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Price, Evander L.
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CitationPrice, Evander L. 2019. Future Monumentality. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractFuture monuments are monuments built with the express purpose of remembering the future. They are most easily understood by example. This dissertation focuses on three: Carl Sagan’s Golden Record, Stewart Brand’s “Clock of the Long Now,” and Robert Moses’ 1939 New York World’s Fair, called the “World of Tomorrow.” Categorically, future monuments envision and manifest an imagination of the future, and impel mindfulness of it. They show us how much future there is imagined to be. They inherently betray the aspirations and anxieties of the cultures that built them. They are useful tools for remembering that the future isn’t what it used to be.
The future monuments analyzed here span the twentieth century. The first chapter focuses on the 1939 New York World’s Fair, which provided millions of wide-eyed fairgoers the exuberant experience of peering into the future. The second monument is Carl Sagan’s Golden Record, a literal LP made of gold, strapped to NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2 which, slipping through the erosionless vacuum of space, will outlast all humankind, and perhaps the planet itself. The third future monument is a colossal clock designed by Stewart Brand, Danny Hillis, Brian Eno, and funded by Jeff Bezos, dubbed “The 10,000 Year Clock,” or “The Clock of the Long Now,” which is meant to inspire an ethics of ten-thousand-year thinking.
At the core of this research is an assumption: How people imagine the future affects how they act in the present—perhaps even more so than how people imagine the past. Van Wyck Brooks, in his canonical essay, “On Creating a Usable Past,” (1918) argued that, if the past, as currently imagined, is not of direct use to Americans in the present, why not simply imagine a different one? What precisely that past is or ought to be, well, that is up for discussion. I propose that, in the intervening century since Van Wyck Brooks, we flip this manifesto on its head: What would it mean for Americans to create a usable future? What did the usable future look like in the past? Future monuments are my vehicle for this analysis.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:42029591
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