Manifestations (No Set Future) – Max Oginz

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By: Max Oginz

Manifestations (No Set Future)

In 2023, fashion Vlogger Tristan Payne moves through Manhattan streets as light washes the scaffolding around him. Between asking people “what are you wearing,” he speaks directly to the camera on the importance of authenticity and self-composed historicity. “I wanna speak the truth, I want it to be different, I want to show y’all what’s really going on…I don’t think about this as short term, I think about it as my legacy…so I think y’all should do the same.”1 The atomized moment Payne walks through, in which what people are wearing is also “what’s really going on,” is characteristic of a specific post-pandemic logic of achievement, where objects, people, and time is given based on what might be called at best good habits, and at worst, good behaviour. Without a message, Payne presents himself to the world, and that presentation is an effective enough legacy. Self-presentation, finding oneself, self-realization, these are the abstractions that manifestation, a nebulous self-help term, serves. The purpose of this essay is not to trace manifestation to its origins, nor is it to provide a serious critique of a term that became a viral meme at the outset of the WFH era. Instead, manifestation serves as a window into contemporary visions of temporality. Manifestation is an imagined moment of mastery over time and capital, one that is particularly suited to the parasocial time of platform life. Such a mastery, I argue, expresses the circularity of time spent online, in which the system that distracts and allows one to live outside time is also the hack that offers users an opportunity to bend time–to 5 easy habits or a five-second countdown, or a special state of transcendent sleep. This circularity presents a particular vision of nowness that should be contextualized within the uncertainties of Anthropocene living. In a time where the prophecy is imminent material collapse, the importance of planning, and of manifesting, gains ironic and paramount appeal.

Since late 2020, manifestation has dominated meme pages and news feeds, variably used sincerely as a tool to improve mindfulness, and a joke parodying the notion of achieving goals simply through visualization or affirmation. In a YouTube video from 2022, self-help author Mel Robbins explains that “manifesting is preparing your mind, body, and spirit to take action.”2 This preparation is a mental one with material outcomes. The mental system of manifestation varies from user to user, but manifestation has explicit predecessors in the late 19th and early 20th century “New Thought” movement. At its centre, manifestation is the notion that cognition is a system that can be controlled through the bending or refiguring of certain abstract rules of thought. 

From its outset, the practice was highly gendered and centered around a handful of self-help authors who appropriated hermetic, Vedic, and transcendental thought. These authors persist as apocryphal figures in online forums and instructional videos, with multiple personalities and pennames, each co-opting distinct theological frameworks. In sum, these authors, such as Prentice Mulford and William J. Atkinson, proposed a “mind-cure,” in which patterns of thought had a direct influence on material events. By changing thought, one could change circumstances. Philosopher William James, who provides a “psychological” account of self-help doctrine, wrote in 1902 that “Systematic healthy-mindedness, conceiving good as the essential and universal aspect of being, deliberately excludes evil from its field of vision.”3 The modulation of thought becomes the primary object of both New Thought and the online self-help doctrines that are promulgated on Reddit threads and YouTube videos. Abstraction is modulated to achieve an intended outcome. Where one might be introduced to their romantic partner by chance, work hard toward a promotion, or achieve financial success by making some calculated if risky investment, manifestation locates all these capitalist success stories within a mindfulness practice that imagines the outcome already achieved. In other words, manifestation is a way of remembering the future in the hope that it might become the past. Reddit user SpacewithinSpace writes:

A lot of other people that I knew were struggling to get a job too. So i decided to manifest it. First I spent the first two weeks every morning working on my self concept using affirmations and by putting myself in the mindset and feeling of a person who would be earning money. Then when I was used to that feeling and it felt more natural, I visualized every night before bed. Then on a random day, my brother texted me telling me that he referred me to a manager that he knew at the airport to convince them to give me an interview. This was random and out of the blue which is how i knew i manifested it.4

In identifying manifestation’s imaginary, a few characteristics stand out in this post, the first of which is the specificity and purpose of the manifestation in question. The specific aim here is a singular outcome: a job for the user. Mentions of exterior circumstances are absent: no family to provide for, nor family history, no mention of class. Second, a divine randomness is transposed onto an intended, planned-for outcome. The manifestation of the job is specific, but the proof that it was manifested is in its divine random out-of-the-blueness. Finally, the singular outcome is transposed on a collective intervention: it’s the user’s brother who helps him achieve the manifested outcome. Taking the outcome of a collective action as an outcome solely for and by the user is central to the certain future proposed by manifestation.

