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The Future Bubble


Capitalism posits a future of endless innovation in products and production processes, but no possible change in the social relations that move them

In science fiction, one of the most common tropes involves a protagonist traveling to the past in order to prevent a dystopian present: Wolverine in X-Men: Days of Future Past trying to prevent a genocide against mutantkind, or Marty McFly in Back to the Future rewriting the history of his own family.

A memorable early-1990s run of Fantastic Four comic books written by Walt Simonson cleverly inverted this trope. He had his heroes travel forward in time, where an impregnable “time bubble” threatened to grow so large as to consume the present. To save the present, the team must alter the future.

This rendering—the unknowable future that eats the present—may resonate more with an anxiety endemic to capitalist societies; as we will see, it is a characteristic nightmare of the capital-accumulating class. Capital always has one foot in the future, and even packages and exchanges “futures” as a financial instrument. A time bubble that erases the future would mean a collapsing asset price bubble in the present. For capitalism’s reality, it turns out, is stranger even than science fiction. Radical challenges to the system can change conditions in the present by, in a manner of speaking, altering the future.

In the 20th century, optimism about the future was strongly identified with progressive liberals and even the radical left. Whether in the form of Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” or Communism’s “New Soviet Man,” a brighter and better future was promised to the masses. All that was left for the right was, in William F. Buckley’s famous phrase, to “stand athwart history, yelling Stop!”

Now, however, the terms have shifted, and it is the business propagandists of capitalism who accuse their critics of stopping the future. PayPal billionaire Peter Thiel, for example, warned a tech-industry conference that “we live in a society that is dominated by hatred and dislike of all things scientific and technological,” one that is “dominated by a fear of the future, not hope for the future.” Thus is politics staged as a morality play between, as the libertarian writer Virginia Postrel had it in the title of her 1998 book, The Future and Its Enemies. These figures see themselves, it would seem, as the heroes struggling against the time bubble that is effacing our future.

Yet the vision of the future these would-be champions of tech-driven innovation offer turns out, on closer inspection, to be very cramped and fearful. Many of the companies emerging from Silicon Valley aren’t offering any magical new technologies but merely matching services like Taskrabbit, Airbnb, and Uber. These platforms are little more than mechanisms to more efficiently exploit precarious labor and circumvent local regulations covering work, housing, and transportation.

Any attempt to ameliorate the precarious conditions underpinning these services provokes howls of outrage. For the likes of Thiel, “fear of the future” simply means a willingness to imagine a future under any other terms than those of the ruling class.

Take, for example, the 2014 “Luddite Awards” handed out by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, an industry-funded think tank. One group of supposed technology haters are the proponents of net neutrality, the principle that Internet communications should be available at the same prices and speeds to all users. Because this principle invalidates the business models of companies that would like to use their monopoly position to charge variable prices for network access, the net neutrality movement is deemed “anti-innovation.”

Likewise New York State’s effort to regulate the use of Airbnb to run unlicensed hotels, and Virginia and Nevada’s attempt to incorporate Uber drivers into the existing regime of taxi regulation, place those states into the ranks of the Luddites. To be an opponent of the future, it seems, one need not be opposed to technology or innovation as such but merely to any use of it that happens to be profitable in present times.

We can dismiss this as the self-serving rhetoric of the greedy, and indeed it is. But it is not merely reflective of a defect in ruling class ideology. The system itself demands that capitalists, to be successful, must be both obsessed with the future and extremely conservative about it.

This may sound counterintuitive, particularly if one is in the habit of collapsing capitalist and conservative agendas. Conservative politics are often apparently past-oriented, as with Buckley’s proverbial sentry standing athwart history, preserving traditional race and gender hierarchies, traditional religious morality, a pre-New Deal economy, and the like. Even if the strategies of the right are, as Corey Robin argues in The Reactionary Mind, borrowed from the innovations of the left, their objectives are thought to be the restoration of an imagined past.

But a purely capitalist form of conservatism is something different. What it seeks to conserve is not any particular social pecking order but rather the form of capital accumulation itself. And the future is absolutely fundamental to that form. For it turns out that the cycle of accumulation—of Marx’s formula M-C-M’, the mechanism of turning money into more money by circulating it through production and markets—depends on a specific type of future in which the value of what is circulated in the present can be realized.

