UK paperback

Forward, not back

Unidirectionality and the politics of the excluded middle

The slogan for the British Labour Party during the 2005 General Election campaign has been “Forward, not back”. We ride, it seems, a single axis of history; a groove or rail or world-spirit-teleology points in only one possible direction towards the utopian horizon. Anyone who would prefer another bearing must needs therefore be a retrograde philosopher, because the only other possible direction is backwards.

The only vehicle in which you can go either forward or back, and in no other direction, is a train. But whereas an ordinary train has a destination, where it stops, the train of progress can never stop. It is a perpetual train, rather like that in China Miéville’s fantasy novel Iron Council. Moreover, so as to avoid any disagreeable notion of circularity, of getting back to where you started, we must imagine that this train makes its epic journey on a boundless flat Earth. “Forward, not back” is, in fact, a quasi-totalitarian view – the leader maps out the only possible future and invites merely our monologic assent – mingled with an Italian-Futurist notion of the erotics of speed and machinery . . .

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