Artist Tim Schwartz rocks.
A while back, he contacted me about participating in a project called Reimagining Wild Bill for which several writers were asked to fill in the missing page of a notable article—the 1867 Harper’s Monthly account of Wild Bill’s duel with Dave Tutt in Springfield, MO.
Says Schwartz: “Over the last number of years Harper’s has undertaken the task of digitizing all of their historical content. When this article was scanned into their system page 278 was skipped, leaving a gap in the digital version.” That’s where we came in.
We “reimagined” events but also distorted them, on purpose, and because we’re not great historians of the West—and even if we were…
Later, I saw that Tim had written an essay with “melancholy” in the title. Melancolia being one of my all-time favorite themes, I read it and was quite impressed. He captures clearly, in a short essay, a general sense that—thanks to technology and advertising and Marty McFly and so on—”the future… is now!” and has been for a while.
From “Loss, Meaning and Melancholy” (my emphasis):
In much the same way, our future has already been displayed to us and internalized. As Peter Lunenfeld (2005) suggests in User, the twentieth century constructed images of the future through film, comics, and other types of popular culture in the form of science fiction. This future was constructed out of techno-mechanical ideals that now dictate how we envision the future. These possible futures have become archived in the digital world and have become complicit in the present. This creates a future that is impossible to escape. Our futures can only be envisioned in response to the futures that were previously imagined. Essentially the future has already happened and is now part of our past, leaving us in a permanent present. Both the past and future have been archived in the digital world and now we stand in the present moment that is automatically being absorbed into the system.
With our archives (of signs) surrounding us, reminding us of what the world/future/humanity “should look like,” are we free to dream of a new world/can we still live the world in a naïve way?
If not, I fear there are going to be only more and more melancholy cowboys. Not merely sad (“I can’t ride the open range”), but melancholy. Obsessively mournful despite the lack of specific object to mourn. The world is still there; the future is still ahead of us. But our relationship to its world-ness has changed in some fundamental way.
“Our futures can only be envisioned in response to the futures that were previously imagined.” We can ride off into the sunset (that’s a convention everyone understands), but we can no longer “ride off into the sunset” metaphorically, in some new unexpected direction.
Or can we? Comments welcome.