Saturday, October 16, 2004

PM strikes again. And all 20th Century thought blows up!

Someone, anyone, could you throw me a frickin' bone?

How come no one ever told me there was difference between modernity and modernism? Since 2001 I've been racking my brain to figure out how James Joyce and Pablo Picasso could possibly be related to Warfield and C.F. Henry. When in fact, they weren't! John Sanders and Todd Martin, I'm holding you two partially responsible for this fiasco! Maybe Jake can correct me if I'm wrong, but this is how things seem to be shaping up (as I read them).

Modernity - Where everyone is all excited about progress, where science is king, bringing us easier lives with washing machines, telephones and passenger airlines (and new, more scientific forms of theology). Modern art, when referring to modernity could be carefully crafted (or manufactured) commercial art used in advertising. And the new advertising that went with commercial art claimed that to be modern meant to use a certain brand of dishsoap or laundry detergent or hair care product. Science was giving us all these wonderful advances, and to ignore them was backward! This type of advertising links modernity with free science, free commerce and capitalism.

Modernism - The initial intellectual backlash against modernity, mostly through art rather than philosophy. Using collage in painting (Picasso), prose (Joyce's meta-narrative collage in Ulysses), and poetry (T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland). Employing atonality and abstraction in art (Paul Klee) and music (Arnold Schoenberg), and/or primitism in art (Henri Matisse), music (Igor Stravinsky) and prose (D.H. Lawrence). And while there is a philosophical underpinning to all of this I'm sure, it's a bit shifty and shapeless. Psychoanalysis influenced it somehow, in that authors employed stream-of-consciousness thinking in their works, which was supposedly straight from he unconscious, free from the constraints of the conscious mind. Marxist thought also had something to say in it's development, but many of its proponents were ultra-radically right, to the point of supporting fascism in Italy between the two worls wars. Furthermore, modernists seemingly agreed with Saussure's point that language is constructed arbitrarily, but Saussure was completely unknown to modernists, because he wasn't "discovered" until much later by advocates of structuralism and semiology! Other philosophers/writers that get their names dropped form a Who's Who of modern philosophical thought: from Hegel, Goethe, Marx, Nietzsche, Dostoevsky and Sarte! In post-WWII America, modernism was attributed (perhaps falsely) to the rise of both fascism (on the far right) and communism (on the far left)! My main point being that Modernism was very different from (and much less structured than) Modernity.

Post-Modernism -
While I still don't totally understand what PM is, I am coming to realize that it wasn't a reaction against modernism, but a continuation of modernism's response to modernity. It's hard to speak of, because of my recent realization that modernity and modernism are two totally different beasts! But PM hold to a more stable philosophy, coming from the languague theories found in structuralism, semiology, and later post-struturalism. The meta-narratives employed by some (but not all) modernists in their art were rejected because these meta-narratives tended to justify those in power, while excluding everyone else (women, blacks, gays, the proletariat, etc.). But while the philosophy was more concrete, it's possible that it is less coherent because it is so freaking hard to understand their terminology! There are so many views of PM because most philosophers cannot agree on how to interpret all these works. There is no coherent whole, no "centering" center, because this is exactly what postmodernists were railing against. I don't even know if you can call it a body of thought. It's like basing your view of reality on Alice In Wonderland, and ignoring all other empirical evidence, rational thought and divine revelation!

The End
So I'm basically confused. What I thought was Modernism's influence on theology, was really Modernity's influence on theology. The closest Modernism got to theology was probably through T.S. Eliot's writing after he converted to Christianity (if it can be said that there is a connection between modernism and existentialism, there may be a link between late existential Christians like Barth, Bonhoeffer & Moltmann, who may have rejected Modernity but not Modernism, but that's a whole lot of maybe's). What's really frightening about the whole prospect is that if Sanders, Grenz, and McLaren are failing to delineate the actual differences between Modernism and Modernity, what does that say about how we Christians "supposedly" understand Post-Modernism?


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