The future by Marc Augé***

Reading dates: 10 – 30 July 2015

In DiaMat, we dither between the classic writers and the new, political economy, feminism, art and even fiction. We inhabit the past to learn from it, we think about the present and we try to predict the future (through Erik Olin Wright, Benjamin Noys, Marc Augé). This last endeavour is actually very rewarding but ultimately slightly pointless. This is what I would say Augé’s book is like. The intention is laudable:

We face another sort of emergency action these days: to reintroduce the critical gaze in domains that seem natural to us, in that we are part of them without knowing how that came about; to use the weapons of analysis to question the unarguable or the unargued. (pp. 90-91)

It has a fantastic analysis on Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.

(…) it is tempting to think that the lucidity without hope of Bovarism could be the only way out, the only justifiable madness in this world of lunatics. (p. 69)

It has some interesting thoughts on Sartre and innovation, and some ponderings on what education should be and what our psychology demands of us:

‘I know, but all the same’: denial of doubt is not willingly abandoned. If it is true that ambivalence is defined by the coexistence of two affirmations (I am this and that) and ambiguity by two denials (I am neither this nor that), in facing the political future we show ourselves as more ambiguous than ambivalent; we are neither optimistic nor pessimistic, but reveal ourselves to be attuned in advance to any plotline that might offer a way past that double denial. (p. 24)

Yet, there is not much future here. It feels like a ramble, a book written in haste, although with the experience of a veteran ethnologist.

His future is more linear than my psychoanalytic one, with the weight slightly forward, as one should not be in the virabhadrasana 2 yoga pose … In the book group, I asked the question whether it was worth thinking about the future when the present is left unassimilated. Ian thought the book was about the present, which is a good point based on evidence of various quotes:

As Michel Leiris has pointed out, you have to be totally of your time to be able to survive it. (p. 62)

But I still think the argument is too forward leaning. There is no balance found, it is not strong. Perhaps the issue is one highlighted by Augé himself:

Some will say that writing is the ultimate illusion, even an illusion twice over, in that it aspires to analyse a phenomenon of which it is just a symptom. (p. 61)

Since today is Guru Pūrṇimā and much of this book’s idea of the future is about changing the purpose of what we understand by education, I will end with my favourite quote in the book, which honours the encounter that happens when one has something to teach and another is willing to learn. Being a teacher, and having recently taken a life decision that will keep me as a teacher for a while longer, I am very thankful to those who have showed me the way (Sharon, Tom, Steve, Rosina, Ruth, Angel, Kia, Radha, Jude, Pierre, Lesley, Kim, Grayson, Roger, Alexander, Alberto, Ramon, Txete, Christine, John, Jane, Penny, Tom):

What am I, if not this fragile and tenacious will to understand? Shared awareness of this private tension defines the highest level of sociability, the most intense relation to others, the encounter. (p. 143)