10 Jun 2024

And I Wanna Live Yesterday Tomorrow

Malcolm McLaren Paris (1994)
 
'The only artist capable of rekindling the spark of hope in the past is the one who is 
firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe if the enemy is victorious.'
 
 
I.
 
Retrofuturism - born of the fact that capitalist realism makes tomorrow inconceivable - doesn't imagine future worlds that are projections from the present; it imagines future worlds that are reclaimed from the past. 
 
At first, this seems like fun. But there's a certain melancholic pessimism in concluding that since one can no longer look forward and dream of what might be, one is obliged to look back and (wistfully) recall what might have been. 
 
No wonder that the cultural theorist most often associated with this idea, Mark Fisher, topped himself.
 
However, for those who can bear it, retrofuturism's exploration of the tension between past and future - and between the alienating and empowering effects of technology - is a philosophically fascinating topic; one that, surprisingly, has quite a long history - certainly pre-dating Fisher's analysis - although its import as a concept has grown in recent years, perhaps as the present becomes ever-more unbearably dystopian. 
 
 
II.
 
Funny enough, although the word retrofuturism wasn't then part of my philosophical vocabulary, I first came across the idea in a song recorded by Malcolm McLaren in 1994, the last line of which is: And I wanna live yesterday tomorrow [1].
 
I remember thinking at the time that it was a nice, rather clever line - probably borrowed, I assumed, from one of those writers, like Walter Benjamin [2], who meant a great deal to McLaren, but I didn't reflect any further on it. 
 
However, thirty years later, and here we are ... The line has come back to haunt me and this paragraph from McLaren on reclaiming history (rather than just pissing on it) now seem to me of crucial importance: 
 
"The question I find most interesting is how you reclaim history. This is a very different thing from repackaging it. It's not about nostalgia, which is basically dead tissue. Living yesterday tomorrow should be about reclaiming history then reversing it into the future. If you can discover how to do that, you are probably doing everything an artist genuinely wishes to be involved in. One must aim to use certain disruptive practices to challenge the dominant cultural forms and relax the grip of authority." [3]
 
 
Notes
 
[1] The song I refer to is entitled 'Mon Dié Sénié' and can be found on McLaren's album Paris (1994): click here to play.
 
[2] See what Benjamin writes, for example, in the well-known essay 'On the Concept of History', in Selected Writings, Vol. 4., (Harvard University Press, 2003), pp. 389-400. Composed of twenty numbered paragraphs, this short work by Benjamin is essentialy a critique of historicism.
 
[3] Malcolm McLaren, quoted by Paul Gorman, in The Life and Times of Malcolm McLaren (Constable, 2002), pp. 718-19. 
 

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