Shorn of its real-world complexities, the basic logic of capitalism is simple. The capitalist—that is, someone with a lot of money—uses that money to hire workers and means of production. Those workers are then deployed to use the productive facilities to produce something, which is then offered for sale. The idea is to charge more than the cost of the labor, materials, and machinery, returning a profit to the capitalist.

The trouble arises in considering where this profit is to come from. For a single firm, of course, it could come at the expense of competitors. But how, in the economy as a whole, can the total stock of capital increase? The money that is used to buy the product is the same money that is being paid out to the workers to produce it. This, it would seem, is a zero-sum game. The total amount of money available would seem limited to the sum of the value of the means of production and the value of labor power.

The answer turns out to be that profit comes from the future.

This is more mundane than it might sound: Production and exchange unfold in time, and thus the goods turned out today will be bought sometime in the future. But in the context of capitalist production, this gives rise to some odd phenomena indeed.

In The Limits to Capital, David Harvey explains that out of the total amount of money circulating in the economy at any given time, some portion must be “fictitious capital.” This is “money that is thrown into circulation as capital without any material basis in commodities or productive activity” but which can continue to be exchanged against other money while it is “searching for a material basis.”

The definitive form of fictitious capital is credit (which is to say, debt). Capitalists can take out loans to expand their business, with the expectation of paying back that loan, plus interest, once the goods have been produced and sold. Credit is the form that money takes while it searches for its material basis, which it finds only by becoming part of a process that yields future profit. This is fundamentally what fuels capitalism’s drive for endless growth. If, in the future, there are more workers and more production, then all the capital that currently exists can be valorized, including the fictitious part.

But because the cycle of valorization can only be completed in the future, capitalists are necessarily obsessively focused on the nature of that future. This is where capitalism’s extreme future-orientation and extreme conservatism converge. For capitalist production is premised on the notion that the future is already known and has a definite form, where the markets and the demand for commodities exist to realize the surplus and pay off the debts. If the shape of that future were to radically change—if for example, net neutrality regulations undermine a tech startup’s business model—then fictitious capital never finds its material basis and it loses its value. The company goes under; the debt becomes worthless.

Capitalist logic has what linguists call the “futurate” construction, a grammatical structure in which references to the future are expressed in present tense. “This bond is going to yield $500 next year” is the future tense, but “this bond yields $500 next year” is the futurate. Capital refers to what will be as though it is certain, as though it is already what is.

 • • •

It is true, as we are all taught, that capitalism requires unpredictability and volatility. Market competition, after all, is supposed to weed out the bad products and inefficient production processes, generating what Joseph Schumpeter called “creative destruction.” Thus does the system, in theory, drive itself to ever greater levels of efficiency and material productivity.

But there is a limit to just how much unpredictability a capitalist economy can tolerate. Economist Frank Knight captured something essential about this limit in a famous 1921 work, Risk, Uncertainty, and Profit. Risk, he said, was “a quantity susceptible of measurement” in the form of probability distributions. That a certain percentage of new businesses will fail in their first year is a matter of risk: We have a good idea of how many will fail; we just don’t know which ones.

Risks can be calculated and hedged, built into the models and algorithms of business. Uncertainty, however, cannot really be quantified. Think of those old magazine articles about the world of the future that are periodically dug up and ridiculed for their wild inaccuracy. The writers had set themselves a hopeless task, because imagining the most important technologies of the world even a few decades into the future is subject to so many unknown and unaccountable factors. Any truly world-changing technological innovation generates fundamental uncertainty.

This is why the same capitalists who revel in risk live in terror of uncertainty. When the future is fundamentally uncertain, vast stocks of capital can suddenly find themselves worthless, as happened during the financial crisis of 2008.

The Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, who are now our leading propagandists for the future, know this all too well. In their industry, the distinctive form of fictitious capital comes from firms providing “venture capital” (and the related “angel investors”). Like all fictitious capital, the money that comes from these investors is still in search of its basis, which it hopes to find in a promising startup. It is expected that many will fail, but that a few will pay off massively by becoming the next Facebook or Google.

