Future Perfect

by Dr Rosemary Overell


Photo by Kaung Myat Min on Unsplash



‘Will the Unconscious have been structured like a musing?’


Firstly, a word about my musing. I just emailed the co-ordinator of this series of creative responses, assuring them that I have been ‘musing on my musing’ and that I will have it done by the new year. I send the email as a promise. A way of marking out a commitment. This is not such an astounding observation, but I want to return to this idea of future promises (and, indeed, the mark on which they make on us) as I muse along (or around …, or about …). 


What is more curious is the charge that we muse about an event for which we are yet to see, hear or experience. Our brief is to write a short response to an aspect of the NUS Arts Festival which has yet to occur. We are provided with a potted summary of a play, performance or creative work, and a general theme (‘Shades of Light[ness]’) and directed to muse. Initially I found this rather, well – irritating. My process is to weave around and through a cultural object; to respond; free associate; think – muse, even. I suppose this is why I plead for an extended time to muse on my chosen event – a play called Blackout by NUS Stage. ‘Musing’ sounds languid – further am I without a muse (the play yet to be performed)? Or, am I the muse here, and ‘musing’ is a kind of self-producing mime? But muse I must. Not languid though; rather, in wilful irritation!


Irritations make a mark. A scratch on the skin; a compulsion to tap out a tweet when one’s hackles are raised. An irritation is marked out on surfaces – skins, screens – but it also holds a kernel of the little thing which generates it. An irritation marks a past (what generates), a present (the scratch or screened screed), but also some gesture towards the future. Once marked out; this generative thing persists. The scratch may scar; the screed is screencapped; sent and shared elsewhere. 


I want to use this generative temporality to think through the ideas which Blackout marks out in its blurb (p. 6 of the Programme). Leaving the affective connotations of irritation aside, let’s consider how we mark out, and are marked by, the future perfect – a type of time which holds, as I mentioned above, a promise


A quick grammar revision: the future perfect refers to those sentences which promise a particular action will have occurred in the future. The ‘will have’ is key here, a rather complicated verb arrangement which combines the future (will), the past (have) and past participle (x-ed). This tense also, then, is used to indicate suppositions about events which may have happened in the past. It is a rather delightful tense (IMO!) because it holds within it both certainty (x will have happened by y time) and ambivalence, particularly when inverted into a question (will z have done x by y time?). I mean, why not do away with the past participle and simply say ‘x will happen’? The insertion of this ‘have’ – a marker of past-ness – troubles the surety of ‘will’. And what about the presumption of perfection within the fabulous predictions of this tense? Again, another point of delight for me, that pesky participle seems to intervene and build in to the sentence a kind of precarity. The ‘-ed’ of this past participle might appear certain (having already happen-ed), but sequenced with the ‘will’, and especially the ‘have’ the action seems over-determined, or over-compensated, as if predicting, and attempting to right a potential failure. In the future perfect, there is always something of an irritating equivocation in its promise of reaching perfection. This is, I believe, generative.  


For adherents of psychoanalysis, the future perfect is the also the curious temporality of the unconscious, and it is the unconscious with which Blackout will grapple. Rather than the progressive consciousness of the future simple (x will happen) – which draws a smooth line between past 🡪 present 🡪 future – the future perfect of the unconsciousness is all these at once – and, after all that, it begins with the future (‘will’) and the present is unmarked (except, of course, in the act of speaking the arrangement). The future perfect indexes a kind of bumpy movement between these tenses, marked out in language as a turn of phrase where the unconscious says: Where it was, there I will have been, and so I shall become.  


According to the play’s description, Blackout follows ‘Justin’, a man who is “plagued by identity crises”. He is positioned by “a myriad of characters” set on helping to “uncover” Justin’s “real identity”. These characters propose that Justin is a triad, a pop-star and a woman. For Justin, this is a “nightmare”. He, and the audience, strive to “walk out of … the darkness that envelops” him and “find light at the end of the tunnel” by the performance’s end. The play, then, offers a fantasy premised on ‘identity’ as a form of progress; a processual journey from which one emerges from the ‘blackout’, the ‘nightmare’, enlightened and in possession of a ‘real identity’. 




Surely not. 


The unconscious is fundamentally not progressive, linear, or a ‘blacked-out’ space in need of being (en)lightened. Rather, it persists, rhythmic, pulsing, generating in this complicated syntactical collision of the future, past, participle of the future perfect.  


In a neat way Blackout might well provide a reflection on the limits of this fantasy through its depiction of unconscious temporality as the future perfect. Justin’s “identity crises” (I love the plural in the blurb!) shift us into this rollicking syntax of future-past-past-participle. Justin will have been a triad, a woman, a … It is not coincidence that the play intersects a future (perfect) with a series of stylised identities – named, listed, and always given to Justin by the Other (the ‘myriad characters’). I sense that Justin’s “nightmare” is that none of these fit, or fix, him as a subject. That too, is important – for the unconscious there is no whole, ‘reveal-able’ ‘real identity’; in fact, identity is necessarily always a point of ‘crisis’, cut through, as it is with the future, past, (and again … repeating), the past-participle. Instead, the unconscious marks out a subject, rather than an identity – a subject who strives and supposes to know itself and the world in perfect terms, but always falls short. The future, for Justin, for any subject, is not something to be ‘lit’ up, and dragged forth, out of the ‘shade’, rather it will always splinter, crack, fail; its perfection is a fantasy, but one which, as Blackout will no doubt show its audience, persists, irritates and generates. 


NAF programme title:
 Blackout - NUS Stage



Freud, S. (1933). ‘The Dissection of the Psychical Personality (1932)’. In J. Strachey (trans.) New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis / The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth Press.

Lacan, J. (1953-4 [1988]). Seminar I: Freud’s Papers on Technique. J-A. Miller (ed.); J. Forrester (trans.). New York: Norton.

Lacan, J. (1964 [1977]). Seminar XI: The Four Fundamentals of Psychoanalysis. . J-A. Miller (ed.); A. Sheridan (trans.). New York: Norton.

Soler, C. (2014). Lacan – The Unconscious Reinvented. E. Faye and S. Schwartz (trans.). London: Routledge.

Webster, J. (2014). ‘On the Question of the Future of Psychoanalysis: Some Reflections on Jacques Lacan’. European Journal of Psychoanalysis 1. available online here: https://bit.ly/3EGnktQ.

[1] For a quick revision, please check out the Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar (Chalker and Weiner, 2003) summary of the future perfect, available online: https://bit.ly/3sJI8OM .

[2] This is a riff on Freud’s Wo Es War, Sol Ich Werden (where it was, so I shall become) (Freud 1933, p. 80), made by Lacan in his first Seminar (1953-4 [1988]).

[3] See Lacan’s Seminar XI for a lengthy discussion of the pulsation of the unconscious. Refer also to Soler’s 2014 book Lacan – The Unconscious Reinvented.

[4] For a wonderful essay on temporality and psychoanalysis, please see Webster ‘On the Question of the Future of Psychoanalysis: Some Reflections on Jacques Lacan’ (2014), available online here: https://bit.ly/3EGnktQ.