The Thousand and One Futures

Postwar Systems Theory, Cybernetic Gurus, and Postmodern Stories of the Worlds to Come
Guest lecturer R. John Williams, Yale University

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From the mid-1940s to the late-1950s, a new mode of ostensibly secular prophecy emerged from within the authoritative sphere of the American military-industrial-academic complex, spreading quickly throughout the world in technocratic and managerial organizations. This new mode of projecting forward was marked by assumptions about the inherent multiplicity of possible futures as distinct from more powerfully singular visions of “the” future. This presentation tracks the development of this  transformation in two phases: the first computational, secular, and  cybernetic, and the second, narratological, quasi-religious, and generally committed to various “oriental” philosophies.  Questions addressed will include: Is the postmodern era, as some have described it, an “end of  temporality”? Or is the postmodern narrative condition, rather, an intense multiplication of temporal experience? Is it possible that the sheer number of stories we tell ourselves about the future may not be as progressive a practice as we tend to assume it is? How did we arrive at a present with so many possible futures?

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