In the idealized future of every startup lies an initial public offering of stock. Its purpose is not to raise money for further expansion, or to share the wealth with the ordinary investor, who plays the role of a patsy in this particular operation. Rather, the point is for the founders, venture capitalists, and other early investors to cash out, turning their speculative stakes into capital that can be recirculated elsewhere. Hence the recurrent pattern seen with companies like Facebook, Zynga, and Groupon: a highly publicized IPO and an inflated stock price, followed by insider cash-outs and a collapse in the share price.

The utopian future as a lucrative IPO is hardly inspiring. So we are regaled instead with tales of the magical gadgets and techno-fixes to social problems that we can expect in the future. But the only future the capitalist truly cares to protect is the one in which fictitious capital can continue to find its material basis.

This same dynamic unfolds at the level of states and geopolitics as well. Countries go into debt, and sell that debt into the hands of private investors. They, too, expect to be cashed out in the future, and it is the productivity of the entire national economy that underwrites this form of fictitious capital.

This drama has recently been playing out most spectacularly in the case of Greece, under its new leftist Syriza government. The new finance minister there, Yanis Varoufakis, is all too aware of the peculiar dynamics of capital and its future. A Marxist economist, he has even written in similar terms of the way capitalism places “finance, or debt, at the top of the queue.” And of the way that the capitalist can therefore “put her hand through the timeline, grabbing some value that was not yet produced from the future, bringing it to the present, putting it to good use in the production process so that goods could emerge that would then be sold so as to return to the future the value taken away from it—with interest!”

Varoufakis and Syriza have been engaged in a protracted and acrimonious negotiation with the institutions of the European Union. Greece needs funding to support its shattered economy, while the EU demands the right to restructure the Greek economy to its liking. Hanging over this debate is the future of the Greek banking system and the country’s state debt.

Everyone now seems to agree that this debt will never be repaid in full. But the EU leadership, bond investors, and Greek capitalists alike are all committed to an orderly solution that keeps Greece within the euro and retains many of the claims of foreign and domestic capital. This is a risk that can be managed. Fundamentally uncertain, however, is the scenario where Greece leaves the euro and reintroduces the drachma, imposing capital controls and defaulting on its debt. Even within Syriza, there is an ongoing struggle between the faction that favors this path and the leadership that still finds a break with the euro an unthinkable future.

Syriza is, so far, a long way from staging a break with capitalism. But their high-tension struggles demonstrate the stakes involve in any kind of radical rethinking of economic arrangements. Like those who would impose regulation on Silicon Valley, Syriza is threatening to undermine a future that the capitalist class believes to be already known.

It is said that science-fiction futures are always really about the time in which they are written. The same is true of all radical speculations about the future of capitalism, and all attempts to lay the groundwork for a different future. In a very specific, quantifiable sense, they call into question the value of assets in the present, and therefore the social power of the owners of those assets.

To what lying necromancer have I not been a fortune?

In which Propertius, discussing the affliction and folly of love, also defines the relation between debt -

like love, a description of a present condition that insists upon the future constancy of the subject (because I love you means “I will love you forever”, which means “There will continue to be a constant I, which is bound both to the I that loves you now and the you to which it says it,” no matter how much chatter there is about growing and changing together, sure, growing and changing like how the flesh learns to treat a long-ago misplaced fishhook like a small extra bone, the kind found in fish, because fish carry their own barbed nooses inside them, like debts, and they stick in our throat) and therefore becomes a prescription, cursing the future to be ever and always as if the present: in love, in debt -

and death: For to what lying necromancer have I not been a fortune?

They wanted to blame the bad air, it had been bad recently, it’s true, worse than normal & in those days it was generally understood as smog, so much worse than either locusts or normal fog, until it came time for the autopsy & opening his mouth as one does with a lost golem found wandering & glassy-eyed outside the precinct, they laid him out on the table & down into him & choked & coughed as it billowed out, because there, nesting inside his lungs, was a grey & wholly self-stoked bonfire of time, it was fed by an endlessly compounding pile of predictions as to the precise date of his death, although the manner of it was not written anywhere to be found nor would it ever be, not even when the debt collectors came later in their beige coats & signed the release form to collect the roughly 14 pounds of smoke worth salvaging from the fire.

