BU Students Imagine "Things from the Future"
Routinely, I try to bring closure to the semester by giving students a narrative of the major strands in the studied material over the term. In "Intro to Civ." at BU Madrid, this means we review 1,000 years of cultural history in case studies of art, architecture, and literature from medieval Iberia to Spain today -- a monolithic overview by epoch -- in preparation for the final exam. I wanted to rethink this kind of conclusion by asking students to consider the material studied in class, not as a final destination in the semester, but as some kind of bridge to their professional, academic, and personal lives beyond this semester abroad -- that is, to ask them to imagine cultural artifacts from the future.
Students were asked to invent, describe, and sketch artifacts from the future in three different scenarios conditioned by specific determinants, listed below. In preparation for the activity, I asked them to consider the vast span of 1,000 years of cultural history studied over the term --for example, that the modern "nation-state" is a relatively recent invention from this perspective-- as the very basis for imagining different futures. The results were submitted anonymously and discussed in small groups, and then as a class; these Things from the Future are visceral, introspective, wildly creative, and sometimes wonderfully humorous -- in all, a reflection of the diverse, inspiring talents of this great bunch of students who were a pleasure to have in class every Monday and Wednesday. Here's a small selection below. I hope you enjoy them as I have!
This activity was inspired by creative, engaging webinars at the Center for Artistic Activism (C4AA), co-founded by professors Stephen Duncomb and Steve Lambert, and has been adapted from game "The Thing from the Future."
The final chapter of my book attempts to rethink political theorist Carl Schmitt’s classic formulation of the ‘state of exception’ to try to account for the current practices of selective exemption and self-impunity in the Spanish State for measures that are paradoxically called ‘exceptional’ even as they escape Schmitt’s historical definition of sovereign exceptionalism. Some of these undemocratic measures include: parliamentary mandate by decree, the cancellation of the State of the Nation debate, parliament’s refusal to hold public hearings for corruption charges, the conservative party’s purging of journalists from Spanish public television and radio (RTVE), and recent laws that criminalize protest, to name a few. Returning to Nicos Poulantzas’s writings on state authoritarianism amid the economic crisis of the 1970s, I propose straying from Poulantzas’s original proposals to reconsider the current conjuncture as a form of (il)legible exception that, instead, could perhaps be understood more accurately as a plural, micropolitical field of struggle against the practices of selective exemption and impunity within and beyond the state.
Given the current state of affairs, I've made this selection available (below) on my webpage.
So, usually I send students on a mission to explore the city and document Madrid in small groups... and my Boston University students from Spring 2017 gave me an amazing gift upon their departure last semester -- nine envelopes with instructions of their own to send me on assignment, wandering and documenting sights, smells, sounds, and other senses of the city of Madrid. Here is my Dérive, done with Rocío and Miguel, on June 10th, 2017, from 10am to 2pm. According to Rocío's FitBit, we went:
** spoiler alert: footage of a swimming turtle in El Retiro Park at the end of this blog post**
I'm astonished and humbled beyond words that the current issue of Critical Inquiry has included my book in its list of "Books of Critical Interest"... !!! And on the list, I'm in awesome company with Luis Moreno-Caballud's Cultures of Anyone.
The assignment was to wander with no planned expectations for about two hours, ending at an unknown destination announced by text message—the rooftop of the Circle of Fine Arts. Students also received specific instructions along the way that required them to change their route. Here's a selection of their written observation notes, audio recordings of the soundscape, silent videos, and photographs of the accidental itineraries.
Take the first bus or train you see for four stops. Look for the closest tree and walk in the direction it seems to be pointing.
This book would not have been possible without the support of many friends, family members, and colleagues who deserve special mention for our continued conversations, not least their patience and encouragement during my time immersed in this project. They deserve more acknowledgement than can be expressed here. Very much present throughout the writing of this book are the many things I have learned from them, and so I wish to dedicate it to them in part, to those who in one way or another have taught me. More info here.
For "Introduction to Spanish Civ.", Boston University - Madrid (Spring 2015)
Course outline follows Manuel DeLanda's A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History (New York: Zone Books, 1997), with three itineraries from medieval Iberia to contemporary Spain: Geological, Biological, and Social Strata.
Presentation of the book Toward a Cultural Archive of la Movida: Back to the Future, eds. H. Rosi Song and William Nichols (Plymouth, UK: Rowman & Littlefield, 2013), at the BNE on 5 Sept. 2014. With Héctor Fouce, Juan Pablo Wert, Rosi Song & Bill Nichols.