Karen Barad argues that with the discovery of the quantum particle, a cell that can exist in multiple temporalities, time takes on a newly volatile dimension, in which the linearity of spacetime is challenged, and the Newtonian physics of progression is troubled. By her description, the evils of colonialism now travel by spacetime, and their effects are felt across temporalities. In addition to challenging any linear conception of time, she challenges the neutrality of the sciences, argues for a beyond-Derridian deconstruction of science,5 and proposes a collective alternative to linear spacetime.6 As a system for manipulating temporality, manifestation exploits the disjuncture of atomic time to produce outcomes of capitalist success and excess. It serves as a counter-appropriation to collectivity–a singular but polyvocal encounter with time. Unlike the collective quantum time proposed by Barad, manifestation is a singular quantum time, in which people, objects and outcomes are manipulated as particles existing partially in mind and partially in the world. Or more accurately, partially in the world and completely in the mind. This reaffirms Barad’s call for the production of “collective imaginaries that undo pervasive conceptions of temporality that take progress as inevitable and the past as something that has passed and is no longer with us…”7 The abstract certainty of manifestation, its inparticulate, individual randomness, is its selling point.

Rising out of the work-from-home moment, labour and leisure are merely linear temporalities to transcend through thought. This, of course, is not the radical queer reimagining of temporality and quantum physics that Barad argues for. Instead, we are left with a cultish particalization of what otherwise, in Barad’s critique/reconsideration of linear spacetime, are actors neutralized by mathematics and natural science. The images of manifestation – often stock footage culled from paid services, overlaid with subtitles in the voice of a spiritualist proponent of self-help, imbues images with an aspirational appeal. We see astronauts, people in nature, meditation, and nostalgia-tinged evocation of childhood trauma, in which a child and adult, silhouetted against sunset, hold a paper cutout of a house. 

While the trajectory of manifestation’s logic, from have-not to have, is a linear mode of material advancement, the instrumentalization of thought and image for material gain suggests new, nonlinear forms of capitalism. To achieve the ends of accomplishment where it otherwise seems impossible, in the irreversibility of global economies, manifestation employs a pseudo-quantum science that turns thought material, renders habits ‘ atomic’, and privileges the act of visualization. This visualization, as Derrida’s Given Time helps us locate, need not be in the waking world of labour and leisure. 

In the logic of manifestation, there exists a space outside time, in which a transcendence of the physical is possible. This space is accessed through sleep. According to Prentice Mulford, an early 20th-century author of Christian New Thought, “the last thought before going to sleep is the one most likely to remain with on leaving the body…That is, it will be the first clew towards the recognition of your real self when you away from your body.”8 Manifestation proposes a zone outside of time, or in the case of Mulford, sleep, in which thought itself is transformed into a natural resource. As an impossible space, the state of sleep becomes ripe for observing the flows of capitalist data from thought to action. The impossible time observed in the state akin to sleep responds to time’s invisible encroachment–it is an abstract response to an abstract state. In Given Time I: Counterfeit Money, Jacques Derrida writes of time as a non-phenomenological non-object. For Derrida, there is no outside time. He writes that “time…gives nothing to see. It is at the very least the element of invisibility itself.”9 Manifestation, resistant to Derrida’s framework, the non-visible, non-material nature of time–the event’s constant inside–renders time as a natural resource in use even at rest. By Mulford’s logic, why sleep if not manifesting? Here, an appropriation of Vedic and Buddhist meditative transcendental practice becomes all about producing results in waking, ephemeral life. In sleep, the thought is a natural resource. Each page of Mulford’s turn-of-the-century text, Your Forces and How to Use Them, is printed with the declaration (disclaimer, agitprop?) that “thoughts are things.” Tellingly, Mulford associates this atemporal thinking with technology. “A thought is as real a thing as a telegraph-wire.”10 Here, we have the formation of a proto-datafication that foretells of the real datafication of habit in the form of surveillance capital. Outside time, thoughts become concrete things to be mined for profit. The purpose of manifestation becomes the extraction of material wealth from habit. In this way, systems of manifestation transcend the simple notion of healthy living or mindfulness, stepping into the economy by stepping outside of time. Derrida associates time with a kind of economic circle, in which given time and time taken are in constant conversation. The gift of time would have to be outside time itself–perhaps in sleep. Manifestation puts sleep, too, under anaesthetic. In his book on sleep in the age of digital media, 24/7: Late Capitalism and the End of Sleep, Jonathan Crary writes that “sleep poses the idea of a human need and interval of time that cannot be colonized and harnessed to a massive engine of profitability, and thus remains an incongruous anomaly and site of crisis in the global present.”11 At the dawn of the 20th century, already sleep itself was becoming capital, defending itself through communion with angels: “the thought of yourself as a spirit, as a being distinct and apart from your body, will serve as this clew…It will be the telegraph-wire ‘twixt you and them, because they will not stay permanently with you in your gropings on the cruder stratum of life.”12 The state of sleep in which manifestation is made possible forms a contradictory logic of thought and reality. 

