You have lived your whole life separated from Time.

Your great-grandparents’ generation had a collective future. They had an understanding of progress. They would reach this future at all costs, no matter what. They were working towards a better world that they knew they mightn’t ever see. They wanted blue skies, happiness, relaxation, time to spend with their family and friends. They wanted that future for you.

Long before The Sex Pistols’ Johnnie Rotten snarled ‘No future for you’, however, that future started to disappear. In the 1960s, secondhand clothing and furniture became popular with young people who didn’t have much money. In the early 1970s, the concept of ‘retro’ [1]https://www.etymonline.com/word/retro#etymonline_v_12957 made its first appearance. By the 1980s, the 1950s and early 60s were ‘back in style’. By the 1990s, ‘crackle’ was being put onto music in order to, as Mark Fisher in Ghosts of My Life said, make us “aware that we are listening to a time that is out of joint; [crackle] won’t allow us to fall into the illusion of presence”. We listened to music that was made in the 1990s, but it also, simultaneously, sounded like it was from another past era. It sounded like Now, But Not Now. It sounded like Then, But Not Then.

In the 21st century, there have been so many retro revivals, I’m not even sure where we are. Are we in the third 80s revival now or are we still doing the 90s? I think we’re supposed to have no eyebrows like 1970s model Donna Jordan and the early 90s ‘heroin chic’ look of Kate Moss right now. (The actual answer to this question will be different depedning on when you read this.) None of this, however, is new. We are no longer inventing culture, simply reusing and recycling previous eras.

This longstanding lack of a future within pop culture has created at least one generation, if not two or even three, who have no concept of what they are missing. Our connection to Time has been radically altered from what we had lived with for two centuries since the Enlightenment.

People in pre-Modern societies believed themselves to have an unchanging ‘nature’ or essence – not a ‘history’. The relative lack of technological change from the founding of civilization until the Industrial Revolution meant that life was the same for someone’s parents, grand-parents, great-grandparents and they could assume that the lives of their descendants would be the same as well. The concepts of Past, Present and Future as we perceive them today weren’t prominent in their self-conceptions and in their ideas of society or humanity. Historian Zachary Schiffman argues in The Birth of the Past, that the idea of “The Past”, as something distinct from The Present, didn’t come along until the Enlightenment. The idea of ‘essences’, however, didn’t end then.

‘Essences’- that is, the attributes or sets of attributes that are required to make something what it fundamentally is- are tied up with the Modernist idea of an Ideal Self- that is, there is an Ideal You or an Ideal Human or an Ideal Humanity that exists outside of Time. This Ideal Humanity existed ‘at one point in history’ and then, because of all of ::gestures around again:: this, Ideal Humanity has been covered up by [Y]… and only if we do [X] will we be able to release this Ideal Humanity, this Ideal You, from its shackles in the future. It was perfect, it currently remains perfect – though hidden – and its perfection will be revealed again.

It is clear to me that this is the same kind of thinking involved in the religious idea of a soul. Souls are eternal and perfect, hidden by the sins of the material world, but will be free again (but only if you do [X]).

A lot of Marxist scholars try to claim that Marx wasn’t an essentialist [2]Byron, C. (2016) “Essence and Alienation: Marx’s Theory of Human Nature,” Science & Society, 80(3), pp.375–394. – probably because of ‘essentialism’s’ thorough destruction in postmodernism– but it’s very hard to see how his ideas didn’t contain these ideas of perfection. Things I’ve read (eg this [3]Nordahl, R. (1987) “Marx and Utopia: A Critique of the ‘Orthodox’ View,” Canadian Journal of Political Science / Revue canadienne de science politique, 20(4), pp. 755–783. ) that try to claim Marx wasn’t a utopian thinker just screams ‘UTOPIA’ at me. Example:

“Communist individuals view their freedom as an integral part of the social relations that make up society. Freedom is not conceptualized as freedom from others. Other individuals (and thus society) are viewed as enhancers of an individual’s freedom, not as barriers. The expression of a person’s musicality, for example, presupposes a whole complex of social institutions such as music schools, concerts, and an audience that appreciates good music. One cannot have the freedom to express one’s musical sense outside the community. “Only within the community has each individual the means of cultivating his gifts in all directions; hence personal freedom becomes possible only within the community.” (The German Ideology, 78.) And when the individual makes good music, he not only satisfies his own musical need but those of his listeners.”

What about if they make BAD music that I hate though, Karl?? In Marx’s writing about ‘communist individuals’, they are always written about as if they are all brilliant at what they do and ‘what they do’ is always some kind of creative pursuit. The shitwork – the cooking, cleaning, growing and making food – is glanced over with a handwavy ‘everyone will do that stuff… anyway back to the creative pursuits…’. That to me – as a feminist in the 21st century – stinks of Marx sitting smack dab in the middle of a male-centred society where the lowly women (who are crap at everything anyway) will do all of that stuff… Great for the men. Not so great for the women.

Utopian ideas were very popular in the Modern era. Not only did we see the rise of Communism, but also Fascism and Naziism. These Uptopias existed in a ‘future Time’ – one which the Communists, Fascists and Nazis were heading towards at all cost.

In the 21st century, we’ve existed for a long time without a future and so many are separated from the reality of the past that the role it plays seems more and more like a tv series than things that actually happened to actual people. We are seeing the rise of ‘Utopias’ again in the 21st century. Unlike Modernist Utopias though, the 21st century kind doesn’t exist in a ‘different Time’, but in ‘a different Space’…


1 https://www.etymonline.com/word/retro#etymonline_v_12957
2 Byron, C. (2016) “Essence and Alienation: Marx’s Theory of Human Nature,” Science & Society, 80(3), pp.375–394.
3 Nordahl, R. (1987) “Marx and Utopia: A Critique of the ‘Orthodox’ View,” Canadian Journal of Political Science / Revue canadienne de science politique, 20(4), pp. 755–783.