Vancouver Institute for Social Research: Steve Collis

October 20, 2014

The Vancouver Institute for Social Research (VISR) is an independent, para-academic, graduate-level, theory-based free school that began in Feb. 2013. Our intent is to move beyond the borders of the traditional university and to open up a more accessible platform in the city for the engaged discussion of critical theory.


The Institute’s third session, which will be organized around the theme of “Aesthetics and Politics,” will be held from Sept – Dec, 2014. Once a week on Monday evenings from 7-9 pm at the Or Gallery (555 Hamilton Street), we will be inviting professors to present on topics of their choice over this period.


Though we have an operational budget of $0, the seminars will be free to the public. All professors will be offering their services on a voluntary basis.


Organized by the East Vancouver Young Hegelians
Chapter 13 (Negating the Negation Faction)


Steve Collis — The Future Anterior, or, What We Better (Not) Have Done Tomorrow


With the concept of “built-in” climate change—the idea that there is enough carbon still buried in the ground, but already financialized as assets by the fossil fuel industry, to push us over the brink of catastrophic climate change—we circle back to the Cold War era idea of “mutually assured destruction.” Indeed, “nuclear winter” and climate change are mirror images and potential results of the self-destructive behaviour the human race has somehow “engineered.” In both instances, the idea of the future becomes very tenuous indeed.


Interestingly, oil industry giants like Shell Oil and Kinder Morgan employ “futurists” to produce “scenarios” of likely futures their companies will have to exist, and profit, in. The future, in these documents, is revealed as an imaginative, if limited (the “house always wins” in these scenarios) terrain. In this presentation, poet and activist Stephen Collis will lead a discussion aimed at the utopian goal of taking the future back from the futurists who have already put a price on it, sold it, and all-but burnt it. Survival, we might find, begins with a little matter of imagining alternative tomorrows. This in turn opens the question of the relation of aesthetics to politics—something that becomes all the more important when considering the problematic space of the future.


The reading for this session is from a work in progress, entitled Scenarios, that is something of a hybrid essay/serial poem. Scenarios ends with a brief questionnaire that participants are invited to answer in advance of the session.

Participant Bios

Stephen Collis is a poet and professor of contemporary literature at Simon Fraser University. His many books of poetry include The Commons (Talon Books 2008; second edition 2014), On the Material (Talon Books 2010—awarded the BC Book Prize for Poetry), and To the Barricades (Talon Books 2013). He has also written two books of criticism and a novel, The Red Album (BookThug 2013). His collection of essays on the Occupy movement, Dispatches from the Occupation (Talon Books 2012), is a philosophical meditation on activist tactics, social movements, and change. In September 2013 Coach House Books published DECOMP, a collaborative photo-essay and long poem written with Jordan Scott.