra playing two faces of aggression and acquiescence where “irony and black humour are combined in Zarathustra, so there is a within-the-law and a beyond-the-law” (Difference and Repetition, 7)

(4) Repetition is opposed not only to the generalities of habit but to the particularities of memory too. Deleuze writes:

In this way, repetition is the thought of the future: it is opposed to both the ancient category of reminiscence and the modern category of habitus. It is in repetition and by repetition that Forgetting becomes a positive power while the unconscious becomes a positive and superior unconscious (for example, forgetting as a force is an integral part of the lived experience of the eternal return)… it is a question of producing within the work a movement capable of affecting the mind outside of all representation; it is a question of making a movement itself a work… (Difference & Repetition, 7–8).

Insofar as the projects of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche are concerned, they are inventing a theatre within philosophy, which is both a theatre of the future and a new philosophy. In the example of Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the text is both within philosophy but also staged — upon any reading of Nietzsche, one of the most striking features is the use of lyrical language and poetics. The theatre opened up within philosophy allows for movement in philosophy, as since Hegel philosophy has been haunted by its end — in these cases, though the opposite is very much the case, Hegel is portrayed as the representative of concepts instead of dramatizing Ideas (Difference & Repetition, 10) — in this respect, rather than representing concepts, the theatre of repetition engages with “the theatrical space, the emptiness of that space, and the manner in which it is filled and determined by the signs and masks through which the actor plays a role which plays other roles” (Difference & Repetition, 10).

In this sense, we could say that the superficiality of the future turns into a masquerade of the future — for narratives over the future are in a dispute over the emptiness of the future, and they can only gather around the future through playing roles towards the future. We may take the aesthetic of VHS tapes after the era of VHS distribution as an example. In its age, VHS transformed the format of moving pictures, such that the widescreen of cinematic releases would be rendered for home televisions. This came with some inadvertent effects — for instance, various films would miss aspects within the ratio of the frame, so in order to see beyond the frame one would have to track the tape. But interestingly enough, in the horror genre of film, these inadvertent aspects of the format played beneficially to the effect of those films — for instance, in a VHS tape of Alien, it would be so dark that you couldn’t tell what was going on, and that only played to one’s evoked fears in the horror. We may contrast this to a Blu Ray release of Alien, where the polishing of the film would take out those defining aspects of the VHS release. Nowadays we find that after the stop of VHS circulation, the general aesthetic of the format has lingered in consumer nostalgia, such that it is normally featured in vaporwave and Simpsonwave videos. Zarathustra asks one that whatever one will, will it in such a manner that one also will its eternal return — and so far we have willed VHS.

Therefore, in the face of the indeterminate future, we are split between whether to receive the future with a messianic promise or as an apocalyptic threat. We can reframe Zarathustra’s question another way: Messianism or Apocalypse? And our answer is “Yes, please!” the same way that we have willed the eternal return of VHS — at least to this extent, we can say there is the optimism of the future however suspenseful and unjustified it is. And we conclude by returning to the questions residing at the back of this ramble: Can one think the future? Or does one act it out? One cannot but act out the future into being at the edge of the radical difference and distance of the future, so what kind of space of contemplation is there for the future? The future will be remixed.

References and Citations

Deleuze, Gilles. Difference & Repetition. Trans. Paul Patton. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994. Print

Derrida, Jacques. Of Grammatology. Trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. U.S.A.: John Hopkins University, Press, 1997. Print.

Fisher, Mark. Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures. Washington.: Zero Books, 2014. Epubication.

Han, Byung-Chul. The Agony of Eros. Trans. Erik Butler. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2017. Print.

— — — Shanzhai: Deconstruction in Chinese. Trans. Philippa Hurd. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2017. Print.

Knudsen, Frederik. “Vaporwave — Down the Rabbit Hole.” YouTube. Published October 8th 2016. Link:

Zizek, Slavoj. Event: A Philosophical Journey Through a Concept. London: Penguin Books LTD, 2014. Print.

— — — “20 Years of Collapse” in The New York Times. Published November 9th 2009. Online:



Simone A. Medina Polo

Simone A. Medina Polo is a philosopher and an PhD candidate at the Global Centre for Advanced Studies for Philosophy and Psychoanalysis.