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During a panel discussion at the Futurological Congress, Kodwo Eshun remarked that the art (visual, literary, performative) of early communist Russia (in particular the actual Russian province), with its fascinating futuristic vision, actually perpetuated an ideological effect that Eshun labeled “inverted astronomy.” Simply stated, inverted astronomy was an ideological effect from futurist/sci-fi art that actually created political motivation among the people of Communist Russia. By stirring the imagination to posit great worlds of human achievement (in for example an interstellar galaxy), such artistic media actually sparked a sort of existential hope and activism here on earth. Remaining completely within an immanentist/univocal ontological framework, such works actually aided the spread of the hope of communism.

This perpetual immanentist platform is essential in understanding how these futurological works were able to resist escapism: for the world that was posited spatially “elsewhere” was not ontologically “otherworldy.” No, these futuristic visions were grand and outrageous but were nevertheless still productions of Earth-grounded humankind. Even the advancement of technology and the anticipated consequences of a self-impelled epoch of technological vitality were conceived as being great works of humanity. Thus, the idea was that (inverting the well-known biblical maxim) “with man anything is possible.” Even though faith (in religion and enlightenment progress) had somewhat diminished throughout the 19th century, the hope that technology created was sufficient for ever progressive world-building at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. In the words of existential philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev:

In an age lacking faith, in the age of a weakening not only of the old religious faith but also the humanistic faith of the 19th century, the sole remaining strong belief for a civilized person is the belief in technology, its power and unlimited development. Technology is humanity’s last love; and it is prepared to change its form under the influence of the object of its love (1933).

Although I’m not sure about the extent of my (or 21st century humankind’s) faith in technology, and I’m not convinced that the possibility of colonizing other planets is imminent, I do like the idea of creating an “inverted astronomy.” However, such a concept (in the Deleuzian sense) would have to be catered to 21st century issues, 21st century persons, and 21st century needs. But perhaps a little imaginative sci-fi…

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