I need to brush up on my Hegel.
I’m beginning to develop a theory. Please entertain this idea for the sake of argument which I admit could be complete nonsense. I’m just being creative and having some fun.
Joe Biden could be on “the right side of history.” Modernism could potentially last forever. It could prove to be eternal – the culmination of human progress. The growing chorus of people who feel themselves to be Anti-Modernist could be on “the wrong side of history.”
1.) There are historical cycles.
2.) Each historical cycle lasts about 100 to 130 years.
3.) Each historical cycle ends in a Crisis which typically lasts about 30 years.
4.) Each historical cycle is driven by an idea which becomes an elite consensus which determines the values and the shape of our culture.
5.) This idea is the Zeitgeist of an age of history. It sucks everything into its orbit like the gravity of the sun.
6.) Over the course of 100 to 130 years, the idea consumes all of society as it trickles down to the mass level and grows increasingly toxic. It produces a wave of violence which dissolves the existing social order like a forest fire which pushes forward the idea of the next cycle of history.
7.) This wave of violence always emerges out the decadent elite consensus of the dying cycle and it produces two types of radicals. The first type is the status quo fanatic which combusts the social order. The second type are reactive creative deviants. At the tail end of the Reformation Cycle in the Thirty Years War and English Civil War, Descartes and Hobbes would be examples of reactive creative deviants. They were breaking with the dominant patterns of thought in their time.
8.) Each of these ideas which define a whole age of history emerge out of a fertile period in art, religion and philosophy. It is also always a reaction to the idea of the previous age.
9.) Renaissance (1370s-1510s), Reformation (1520s to 1640s), Enlightenment (1650s to 1780s), Romantic (1790s to 1910s), Modernist (1910s to ???)
10.) Renaissance, culminates in Italian Wars between the Habsburgs and the French House of Valois, Sack of Rome in 1527. Reformation, culminates in the Thirty Years War and English Civil War, Sack of Magdeburg in 1631. Enlightenment, culminates in the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, Battle of Leipzig in 1813. Romantic, culminates in the destruction of Dresden in 1945.
11.) The Renaissance was worldly. The Reformation was heavenly. The Enlightenment exalted secular reason and materialism. The Romantics exalted secular emotion, imagination and idealism. The Modernists were cynical and exalted the self and its liberation from the past.
12.) Just as the Romantics were idealists who were interested in the common man and the particular aspect or Volksgeist of each nation, the Modernists reacted to them by embracing elitism, cynicism and cosmopolitanism. Romantics built the nation-state. Modernists have deconstructed it.
13.) The Ur- philosopher who did the most to shape the idea of the 20th century and the entire subsequent course of Western philosophy was … Friedrich Nietzsche. If you think of the Enlightenment as a project that steadily built on the pioneering work of Descartes and Hobbes, Western philosophers (Heidegger and Foucault) have been steadily building on the work of Nietzsche for over a century.
14.) Modernism can be seen as a kind of absurd nihilistic outworking of Nietzsche’s philosophy that grows out of Bohemian enclaves in the early 20th century. The animating idea is the liberation and expression of the self, the rejection of the past or breaking down barriers and the celebration of the other. Hitler captured the essence of these people when he said, “there really are men who in principle feel meadows to be blue, the heavens green, clouds sulphur-yellow – or as they prefer to say “experience” them in this way.” Better yet, you could just say this was the idea that was in the air at the time roughly between 1870 and 1930.
“Munch’s The Scream is an icon of modern art, the Mona Lisa for our time. As Leonardo da Vinci evoked a Renaissance ideal of serenity and self-control, Munch defined how we see our own age – wracked with anxiety and uncertainty.
Essentially The Scream is autobiographical, an expressionistic construction based on Munch’s actual experience of a scream piercing through nature while on a walk, after his two companions, seen in the background, had left him. Fitting the fact that the sound must have been heard at a time when his mind was in an abnormal state, Munch renders it in a style which if pushed to extremes can destroy human integrity. As previously noted, the flowing curves of art nouveau represent a subjective linear fusion imposed upon nature, whereby the multiplicity of particulars is unified into a totality of organic suggestion with feminine overtones. But man is part of nature, and absorption into such a totality liquidates the individual. Beginning at this time Munch included art nouveau elements in many pictures but usually only in a limited or modified way. Here, however, in depicting his own morbid experience, he has let go, and allowed the foreground figure to become distorted by the subjectivized flow of nature; the scream could be interpreted as expressing the agony of the obliteration of human personality by this unifying force. Significantly, although it was Munch himself who underwent the experience depicted, the protagonist bears no resemblance to him or anyone else. The creature in the foreground has been depersonalized and crushed into sexlessness or, if anything, stamped with a trace of the femininity of the world that has come close to assimilating it.
Several facts indicate Munch was aware of the danger of art of this sort for a neurotic humanist like himself. He soon abandoned the style and rarely if ever again subjected a foreground figure to this kind of radical and systematic distortion. …”
15.) The following captures “art” and “beauty” as it is understood in our times. Modernism is now over 120 years old when it was developing around the fin-de-siècle.
You could say the latter is postmodernist and deconstructs beauty. I don’t really see much of a difference between modern and postmodern. The latter seems like a more extreme version of the former.
From the Wikipedia entry for “Contemporary art”:
This *IS NOT* the aesthetic of the 18th century Enlightenment. It is fundamentally different.
16.) This is what public monuments should look like in our times: an equestrian statue of a negro on horseback mocking the J.E.B. Stuart monument. The sheer absurdity of it is the point. It is nihilistic and expresses the idea that anything is possible. Modernism is about the rejection of the past.
This is also the rejection of the past and reflects the avant-garde spirit.
This isn’t something new that is being born.
It is something old that is dying and which goes back to around 1890 to 1910.
Take Joker for example.
Arthur Fleck is a lonely nihilist.
He is the sad, pitiful product of our own cultural malaise in which social bonds have been utterly shattered. The delusion that overwhelms him and the violence he commits is an act of self expression. When he sees the world he hates burning, he says it is beautiful.
17.) Every age of history or natural century has a shelf life. The last person who was born in the 19th century around the fin-de-siècle when Modernism was born died in 2017.
The sunrise of Romanticism came around 1800 and its sunset occurred between 1914 and 1945. At the same time that Romanticism was going through its sunset, Modernism was going through its sunrise. This is just a way of expressing the idea that all things including the 20th century come to their end. The current order is destined to die and be replaced its successor age.
The 18th century was the Siècle des Lumières. What will our century be called?