Snake Plissken’s Letter to Sallie Mae Student Loan Services


From the desk of Snake Plissken

July 14, 2025

Dear Sallie Mae Student Loan Services,

I have received your notice informing me that the current outstanding balance on my student loan account is $377,394.91.

In fact, contrary to the insinuations you have made (“If you have changed your permanent residence, please be sure to update your account…”) that imply my non-payment is a consequence of mere absent-mindedness, I have received every notice sent previously over the past forty years, ever since I finished my Master’s Program in Critical Humanities, with a minor in Demolitions, at the age of 41.  I had hoped that my decision to knock out all electricity in the developed world a decade after I received the diploma as well as my later decision, after the Madagascar debacle, to kick off a premature peak oil crisis, might have borne with them the side-benefit – or friendly fire, depending on one’s perspective – of a “critique” (i.e. DEMOLITION) of the whole credit system.  Alas, it appeared to be as stubbornly incontrovertible as these mounting numbers, the ones that you inform me I bear locked around my neck like a stock.

Moreover, I have long been aware that “our new online one-click payment program makes it easier than ever to manage your debt!”  No, it isn’t for a lack of computer savvy that I have excused myself from the circuits of payment, that I have become a C grade – or lower, depending just how low you wanna go – debtor, or that my repayment has heretofore been limited to the middle finger I raise regularly at the collective houses of finance when I pass them on my motorcycle.

I am, and was, and will be, a toxic asset.  A bad investment.  A subprime man, long past the prime of my life.

For contrary to what you claim, I owe you bastards nothing.

But being a gentleman, I feel I owe myself the pleasure of giving you the explanation you do not wish to hear.  For it does not concern the not-so-surprising unworth of the degree I purchased – that’s right, purchased – on your dime, the clamorous horde of those razor dimes you made wait for me around the corner of tomorrow and the next month and next century that you claimed had always remained with me, dragging behind me, bells and buckles looped through the consolidated skin, hooks and interest and barbs.  It does not concern the fact that I was no more employable upon having received a new piece of paper, despite the increased need to work to cover not only my present ass but also the nightmare weight of the past, against which I was asked to struggle with the only discernible benefit of that accrued debt being that I was older, that I learned to write sentences so immaculately, stop-and-go-on-a-dime (borrowed, no doubt!) as those contained within this letter, and, lest we forget, that the guys at the bar gave me a lot of shit.

Let me take it word by word, chumps: “I” “owe” “you” “bastards” “nothing.”



The entirety of your case, which asserts that ‘I now owe a sum of money because I spent what I had borrowed on the terms of an agreement I signed according to which I would repay it’, rests on the mistaken assumption that the five instances of “I” in this sentence correspond to the same lump of flesh and thought.  You, Reader, are soundly mistaken.  They are five distinct cases.  As taught by the education for which bread was borrowed, let us parse it out:

I (#1) now owe a sum of money because I (#2) spent what I (#3) had borrowed on the terms an agreement I (#4) signed according to which I (#5) would repay it

The I that signed it (#4, the I-that-binds) was a past present I, one without the money in hand or ledger, who abolished himself in the present by means of legally producing a different I (#3, the I-having-borrowed) – an I with money to eat, pay rent, study, go the movies, purchase a bicycle, buy his friends a drink, pay for medication – in the near future.  It was an I predicated on the chaining of itself, through the flick of the signing pen, to two future “I”s which were entirely unrecognizable to the I at the moment of signing: one that has the cash to shine hard, or just get by, (#3) and one (#5, the I-who-will-have-spent) who once more does not have that cash but who will be still required to repay it in its present, to pay money for money already paid, on the assumption that the having of that money in the past would have brought about a specific future I (the ideal form of #5, the desired subject of the whole operation) who was capable of repaying it and having enough to eat, pay rent, have some kids, go the movies, purchase a car, buy friends a drink, get some life insurance.

However – stay sharp here, tired creditor!  The way gets thorny… – I #2 (the I-who-spends) is not identical to I #3.  And I #1 (the I-who-is-spent) is not identical to I #5.  (Maybe that education was good for something, ha.)

