Two views of modernity

Here are a couple descriptions of modernity that I’ve run across lately and found interesting.

First, from Eva Brann:

Now what is actually meant by “modern times?” The term cannot just mean “contemporary” because all times are con-temporary with themselves. Modern is a Latin word which means “just now.” Modern times are the times which are in a special way “just now!” Modernity is just-nowness, up-to-date-ness.

… We live differently in our time from the way those who came before us lived in theirs. For instance, when we speak of something or even someone as being “up to date” we are implying that what time it is, is significant, that time marches, or races, on by itself, and we have the task of keeping up with it. Our time is not a comfortable natural niche within the cycle of centuries, but a fast sliding rug being pulled out from under us.

Furthermore, we have a sense of the extraordinariness of our times … Modernity itself is, apparently, a way of charging the Now with special significance.

Second, from Nassim Taleb:

Modernity corresponds to the systematic extraction of humans from their randomness-laden ecology. … It is rather the spirit of an age marked by rationalization (naive rationalism), the idea that society is understandable, hence must be designed, by humans. With it was born statistical theory, hence the beastly bell curve. So was linear science. So was the notion of “efficiency” — or optimization.

Modernity is a Procrustean bed, good or bad — a reduction of humans to what appears to be efficient and useful. Some aspects of it work: Procrustean beds are not all negative reductions. Some may be beneficial, those these are rare.

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7 comments on “Two views of modernity
  1. IJ says:

    If you are not already a listener, you might enjoy Ken Myers at Mars Hill Audio, who reflects frequently on the topic of Modernity. Mostly, I think, in the same vein as your first citation.

  2. John says:

    Thanks. I’ve heard Ken Myers speak and was very impressed. I should listen to some of his recordings.

  3. JEP says:

    From my English class in college: Modernity could be defined as the “age of manifestos” when everybody was writing essays explicitly claiming “this was the way things should be done.” Contrast that with Post-Modernity which is characterized by disorientation and the claim that we no longer have a frame of reference. The dividing line between Modernity and Post-Modernity is the Holocaust – Germany was a state that had culture, a functioning government, a police force, industry, etc but still managed to slip off the edge of the map into genocide. So what’s preventing our societies from doing the same thing?

  4. Phillip Kent says:

    The best thing I have ever read about modernity: All That is Solid Melts into Air by Marshall Berman. Stunning. If I get Berman right, modernity is not a relative thing (now against the past), there are special forces of development created through the conjoined phenomena of industrialization, capitalism, and urbanization.

  5. Pseudonym says:

    We call the art movement “modernism” for two main reasons.

    First, they named themselves, and were one of the earliest major art movements to do so.

    Secondly, they were preoccupied with everything “here and now” in a way that earlier and later art movements were not. The Renaissance, for example, was preoccupied with the classical world. Art deco was preoccupied with the geometry and iconography of the East. Modernism was preoccupied with everything modern, and pretty much nothing else.

  6. Roberto Lupi says:

    I have found “Liquid Modernity” by Zygmunt Bauman quite interesting on the topic of Modernity and our own era, call it Post-Modernity if you like, Bauman prefers Liquid modernity to underline that it’s the result of the same modernization trend/processes at work even in our times.

  7. Dave Tate says:

    The first author I’m aware of who explicitly identified and critiqued Modernism as a philosophy was (again) Chesterton. I don’t remember whether he explicitly used the term ‘modernism’, but in hindsight it’s pretty clear that’s what he was singling out.