- No Futures (Duras 72/77)
Money, even imaginary money, needs the future to give it force.Alasdair Gray, Lanark
Nineteen seventy-seven was a very fine year. Particularly for fans of disillusionment and social fracture. In the United Kingdom, Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her silver jubilee to the sound track of the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen”—or at least she would surely have done so, had the bbc and the Independent Broadcasting Authority not denied the record access to the airwaves. On the day the Sex Pistols released their single (May 27), the 1977 Cannes Film Festival closed, at which Marguerite Duras’s film Le camion had been entered (unsuccessfully) in the Feature Film competition.
If “God Save the Queen” stared down its contemporaries with a kind of twisted swagger, knowingly summoning up the nightmare of a lumpenproletariat blessed with invincible intelligence, Le camion exudes an equally invincible exhaustion. According to Duras, the film proposes a joyful embrace of the void that lies the other side of all projects—social, political, or cinematic. Despite their dramatic tonal differences, the two works are in fact tied together by more than an apparent accident of timing—among other things, by a shared avant-gardist inheritance, via Debord in particular, to which we will return below. For now, suffice it to note that both give voice to a lucid [End Page 109] refusal—visceral in one case, defiantly world-weary in the other—of the nihilistic pseudo-values they find around them, most notably that nihilism which consists in inhabiting time according to the calculation of monetizable investment. Duras’s cinema, especially of the 1970s, shares with many of its contemporaries the desire to see not only film, but a whole culture released from its attachment to this brutal logic. This article will accordingly look at Duras’s films of this period in the wider context of the economic, political, and existential regimes of futurity with which they engage in the structure of their constitution and the details of their unfolding, mapping their rejection of the time of deferred productivity against sympathetic accounts of alternative temporalities in order better to understand the import of their claim.
This claim bears principally on the status of the future—more precisely, on the relation between present and future, and the political and economic stakes attached to different configurations of this relation. The specific question of the future has recently emerged as a privileged site for the interrogation of these stakes, whether in different leftist discourses, in queer theory, or in strands of philosophy more or less deriving from Derrida. On the left, neoliberal hegemony has placed such a strain on the projection of imagined alternatives that, as we read in Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams’s recent polemic (engaged in clearing the ground for just such a projection), “In this paralysis of the political imaginary, the future has been cancelled.”1 In the context of queer theory, the reductive, pseudo-futurity these films by Duras work to undo—namely, an orientation toward a future defined as receptacle for the self-reproduction of a fantasmatically stabilized present—has been extensively critiqued for some time: Guy Hocquenghem, Leo Bersani, and Lee Edelman have all affirmed queer desire as antisocial and antireproductive, the enemy of the temporizing economies of the dominant heteronormative order.2 And this critique has in turn produced renewed reflection on what it might mean to think a queer future, as for example in the work of José Esteban Muñoz.3 Philosophically, as we will see below, Bernard Stiegler in particular has taken Derrida’s distinction between the futur (pre-programmed replication of the same) and the à-venir (irruptive arrival of the wholly unpredictable) as one starting point for [End Page 110] his analysis of the disastrous short-termism of contemporary finance capital.4 Throughout these various contexts, one phrase has repeatedly emerged to crystallize the scenario in question—namely, the anti-refrain that smears itself across “God Save the Queen”: “No future.”
In the apparent absence of a desirable future, or as part of the refusal of futurity as normative replication, then, reference back to the “No future” of...