dimensions of experience / accessions in the anarchive

The middle of the year is always a period of transition to some extent, but this year it feels like it may well be more of one than usual, for reasons which will probably become apparent as I start writing here more regularly in the months ahead—indeed, writing here more regularly is a structural part of said transition, rather than a mere documentation of it, or at least that is the plan.

(And yes, a long silence followed by a post promising more and more regular posts to come is perhaps the most enduring cliche of blog writing, one that I have dropped many times before… but that structural role for said writing should help in materialising the promise. There’s work to be done.)

But in order to move forward, one has to achieve closure on stuff that’s been hanging around for ages, so the first order of business is to document stuff I’ve done elsewhere but failed so far to document here. As such, and two months after its actual publication—for shame!—I would like to draw your attention to FoAM’s anarchive project, and my contributions to it.

I’m unsure how to define FoAM for those unfamiliar with it/them, though I take some comfort from the fact that its principal figures don’t exactly have a snappy summary for something that (to me, at least) looks like a chimera comprising constantly-shifting quantities and qualities of tech-art atelier, design studio and freelance (weird) futures think-tank; their about page might clarify things somewhat, but then again it might not?

Whatever it/they may be, it/they have been running a long time, and have recently been engaged in a process of “anarchiving” their work and thematic interests. Again, this is a simple idea which becomes more complex the more you think about it, but you can read a summary of the approach. To simplify a lot, they’re taking a pile of writings and makings and thinkings, both old and newly commissioned, and (re)publishing them in various formats and media, while also linking them together in multiple rhizomatic ways. These thematic rhizomes are called “routes”—roots, heh—and provide connective journeyings through the material: like extracting multiple stories from the same fabula, to use a not entirely inappropriate metaphor.

FoAM asked me last year to provide a couple of pieces for the anarchive, which I was very glad to do; my contributions can be found strung along the necklace of the “crystal route”, along with lots of fascinating stuff by other writers, artists, thinkers and theorists—so much material, in fact, that I’m hoping I’ll have enough downtime over the summer to spend a few days just wandering through it all.

I was asked for two contributions, one of which actually came out as a coherent and stand-alone essay: “Dimensions of Experience” is perhaps my first sustained (i.e. non-bloggy) attempt to expound a narratological theory of futuring, which in this instance starts from a hanging question about the distinction between narrative and experiential approaches; veteran readers of my stuff will be unsurprised to discover that my answer is best seen as an attempt to unify those approaches within a larger theoretical framework borrowed from narratology*. From my introduction:

Where experientialists go to design and the arts for their techniques, we narrativists have instead turned to literature, to the textual. So this is a difference of methods, of media — but is that difference fundamental? Are the two approaches incommensurable, destined to evolve apart?

I believe not. I think of them as two ways of looking at one thing: the work of depicting future(s). And there are many more than just these two! But what distinguishes these approaches is the ethical ends of their depictive means — opening up a futurity which has long been closed and professionalised. But how might we think through these differences and similarities, and what might we gain from doing so?

My other contribution to the anarchive was originally conceived as a single piece, but ended up being a kind of mosaic essay; in the process of trying to write my way into the thing, I ended up with a bunch of fragments in my notebook which, while clearly connected (in multiple ways), refused to resolve into something with a linear through-line. Graciously, Team FoAM responded with enthusiasm to my suggestion that the material be published as fragments; these went up initially as blog posts on FoAM’s own blog, but have also been compiled and boiled down into a linear piece that links out to the originals, complete with weird yet apposite illustrations. The collection of fragments is titled “Hip Deep in the Thick Present”, and if it’s about any one thing, it’s about infrastructure… but of course it is also about a whole lot of things (which is really the only useful way one can write about infrastructure): temporality, agency, media, capitalism, logistics, geography, systems and networks, science fiction. All that good stuff.

At some point I will probably republish the fragments over at my canonical site (pending a much-needed redesign), and use thematic interlinking to present them in a somewhat different form to that used in the anarchive… but for now, this is the only place you can find them. If you enjoy the stuff I write here—and I can’t imagine any other reason you’d still be reading after all this time—then I invite you to go take a wander through the anarchive, not just to read my work, but also all the other glorious strangeness and brilliance that FoAM has crystallised therein.

[ * — Enthusiasts of this particular aspect of my writing and thinking may be pleased to know that another publication on the same theme is nearing the end of the pipe with another group of collaborators and colleagues; I will make a point of announcing this more promptly! Working on these two essays, and being thus forced into formulating the ideas in a way that is useful to anyone living outside of my head, has resulted in a new spectrum-concept for thinking about futures, namely openness and closedness; both the forthcoming essay and this piece for FoAM should stand alone, but I suspect that reading them both will fill things out more thoroughly, for me as much as for anyone else. ]

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