Here, thoughts become reality as a future that can be imagined–and thus transformed into visual material. The online spaces of manifestation, its Reddit threads and YouTube comment feeds, corroborate this transformation. As new technologies cannibalize old ones, thought for manifestation purposes move from telegraph wire to fibre optic cables. Visualization becomes one step in the vehicle for manifesting: “I’ve been manifesting for a month. I got my boyfriend back and he said all the things I’ve ever wanted to hear. Someone posted a video about writing your names together and folding paper then placing it under your bed. I did that. I imagined what our new life will be like. Then when I was used to that feeling and it felt more natural, I visualized every night before bed.”13 Manifestation, then, is imbricated with the visuality of online culture–our ability to be seen and see. Crary writes, of the visual situation that “…the demand for mandatory 24/7 immersion in visual content effectively becomes a new form of institutional super-ego.”

As both joke and doctrine, manifestation performs the role of the platform’s economic circle, in which time spent on the platform is time regained through the logic of achievement–which in turn leads us back into the leisure time of surveillance capital. The circle produces certainty, whereas time remains a non-phenomenological, non-object. The question of manifestation is easily construed with a whole slew of other questions that one is likely to be bombarded with when spending time on platforms: techniques to reclaim time from procrastination, distraction, negative self-talk, etc. But what force does the state of sleep reclaim time from? Manifestation reclaims time from the platform itself. It produces a state of certainty where there is simply the flow of time, the endless wastes of time that can be engendered by a scrolling feed. The feed of time.

Capitalism’s mindfulness cult, when considered in light of Anthropocentric clocks, promises to reclaim time we don’t have. Through the capture of what captures us, I aim to take seriously the multiple meanings of manifestation: the manifesto, the presence of a ghostly other, the appearance and reappearance of specific persons and things, and the trace of difference between the sign and object (in which one semiosis is a “manifestation” of another). Manifestation is a window into the platform’s metabolic circle of time lost in distraction and time gained through the achievement of financial certainty, corporeal well-being, and spiritual transcendence. Manifestation’s system of certainty is recoded into an aleatory flow of desires made public, spectral encounters mutating the virtual landscape, and hallucinatory experiences diffused across virtual material.


Max Oginz is a PhD student in Film and Digital Media at UC Santa Cruz. His writing and films interrogate the literary, ecological, and cinematic implications of technologically mediated life. His writing has been published in Sleepingfish, Fanzine, Cinemedia, Senses of Cinema, and is forthcoming in the edited volume, Future Spaces of Power: The Cultural Politics of Digital and Outer Spaces.


  1. Tristan Payne, ‘What Are People Wearing in New York City? Midtown, Bowery, SoHo (EP.62)’, 13:27, ↩︎
  2. Mel Robbins, The 5 Second Rule (Post Hill Press, 2017). E-Pub, 62. ↩︎
  3. William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience: a Study in Human Nature (1902; repr., New York, NY: Routledge, 2002), 73. ↩︎
  4. SpaceWithinSpace, “6 Years of Manifesting – Manifesting is Very Easy and Simple!” March 2023. ↩︎
  5. Karen Barad, “Quantum Entanglements and Hauntological Relations of Inheritance: Dis/Continuities, SpaceTime Enfoldings, and Justice-To-Come,” Derrida Today 3, no. 2 (November 2010): 240–68, ↩︎
  6. Karen Barad, “Troubling Time/S and Ecologies of Nothingness: Re-Turning, Re-Membering, and Facing the Incalculable,” New Formations, no. 92 (September 1, 2017): 56–86, 62. ↩︎
  7. Ibid. 57. ↩︎
  8. Mulford. Your Forces and How to Use Them, “Where You Travel When You Sleep,” 6. ↩︎
  9. Jacques Derrida, Given Time. I, Counterfeit Money, trans. Peggy Kamuff (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994). 6. ↩︎
  10. Ibid. 7. ↩︎
  11. Jonathan Crary, 24/7 : Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep (New York: Verso, 2013). 15. ↩︎
  12. Mulford. 7. ↩︎
  13. Dependent-Painter-59. “It worked! So, So Well.” March 28, 2024. ↩︎

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