Looking Back to Know Where We’re Going
Nothing is written in advance. The passage of humans on Earth is being constructed every day and the future is never alien to the past, even if there are changes and fractures that mark distinctly dissimilar stages along the way. Likewise, the present is projected into the stories we tell about the future. We’re an ancient animal that has completed many stages on Earth, an animal that has been equipping itself with technological prostheses that have enabled progress in adaptation, but that have also introduced ever more powerful threats in terms of both their effects on nature in general and on humans in particular.
We have rather a short memory of this long history. In order to learn about the greater part of our presence on Earth, we must turn to the genetic traces that humans have left. Writing has been a powerful but late element from which to obtain evidence of the past. And science has helped us to identify signs that went unnoticed. In fact, retracing humanity’s path to find out about past experience and to learn from it is a recent reality that has gradually been moving faster and, at the start of this present century, we have new technologies that allow us to accumulate infinite knowledge at the risk of dehumanising the knowledge we have of ourselves. Yet, our adventure has been gestating together with anonymous and everyday transmission of each and every one of the elements of the species, so we’ve been coming together despite the fact that we’re far from being constituted as humanity, even though the world is smaller now than it has ever been.
History, philosophy, the human sciences, literature, art and what, in general, we call the humanities, have made it possible for us to keep tracing the representation of the past on Earth, taking as references the human condition and the ways in which we’ve been contextualising and institutionalising our experience, and leaving traces of our footsteps. Meanwhile, science is informing us every day about the physical foundations of this adventure. All this means that we’re accumulating a background for moving ahead but we don’t always know how to use it, and also that we construct plans for the future as an expression of power relations, often loaded with the fanciful sublimations that occupy utopian literature. The moods of the species mark moments of exciting prospects and also epochs when the future is fraught with uncertainties. And we do all this in competition with each other—for power (or, in other words, the differences of potential in a species that has no two equals) marks the relationships among people—and seeking ways to keep crystallising experience. Looking back to know where we’re going. To map out the routes through which to travel in the future. To be aware that the human condition has real traits that adapt and mutate slowly. And that science, philosophy, and—literary and artistic—creation are the paths we have for shaping it and giving it symbolic expression.
Also taking this path, where past and future, humanities and science intersect, is the Dénia Festival of the Humanities. We’ll glimpse the future by looking back at the past and paying attention to the mutations that a species that has been moving fast since the beginning of modernity might be undergoing.
The Dénia Festival of the Humanities is an initiative of Dénia Town Council, Dénia Ciutat de la Gastronomía (Dénia, City of Gastronomy), UNESCO, the Generalitat (Government) of Valencia, and Baleària. Josep Ramoneda and Jordi Alberich (La Maleta de Portbou) are its academic directors, and it is coordinated by the Dénia Creative City of Gastronomy Foundation.