Conference Contribution Details
Mandatory Fields
Steve Coleman
Futures past of 1967
Annual Conference, Anthropological Association of Ireland: Predictive Texts: Imagining the Future
Oral Presentation
Optional Fields
This paper investigates the “futures past” envisioned in two documentaries, both filmed in the summer of 1967, which portray Dublin and the rural West as dislocated from modernity. For The Village, West Kerry belonged to a past in which mere contact with modernity would deal it a fatal blow, while The Rocky Road to Dublin portrayed the capital as trapped in a nationalist, isolationist, and priest-ridden historical cul-de-sac. Both films almost overpower their subjects, heavily framing them as allochronic remnants full of quaint curiosities, but the filmmakers’ own commitments to capturing direct experience led in both cases to the revelation of something else which points to a different view of time and sociality. Each film in effect predicted a bleak future for its subject, but the sensuous reality of social life which these films portray complicate these futures, inadvertently offering us an almost utopian glimpse of the potentials within social life. To analyse this phenomenon, I draw upon the usual anthropological approaches to time, representation and the senses, but give pride of place to a powerful but little-known critique of the then-dominant discourses in Ireland developed by Máirtín Ó Cadhain. Ó Cadhain, an Irish-language writer, activist and intellectual, portrayed both Dublin and the rural West as mired in a struggle between Life and Death; the latter (An Marbh) represented both the discarded remains of sociality and its reification and deification by conservative nationalism and the discourse of the human sciences. Life (An Beo) on the other hand represented sociality itself as a “natural” process, most visible in the lives and loves of the poor: an almost infinite potential which is the only force capable of actually bringing about the future.