[-empyre-] Is Modernity our Antiquity
So, first I would like to apologize again for Aliette's bad English. One
never apologizes too much... ;-)
I have some difficulties I would like to discuss, and I'm sorry if my
approach looks a bit naïve but I'm not so familiar with all this academic
stuff (thank you wikipedia and if I'm wrong please blame them ).
Lucio mentionned (and criticized) the idea of Eco about a New Middle Age.
However, I think that there is some truth in Eco's idea (I haven't read Eco
though ;-) in the sense that to me postmodernism appears as a transitional
I feel very close to Lyotard's or Danto's ideas about the end of a master
narrative, however what I feel also very strongly is that this period
without any master narrative is not immortal either. The problem is that
since we've been more or less embedded in it (depending on our age), we may
not yet realize it. Of course there is 9/11...
Between Antiquity and Renaissance, there was a long period of latency. This
period was crucial in that it gave Antiquity its status of "Golden age".
Assuming that postmodernism really means something (which I believe is
true), the answer to the question "is Modernity our Antiquity" may depend on
this other question: "is Postmodernity for ever", because in the case it is
not, Postmodernity may indeed play the role of this latency period. Without
any latency period, I can't imagine how Modernity could be our Antiquity.
Answering yes to this last question ("is Postmodernity for ever") might not
seem completely stupid, because after all, if we are grown up enough to be
able to get rid of our totalitarian ideals, there is no reason why we should
go back to some previous state... But things don't work that way... (We
encounter here a kind of paradox, because in a sense, Postmodernity may
carry in its very definition the idea of an everlasting state: if we are in
a state where the question of progress is negated, somehow the question of
time arises in a different manner)
The problem I have now is that there seem to be several fields that have
been experiencing postmodernist eras, at different times of history:
For instance, postmodernism in history, à la Lyotard, was coined in 1982,
but its historical formation lasted from 1979 (the Iranian revolution) to
1989 (Berlin wall) (I'm not sure that the use of the term "history" here is
Postmodernism in art, à la Danto, is from 1981, but Danto situates the
transition in the sixties with Pop Art.
But now, here is what I thought: the postmodern state is not reserved to
history or art. We could apply it to science for instance. If we assume that
posmodernity has to do with some crisis that arose from the too pregnant
presence of a totalizing ideal, then we could say there has been such crisis
in mathematics: the crisis in the roots of mathematics which ended with
Gödel (in the 30's). There has been such a crisis in phyics with Quantum
Mechanics at the beginning of the XXth century. You can also claim that Dada
had already all the ingredients of postmodernism
So, some aspects of postmodernism might not be so specific to our late
period. But, I still follow Lyotard, because the most important thing here
is postmodernism in history! This is the real validation step! Warhol,
Gödel, Duchamp, why not Mallarmé, might be operators of some relative
postmodernity, but the real stuff is history. So Postmodernity still means
something, and can still be dated.
Now the next step: I would like to isolate now one of these threads (ie one
of these fields that might have experience some modern to postmodern
transition). And in fact the one I would like to show you developped indeed
from modernity to postmodernity but finally went back to some "modern state"
in a hidden way. This is called the irony of history. If I'm able to isolate
one of these threads, then we might have the beginning of an answer to the
Here is one of these threads: it is called the World Wide Web:
a) the WWW preconcept as a social network was born with Jeremy Bentham
b) Totalitarian ideologies of the XXth century are a first attempt to
implement Bentham's panopticon over a part of mankind. In the mean time,
just after ww2, Turing sets the basics of computing machinery. And finally,
in 1989, the end of these attempts marks the end of Modernity.
c) the WWW can be considered as a characteristic implementation of
d) With the rise of Google and global terrorism, WWW is turning into a
Benthamian panoptic structure of colonization of intimacy and semantic
So my conclusion for the moment is as follows:
1) postmodernity is not for ever 2) postmodernity is indeed a latency period
3) postmodernity is a "ruse de l'histoire" that allows us to realize some of
the ideals of modernity without coping with the unbearable.
Eventhough I mentioned only one thread, I believe we can say that we are in
a phase of achievement of some of the nightmarish ideals of Modernity, but
somehow, ironically, postmodernity turned out to be the condition for this
achievement, the first attempts (nazism / stalinism) having failed.
And for now, I don't see any positive rediscovery of Modernity, that could
make us escape this situation.
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