Save the Date for Future Mourning: Prefiguration and Heritage

I was invited to respond to an ongoing discussion regarding prefiguration and heritage, instigated by Lewis Borck in his article, Constructing the Future History: Prefiguration as Historical Epistemology and the Chronopolitics of Archaeology. Cornelius Holtorf, wrote a response piece in Kritische Archäologie, Heritage Futures, Prefiguration and World Heritage, and I responded to that. Lost yet?

I think my short response piece can be read on its own, but if you want the full scholarly context, please do read the other articles. A sample below:

At play within Lewis Borck’s “Constructing the Future History: Prefiguration as Historical Epistemology and the Chronopolitics of Archaeology” (2019) and Cornelius Holtorf’s response, “Heritage Futures, Prefiguration and World Heritage” (2020) are ways to understand the future through our actions in the present. A response to these articles that considers heritage, climate change and the future should probably begin with impending doom, rising tides, shattering storms, a recent, heartfelt loss of cultural heritage. How do we understand a future that extends from this excruciating present without incorporating mechanisms for mourning? Let me, instead, draw very large parentheses around and an underline beneath climate change (climate change). Perhaps bold too? (climate change) This is our catastrophe, our great challenge, the change that changes everything. It is happening, and then…?

As archaeologists we should be well-versed in the “and then.” As archaeologists we know that all is change, everything is always changing, endless battleships of seriation diagrams dancing like sugar plum fairies around our heads. I always wondered if, at that last, pointy tip of the diagram, there was a sound like a slow exhale and a small puff of smoke as the artefact transforms into archaeology. The breathy sighs of material culture as they pass
from memory. At least, from the memory of antiquity, as they become archaeological. And climate change has that very pointy tip at our throats. Well, to be honest, at the throats of our children. Or perhaps the throats of children far away in other countries where they don’t have a fat buffer of colonial treasure and can’t afford turrets at the coastlines and military flights with payloads of vaccinations. But even tucked inside these bastions of wealth and
privilege, we are shedding what we call “cultural heritage” in polite society at a fairly remarkable rate. Of course, this loss does not compare to the great ravening mouth of development-concrete-fast-capitalism which pays the bills for many of our students, friends, colleagues. In the Great Concerns of capitalism and climate change, archaeology’s rank is debatable.

To read the rest, visit Forum Kritische Archäologie.