Sunday, November 18, 2007

67; Modernity

First off some disclaimers. Given my current schedule I am finding near impossible to keep up with a column every other day, or for that matter a column every few days. I am hoping this insanity will be all but over after the Thanksgiving break. In the mean time I vow to update only one column a week. As a bonus, however, that which is posted will be of higher quality, and with a guaranteed 30% fewer spelling errors!

Now that's out of the way lets talk modernity, shall we?

Modernity has been on my mind. I've always bought a certain argument about the modern age. It runs something like this: The long 19th century pervaded as a popular mindset from the 1790's until the First World War. That is, people basically thought of history and philosophy the same way during this time, and that this view was Hegelian. History was seen as a dialectic force, a mechanism that would promise increasingly beneficial returns. As history goes on life gets better, progress progresses, and the world becomes a better place.

However Hegel's lovely historical philosophy was also couched in the notion that if it is rational it is must be real. And vice versa. But when WWI happened there was clearly a case of something very real, yet very irrational. And so the modern age ended and there was much rejoicing.

There is proof of this. The writers, the architects, the philosophers and painters after the Great War created radical things. Intellectually and artistically the First World War definitely was a watershed. It changed perceptions and how to look at the world. Not that it wasn't a watershed for non-artists and non-intellectuals, but the perception change did not take place.

Enter Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning by Jay Winter. Winter makes the case that general European populace made sense of the First World War in very traditional ways. The ways of remembering, mourning, and retroactively understanding the war were not disimilar to previous ways of doing so. It was commemorated and felt, perhaps, more strongly than in the past, but that was due to the scale, rather than the nature. As I see it the problem is that WWI could be written off as a fluke. Since it was the chaos and confusion of the trenchs that were so horrific the war had to be seen as an abberation of reason, but not a condemnation of it. Only the artists and intellectuals were upset, but there's good evidence to show that their frustration began in the decades leading up to the war.

Rational history would not, perhaps, be popularly condemned until after WWII. For the atrocities of the Second World War were not horrific in their disorder, but instead in their calculated, and rational order. The very beauracracy of the Holocaust is what makes it so frightening. The Second World War required a new means of understanding even in a popular level to try and make sense of it. You could not view such an event as a mere abberation, or slip-up of reason.

So modernity comes to a close with the end of WWII. But lets problematize this further. Early modernity, the Hegelian sort, had been transformed during the inter-war years academically and artistically. How are we going to deal with this transformation? We might jump and say that this is the foundation of post-modernity, but that would be false. Few disagree that Picasso, Mies van der Rohe, Hieddegger and Kafka were modern, and these were the voices of the time. TS Eliot's 'Wasteland', published in 1922, is seen as one of the halmarks of modern poetry. What, then, of all the Hegelian art, architecture and literature? What of the philosophy? Surely if Hegel's philosophy is seen as the intellectual road-map of the modern age, then philosophy in contrast to it would have to be something else?

The above paragraphs were composed six days ago. It has been a very busy time, I've not even been getting in contact with people I want to get in contact with. Subsequently to writing the above I've thought more about hte topic at hand and spoken and written more about it.

And I still have no good answers. More rumination needed.

In personal news, as means of an explanation, I have just registered for my Spring courses, set up my Field Work for the Winter, and have been getting on top of my work for this semester. Just one more week of this madness, and all should be well.

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