Fall 2012: Williams Abstract

Oracle Aesthetics: The Guru, the Corporation, and the Plurality of Global Futures
R. John Williams 

This presentation details the rise of a “new oracularity” in American corporate culture, in which (beginning in the late-1950s) the persons and organizations charged with anticipating global futures began to embrace a multiplicity of possible scenarios rather than positing an ideal or even most likely series of events. As part of this transformation, a unique blend of hyper-rationality and technical prowess joined with quasi-Eastern forms of “consciousness” to authorize new styles of corporate operations and management, paving the way for the supposedly countercultural, “googlier” workspaces of our current era. Specifically, I will examine the practices and influence of figures such as Herman Kahn of the RAND corporation and Pierre Wack of Shell Oil and Anglo American. As I hope to argue, what these “scenarists” of global futures ventured to describe was a textual plurality so vast and complex that it offered its own ideological argument against the oracular singularity of Marxist “history”–demonstrating that the obvious spatial fluidities of global capitalism required a temporal flexibility as well.

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