The lost horizons are those of “communism” and “revolution,” respectively: “communism” as the horizon of historical communism (an “empty mist of obscure indeterminateness… populated with intuited possibilities or likehoods” –as Husserl put it– predelineating “only ‘the form’ ” of a world); and “revolution,” similarly, as a horizon of expectation within capitalist and colonial societies (“populated with intuited possibilities” of non-capitalistic social forms) –altough the horizon of expectation of revolution had been dissolving in advanced capitalist societies since the end of the Second World War, and where it persisted, it increasingly functioned as a barrier to the qualitatively historically new, a barrier to revolution, in fact, rather than the framework for it that it understood itself to be, precisely because of the manner in which it “predelineated” it. The horizon of expectation that has emerged victorious is, of course, that of the renewed development and planetary universalization of capital accumulation as the basis of social development. “Long Live and Thrive Capitalism!” as artists Mona Vatamanu and Florin Tudor’s banner declares. This inversion of the 1926 Russian revolutionary slogan “Long Live and Thrive Socialism!”), nicely reduces the two opposed political imperatives – Communism! and Capitalism! – to a common political-historical form. This has the effect of emphasizing, not only the raw ideological form of capitalism, but also the repetitive and monotonous stasis of its dynamic core as an economic ideology and a system for the reproduction of the social relations of commodity exchange. However, this repetitive sameness at the heart of capitalism should not be mistaken for the absence of a horizon: it posits a horizon of endless accumulation (ultimate indeterminateness as infinite progression), politically coded in economic terms as the progressive freedom of ever-greater consumption.
What was unexpected about the collapse of historical communism–certainly unexpected to the citizens of the former Eastern European socialist states–was the ferocity of the capitalist revolution that followed, which genuinely punctured the horizon of expectation of those involved in the transformation, who sought a new, “third way.” But what of 9/11? It was certainly unexpected in a sense in which the collapse of historical communism was not, and not merely as a punctual event (and there were plenty of unexpected events in the course of the collapse of historical communism, in the sense of event), but as a symbolic harbinger of a new, religiously-coded geopolitical respect, it both punctured the initial western horizon of expectation of the post-communist situation, and darkened it, in the sense of rendering it more “misty” and “obscure.” As such, that is, by rendering “the form the world” less determinate, it heightened expectations of the unexpected. One might say that it instituted a certain possibilizing anticipatoriness; that it laid bare the political aspect of the historical process. At the level of determination of that process, however, in its deeper structural respects, 9/11 was (as intended) merely emblematic of a particular, secondary antagonism. Within a horizon of expectation internal to the future–and the internal transformations–of capitalism, another, far less dramatic punctual event was of far greater significance: 8–15 November 2002, the Sixteenth Congress of the Communist Party of China, at which a series of decisions were ratified about private property in land and means of production and the regulation of capital, of enormous determinate significance to the future of the world economic system. That congress opened up a new horizon of expectation whithin capitalsim, but the possibilities it contains (possibilities of the unexpected) are not horizonal, but counter-horizonal. We will not reclaim a future qualitatively different from the present by reclaiming the very idea of horizon, but rather by puncturing it. And at its best, contemporary art models experimental practices of negotiation that puncture horizons of expectation.
An excerpt from Peter Osborne’s lecture Expecting the Unexpected: Beyound the “Horizon of Expectation” delivered during the 2nd Former West Research Congress, Istanbul, 4-6 November 2010 lately published as a revised version by BAK, basis voor aktuele kunst publication On Horizons: A critical Reader in Contemporary Art.