#2 and #3 are not the same I because the spending of the loot is not in relation to having borrowed it.  Sure, it’s the origin story, the compounding root of the matter, and it can make one sick with worry.  It can make one very responsible.  But at the moment of transaction, when you’re buying a pack of smokes or a semester of tuition, once the conditions by which I #3 (I-having-borrowed) comes to be, the presence of the money in the account under the name and Social Security of all these I’s appears as money that is truly “mine,” indistinguishable from the small amount of money there previously for which I worked or stole.  They congeal and admix, they wetten and thicken, and then they gild themselves into a single surface, a single substance into which we tranche and cut.

That is, it becomes “my money.”  It is the money of I #2, I-who-spends, the sum by which all that exists otherwise – hot dogs and pipe fittings, panties and Wi-Fi, transmission fluid and whiskey fluid, a horse and a bet on that horse – comes to be possible or not.  Windows are made of glass, which breaks rather than bends, but they are surprisingly porous and labile when that which is held behind the glass – a glass statue of a horse, a movie about a horse, glue made of that horse, pants made of that horse, pants made of something else and which are not named HORSE but have a sexy horseness about them – is of a monetary size that can be precisely cancelled out by a portion of the sticky, fleeing mass of “my money.”

That horse statue and a portion of “my money” are made to meet each other.  Both are, for a hot minute, rendered neither mine nor yours nor his nor theirs, but merely each other’s, the horse of that money and the money of that horse.  Time freezes.  Exchange flays itself of all determinations.  That which was particular is voided like ash.  It is nothing but the meeting of two pure quantities at noon.  And then, the moment is lost.  The horse passes into my possession, where it now exists alongside “my money”, which now has a horse-value-sized-hole hacked out of it.

Because of this basic fact, there is no way that I #2 and I #3 can be seen as equivalent: the I-having-borrowed has the money as part of a project, a plan, a scheme of the management of someone else’s dough.  I-who-spends has only my money and god damn if it’s gonna be hard not to blow.  After all, I “earned it,” didn’t “I”?

And then… and then there is the bigger problem, that #1 and #5 could only be the same by means of a ridiculous, laughable, deserving to be pissed on fantasy.  For they are oh so very different.

#5 – I-who-will-have-spent – is a speculative legal and economic subject, an exercise in thought that the terrible arcane calculus you call your master has used to shape matter, history, and lives.  It is a future I of thought in the present, an I that exists in a personal future in which having been granted the cash to grant me access to both the academy and the supermarket makes me able to pay back what could not be paid before plus the interest of all the time that has passed since.  It belongs to a general future in which there are paper-stacking jobs that pay gangbusters for all us boobs, even for those with a rather specific piece of paper.

It should be entirely clear that neither of these futures came to pass.  The I that is totally spent never became the I who will have spent.  How could it?

And yet, you write to I  #1 as if it has been the same I all along.  You write the one who is totally spent, exhausted, hounded, the one who writes this to you now.  You write to the I who looks at the piece of paper you have sent me – for that’s it, isn’t it? It is sent to me, not to I, assuring that the me remains the same and can be tracked across state lines, across disguises, across names – regarding the accumulated quantity of money borrowed and spent by other I’s who happen to have bounced around the shambling frame called “Snake’s body.”  You write as if he is the same future I on the basis of whose existence the chain of events began that lead to me sitting here, slightly drunk (OK, more than slightly, what, you think this I could take this shit sober???), looking at a piece of paper on which a debt is inscribed.

But we – I and I, not to mention I, I, and I – are not the same.  We never have been.  Yet it is I who will pay the debt that was supposed to be paid to me, that was given to I who would have been earning money to spare, enough to spare to cover the debts I accumulated back after I signed my name as if in blood, but with all the worse grey horror of that which spares itself every expense and refuses even to render its grotesque in lilting arabesques of red, restricting it to a beige sheet that will Helvetically state, “Payment on your account is overdue.”

[Having established all this, we can move more quickly now, presuming you do not have to go back and meticulously reread what is written above with a Very Focused Expression on your face.]



