I never quite feel like I’m in the here and now. Most of the time, I feel like I’m living in the future perfect.
It’s an odd state of being — a Janus-faced way of thinking and speaking. A looking at transitions and possibilities, but also at endings. Arguably, the future perfect contains a great degree of foresight, a perspicacity and sorcery of sorts. But at the same time, there’s a little foreboding as well.
The future perfect is a verb tense composed of the future of the verb “to have”, i.e., will have, plus the past participle of a verb: “I will have spent all my time doing nothing” or, “I will have lost all my hope.” It indicates that something will be completed in the future.
What will have come to pass — treaties? Peace? Us? A planet?
When the leader of the country you live in daily spouts heedless, caustic rants, it’s hard not to think in terms of the future perfect. Cowardly lashings out; whimsical sociopathy coupled with ingrained narcissism; one-word excremental shrieks splayed across the screen like fight words from the 1960s Batman: BLAM! POW! ZAP! One can almost hear the horn-heavy soundtrack with each of his cries: BAD RATINGS! LOSER! REPEAL!
At its best, Twitter seems to have been built to sharpen our wits; at its worst, it disseminates the politicized fears of the future perfect. What will have been done should he keep up his off-kilter rants? What will not have been done should Obamacare and other social safeguards continue to linger?
In either case, it’s all a sci-fi horror show. Twitter in the hands of Trump and the Republicans becomes a way of postulating speculative fictions, all the worries and woes of the possible future perfects. What we will not have been able to do; to have done?
Twice in my life I’ve found myself in cities where I wasn’t allowed to take pictures. The first, in 2004, was St. Petersburg, Russia, where I tried to photograph the exquisite architecture inside a subway station, only to be accosted by two police officers who wanted to confiscate my camera. They claimed I was photographing a state building, something that according to lingering Cold War era fears, I wasn’t allowed to do. In reality the thuggish duo just wanted to pilfer some cash and were easily warded off with a little chump change.
The second, in 2017, was Harare, the busy capital of Zimbabwe, where I was warned repeatedly by locals and foreigners not to tote a camera around the streets. I was told, not lightly, that I could be taken in by the police for photographing any state-related building or simply for acting without government approval. Obviously an extremely cash-poor economy partially motivates excessive ticketing, policing, and tariffs. But Robert Mugabe’s indefinite presidency and suppression of opposition looms large over everyday activity. In the end, a student guide took me around, giving me a subtle nod of the head yes and no as we walked the vibrant Harare streets. She abruptly stopped me when I was about to take a photo of the opposition party’s building.
I keep coming back to an image I took there: a view of Harare from my hotel room, its luscious public gardens in the distance, a curtain with an out-of-fashion pattern at the edge of the window frame. There’s a strong sense of the materiality of things in the image — the lush, humid foliage outside; the industrial metallic window frame; the heavy curtain from another era.
Setting up to take this shot in the hotel, I kept thinking about all the pictures I would not be able to take. I will have missed all my opportunities. I kept thinking about all windowed places we will have been inside of; all the access that will have been barred. Have you seen the encyclopedia of our future ruins being writ before us? Will you have you seen us growing farther and farther apart?
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