Gerald Nestler


The Derivative Condition: An inquiry into the History of the Future at Present 

The thesis revisits the innovations that have reshaped financial markets since the 1970s in order to access their contemporary role as a world-producing apparatus. It investigates the revolution brought about by what I term the quantitative turn in finance, which has not only shaped the space-time of the market but also those of politics and social relations. The future emerges today within a derivative paradigm – the implementation of information-based, algorithmic processes, scientific modelling and mathematics in a constant, recalibrated stream that traces, evaluates, and exploits the myriads of expectations and projections, desires and anxieties that make up the world-in-becoming.

The financial equivalent to the production of value is the production of risk – a fully future-oriented, randomized, probabilistic anticipation in which the qualitative notion of value (trust based on a past) has no place and is re-placed by the quantitative number of price (the thrust to pure future). Hence, the promise of history succumbs to a quantitative archive of data whose only “sense” is to produce the promise of possible futures at present. The thesis argues that the derivative paradigm by the power given to financial markets has effectively been re-orienting not only market relations but also those of humans and nonhumans alike. As this derivative condition includes every underlying and derivative (all expectations traded) in their entire complex and volatile interrelation, the market regime – embodying the neoliberal framework of social relations, bond and trust – expands the derivative paradigm into society and onto the contingent becoming of subjectivities.

While the theoretical part of the thesis delivers a critique of the derivative condition, the practice part engages in an artistic project that foregrounds the question of an aesthetics of resolution. With an ambivalent, contingent and marginal figure at its heart – the renegade (a traitor inside and an educator outside systems) – it combines the varied meanings of the term resolution – from technology to visualization techniques and norms; from knowledge-production to decision-making; and from discretionary competence to joint convention – to propose a multi-layered and transdisciplinary practice for rearranging (acting) against the black box. By creating narrative instabilities and their resolutions, it works towards a renegade solidarity that coagulates dissent into insurrection and thus creates potential for profound socio-political change.

The ultimate question from which both the theoretical and the practice part of the thesis nevertheless originate is whether derivatives are a technology of the future and ultimately a form of matter not restricted to capitalism – as the financial engineer and philosopher Elie Ayache claims – and if therefore the derivative – in its double-incarnation as technology and social relation – can act as an open(-source) agency against the exploitation of profit, the redistribution of wealth and the paradigm of growth; to instead nurture the values, needs and expectations of those inhabiting complex systems and societies. In other words, will the derivative survive capitalism to serve a future commonism and its shared and embodied unpredictable risks?

Member of Roundtable Two