However, I would not want you think that it is merely the permanent inconsistence of a subject across time that your foul statement of how things are, and my refusal of that are, indicates.  No, it gets worse.
The point at hand was hinted at previously, in our discussion of the gap between #1 and #5, but let me unpack it more clearly.
If “I” (#4) was only given the money in the past only on the condition that “I” (#5,) would be able to pay it back (an “able to” imposed legally and materially on #1) because “I” (#4) will have been given the money in the past (as #3), then it follows that:  I was given the loan on the condition that I was given the loan.  I owe on the condition that I owe.

And boy, ain’t that fucked.

It is what is called a tautology in those educations for which you pay.  It is also what is called a  total failure of thought and society.  One hurtles ahead into the future on the basis that one has already hurtled ahead into the future.  It is hard to escape the stench of burning rubber when, in fact, one is going nowhere, because there’s nowhere to go.  It gets in our lungs.  After a century or so, we think that’s how the air always has tasted.



See “bastards.”  Because that’s what you are.

(In addition, I might note the infantilizing perversity of giving yourself a cute little nickname, of tacking a gender to hamstringing of the future.  Oh, Sallie Mae.  Like a foxy country girl in some daisy dukes.  Healthy and sun-kissed Miss Sallie Mae from Georgia, from that bountiful South where time moves slow and the fields just can’t help but produce.  Damn, I’d like to meet her.  And she’s got it all, a lot to offer: lines of credit out to here…

But of course, a pile of thousands of owed days, of temporal fishhooks arranged in the shape of a personified fountain of innocent fecundity is not the same thing as a young woman from Georgia, and it is not what one signed up for.  A Cenobite may make sense in the short term, may seem like a fun date on the rebound, but once they get the barbs into you, it’s for life.)



That’s pretty self-explanatory.  If it isn’t, open up any one of the billing statements you mail out.  Read it aloud to yourself, at adequate volume, and ask, really ask: who would send such a thing, so hostile, so cold, so hiding behind bureaucracy, to another human?  The answer is obvious: a bastard.  A rat bastard.  Actually that’s not fair to either bastards or rats, many of whom are very good people or they are rats, and you cannot just accuse something of being the species it happens to be.  Let us say, rather, that when you read those words you send to me, to millions of us, it sounds like something that could only be written and spoken by that which has betrayed all that might be decent, kind, fun, caring, or of worth in this world and which, worst of all, insists with the force of law that others participate in the perpetuation of this betrayal of all that might be otherwise.  That is to say, it could only be written by a human.



Well, here’s the crux of it, isn’t it?  The cursed lodestone?  That sum.  That something.  That everything.  Because while it has been demonstrated that I am not the I who owes the money, that you cannot ground owing on the ground of owing, that you are not deserving of the worry, time, or cash of those you claim to owe you, I know damn well what your response will be:

We are sorry to hear you are dissatisfied with your experience, Mr. Plissken.  But what about the money?  Even excluding the interest, do you think it fair that you not pay it back?  That you do not owe us the money we gave to you?  Is that fair?

So let me tell you: Yes.  Yes, it is.

Because you are not my friend.  (And for God’s sake, why would I be asked to “Like Sallie Mae” on Facebook?  The most fucked up thing is the thought that someone probably did.  My comments regarding the auto-betrayal of the human remain.)  If you were my friend or even a stranger, who spotted me for a bit, who took a chunk, horse-sized or otherwise, out of “her money” and added it to “my money,” it would make sense: even if there was a bit of interest attached for the favor, for her “inconvenience,” even if it was an unpleasant, very formal arrangement, what matters to her in that situation is helping me out or growing her particular pile of dough.

But that is not what you want.  No, what mattered to you wasn’t getting it back: it was getting it spent.

Because you are merely a function, merely that which enables spending in the present on the basis of a future based on the endlessly perpetuity of the present.  You are merely a loop, merely a self-definition whining in the night.  Merely a razor that got loose in the house of time.  Merely an oil slick, a spill of that which was intended to carefully lube up the paths of circulation but which was let loose when its vessel met rocks of its own making. It never sank.  It was no accident, just the excuse to let you gush forth and coat all that you could, misting in the air, becoming the rain, getting in the pores, the hair, the eyes, the present.

But oil still burns, doesn’t it?

