Oh To Be a Modernist!



L to R: The Modernists – Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf.

During my various meanderings through the forest of the intellectual world, both as part of formal studies and under more casual reading, I have always found it very useful to label myself with a position, however nominal that may be. I have found it rewarding to approach any argument or critique from one particular perspective which then allows me to redefine my own values in light of what I have read, moving on after reflection on. As Nietzsche states;

‘Let us only make land; later on we shall find good harbours right enough, and make the landfall easier for those who come after us.’ (116) Through this approach I have labelled myself in succession an anarchist, then socialist, then centrist. Today I am firmly a Modernist, both philosophically and aesthetically. I have found this position only further strengthened through my studies on the MA in Modernities.

To be more precise I label myself a Meta-Modernist, essentially a re-calibration of Modernism in response to the many valid critiques of Post-Modernism, Post-Structuralism and Deconstructionism. The term Meta-Modernism has been used by several theorists in the current debate but Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin Van Den Akker define it best as;

‘The current, meta-modern discourse also acknowledges that history’s purpose will never be fulfilled because it does not exist. Critically however, it nevertheless takes towards it as if it does exist. Inspired by modern naivete yet informed by postmodern skepticism, the meta-modern discourse consciously commits itself to an impossible possibility.’ (5)

Therefore us Meta-Modernist take account of Lyotard’s suggestion, in response to Habermas, that the world has suffered greatly under the Modernist utopian quest for a single interpretation of a bright and signing future;

‘The nineteenth and twentieth centuries have given us as much terror as we can take. We have paid a high enough price for the nostalgia of the whole and the one.’ (150)

Yet we remain Modernists committed to the ’Project of Modernity’.

But here’s the rub: Lyotard touches on a concern of central importance in the critique of Modernism, particularly in regard to so many of the leading figures of the literary branch of that project, namely the tendency towards broadly right wing political tendencies. Ezra Pound despite being a central figure of Modernism very quickly moves towards Fascism. T.S. Eliot has been accused of anti-Semitism most notable in a poem such as Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleistein with a Cigar. Similar accusations have been levelled at Joyce’s Ulysses. Even Virginia Woolf has some deeply ingrained and problematic class issues. Let’s not even mention the Italian Futurists. So back to Meta-Modernism: As an individual positioned somewhere along the Modernist spectrum, I feel it incumbent on me to remain vigilant for such tendencies within the Modernist philosophical project and upon their discovery if not eradicate them completely at least mitigated their effect. For there is nothing in my entire intellectual enquiry that horrifies me more than Fascism. In fact one of the few slivers of admiration I retain for communists is there steadfast opposition to this most evil of doctrines. From the Spanish Civil War forward, they were often the first to recognise the approaching enemy and the first to resist it. Credit where credit is due I say. These Fascists have even managed to tarnish the reputation of the philosopher I have come to admire more and more with the passing years, namely Friedrich Nietzsche. So I say to all Modernist, ‘Meta’ or otherwise, proclaim your commitment to the ‘Project of Modernity’, proclaim it loudly, but beware. Wear your ideology lightly always open to challenge and compromise if it is required. The world has seen enough of re-education camps. Let debate ring out in their place.

Work Citied

Lyotard, Jean-Francois. ‘Answering the Question – What is Postmodernism?’ Modernism / Postmodernism. Ed. Peter Brooker. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 1992. 139-50. Print.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. “On the Use and Disadvantages of History for Life.” Untimely Meditations. Trans. R.J. Hollingdale. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1997. 57-123. Print.

Vermeulen, Timotheus and Robin Van Den Akker. Notes on Meta-modernism. Journal of Aesthetics & Culture. Vol. 2, 2010. DOI: 10.3402/jac.v2i0.5677. Print.

Ricky Gervais- Politics (Hitler Interprets Nietzsche). Youtube.com. 9 Sep. 2006. Web. 12 Dec. 2012.



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