Presentist Dystopias or the Case for Environmental Humanities
This epilogue connects the analysis of time and temporality with a broader perspective on the future direction of the humanities. In 2017, the renowned German writer Juli Zeh published Leere Herzen (Empty Hearts), a dystopian novel that imagines life in postdemocratic Germany and Europe. Zeh's novel does not rank among her highest literary achievements. From a temporal perspective, however, Leere Herzen is an intriguing novel: it places what one might call a “plausible dystopia” within close reach of the disillusioned age. Dystopia no longer designates the final apocalyptic catastrophe that dramatically unfolds in the distant future but rather the gradual erosion of democracy in the here and now. By radically shrinking the temporal gap between now and the future, Zeh's dystopia suspends the future perfect as an enabling perspective that can mobilize preventative action. By contrast to the apocalyptic staging of the tipping point that terminates life on this planet, presentist dystopias envisage the future as unfolding incrementally and cumulatively in the extended present.
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