This is all to say: all that mattered to the total order you serve – not just you, Reader, but the whole credit system – was the mobilization of that money.  The creation of the condition of spends, has spent, and should repay.  It was that which allowed everything to move, for things to get bought and made.  It was that spending and that debt you needed, that amount you could claim you would be worth, not the return of it as such.

And we’ve already done our part: we became debtors.  It seems frivolous to do more.  At this point, we terminate our contract.

So here amongst those forced to pay their debt to society, I shall pay none to you, not a fraction of a penny to you who do not even have the courage to be “society”, just its steward, its motor, its overseer, its guarantor of the future continuing as it once was, the pollution and evacuation of that future.

Because I am, after all, a present fact of that future.  I have, therefore, decided to make it a principle of life.  To be a man adequate to my time.  What more could be asked of me?  Is there a more noble goal?  Such is the task of education, is it not?  And did I not receive a sentimental education, not because of what I read but because of what I borrowed?  Consider this, then, the ultimate application of your loan.

I read a book a long time back – no, not in school on your tab, asshole: people read books for a lot of reasons and in a lot of places – called The Man Without Qualities.  It’s a huge slab of a book, and I’ll admit, it took me a long, long while to work my way through it.  (It didn’t help that I read it only when on the toilet, over the course of two years, which had the unfortunate consequence of the occasional sudden realization that I had been sitting there, over a pile of my own refuse, for a good 20 minutes and the second consequence of a near Pavlovian response to any mention of the book or its author, the details of which I hardly need to spell out.  Even writing it here is difficult.)  And I’ll come clean, I didn’t actually finish it, but neither did the author finish writing it!  So we’re square.

The book is about a man named Ulrich, who is a mathematician.  But more than that, it’s about what the author calls “pseudoreality.”  That’s the kind of reality I mean when I talk about the present, this present of a miscarried yet still swaddled past future.  It shouldn’t exist, because it’s based on promises that cannot be fulfilled, but it takes shape exactly around that unfillment.  It’s negated, but it exists.  Anyway, Ulrich is the man without qualities, not because he is totally boring or incapable of doing things, but because he makes himself to adequate to the world.  He is the ultimate historical guy, because he is nothing but the state of the present.  But the title isn’t The Qualities Without Man.  It isn’t because all those qualities which are not his own crystallize around this shape called man, this form that has been emptied out but which can still hold them.
Times change.  That pseudoreality became the real deal.  And so, as desperate as we may have been to hold onto that thing called man, it got so hard to tell them apart from the qualities.  It became pseudo.  It became pointless.  No one likes being told this, so they shave their chests and beat their wives and do everything else that somehow might prove that they are men and that they have qualities of their own.  But they’re mistaken.  Because we became humans of quantity.  Humans who could be divided up into quantities of time and money.  But then that wasn’t enough.  There wasn’t enough quantity in the present to crowd out the human.  And so it took on the quantity of the future and based the human of quantity on the quantities to come.  It dragged those quantities back from the future into now, and it then dragged that past future with it for all its days to come.

I used be a man without quantity, broke as shit.  But I got right with the times, and I became one of those humans of quantity.  Now, there’s only one step left: to become the quantity without man.  To own up to what I am by refusing to owe it to anyone.  It’s strange, that you who have made this possible, have always been the one who insisted the most on me still being “the man,” on being the same man I was forty-one years ago.  We all know that’s a lie.

And so it is that I will be what has been longed asked of me: to become the quantity without man.  But, of course, being as such, how could I give up this quality around which I am constituted? How could I not take an interest in myself through all this interest accrued? How could I not desire to make it grow, to better myself?  To pile my quantity straight to heaven until, finally, it reveals itself for what it always has been, until it becomes the one quality worth saving: the nothing that shines clear as hell at the end of the words I owe you bastards nothing…

I have, now as before as always, decided to defer.  Indefinitely, straight out to the fogged horizon and beyond, straight through my life and past my death.  For I may die, but this quantity will not, and neither will that nothing.  I will be jubilant and nothing more.

So you can squeeze a stone.  It’s a good strength exercise.  But don’t be surprised to find that the liquid in your hands is nothing more the sweat of your pallid, murderous exertion to make a claim on the present based on a past’s future.

I hope that sweat is as nourishing as it is tasty, because it’s all you are ever going to get from your dealings with me.

Fuck off.