Modernism as a dictionary definition means “modern thought, character, or practice” and “sympathy with or conformity to modern ideas, practices, or standards”. Post-modernism on the other hand refers to “of or relating to art, architecture, or literature that reacts against earlier modernist principles, as by reintroducing traditional or classical elements of style or by carrying modernist styles or practices to extremes”. Modernism – post-modernism discussion has become one of the most controversial and important topics in social sciences and art in recent decades. In this assignment, I will try to put forward my own ideas about this discussion in the light of some important works including Marshall Berman’s “All That is Solid Melts Into Air”, Michel Foucault’s “What is Enlightenment ?”, Georg Simmel’s “Money in Modern Culture” and Jean François Lyotard’s “Defining the postmodern”.
"What is Enlightenment" or in German "Was ist Aufklarung" has been an important question in philosophy as well as in politics since the 18th century. This question of Enlightenment is also very significant for our discussion of modernity. Like Michel Foucault mentions in his article "What is Enlightenment" many of the modern philosophers including Hegel, Nietzsche, Max Weber, Horkheimer and Habermas tried to answer this question from their point of view. Foucault begins to his article by explaining three different ways used by philosophers to represent the present. The first way is to represent the present as belonging to a certain era of the world very different from the other because of its characteristics. The second way is to represent the present's events, realities as the signs of an upcoming important event, new era. The third way is about representing the present as the dawning of a new world. Foucault claims that neither of these methods is available in Kant's perception of Enlightenment. "Now the way Kant poses the question of Aufklarung is entirely different: it is neither a world era to which one belongs, nor an event whose signs are perceived, nor the dawning of an accomplishment”. In Kant's view, Enlightenment is nothing but an exit, a way out and he deals with the contemporary reality alone. Kant thinks that Enlightenment and modernism in general is the escape of mankind from immaturity, from the tutelage of the authority. In his idea, immaturity refers to the state in which men do not use their reason and just obey the orders of authorities. Foucault talks about the idiom "aude sapere (dare to know)" to clarify Kant's views. In the light of these views, Foucault asserts that for Kant Enlightenment was both a collective process and a courageous personal act. Foucault then passes on to analyze Kant's use of the word "menschheit (mankind)". Foucault questions whether Kant uses the word as the entire human race reaching the level of Enlightenment or not. Michel Foucault later focuses on Kant's distinction between public and private use of reason. Kant says that the public use of the reason must be free whereas private use should be submissive, restrictive. Kant in his article "What is Enlightenment" gives the example of a priest to clarify this distinction. He thinks that this man as a scholar or an ordinary man in the street has the right to criticize the Pope and the deeds of the Roman Catholic Church. However, as a priest he could not make such claims because of the responsibility of the office he holds, he must obey the orders of his superiors. In other words, men have to obey the rules when they have a role, job to do in society whose rules are pre-determined by superior authorities. "The use, therefore, which an appointed teacher makes of his reason before his congregation is merely private, because this congregation is only a domestic one; with respect to it, as a priest, he is not free, nor can he be free, because he carries out the orders of another". Thus, Kant's Enlightenment and modernity which is based on public-private dichotomy, is away from complete freedom of men to use their reason but more like "Obey, and you will be able to reason as much as you like". Foucault’s use of Kant’s views about Enlightenment offers us a good critic of modernism’s weakness about the freedom of thought concerning the public-private dichotomy. Georg Simmel on the other hand offers us a “monetary” perspective in order to explain modernism.
In his article “Money in Modern Culture” Simmel talks about the changing superstructural behaviors of human beings after the emergence of money and free-market economics. In his idea, whereas “in the Middle Ages a person was a member bound to a community or an estate, to a feudal association or a guild”, the establishment of free-market economic system which is based on exchange of money and modernism in general allowed “subject and object mutually independent, so that each can more purely and completely find its own development” (Simmel, pg 17). In the Middle Ages due to feudal structuring of society as well as the feudal production mode, individuals’ personality was “merged with real or local interest groups”. However, modernity destroyed this uniformity and provided “an incomparable mental and physical freedom of movement” (Simmel, pg 17). But at the same time, because of developing sciences and organization, the inherent laws of things have become dominant and individual liberty was restricted in accordance to these indisputable laws. While people on the one hand became freer in the sense of thought and spending money, on the other hand they become more and more interdependent on each other. Thus, Simmel claims that “the person in those earlier economic epochs was mutually dependent on far fewer people, but those few were and remained individually determined, while today we are much more dependent on suppliers in general” (Simmel, pg 21). Thus, modernity can be said to provide both “leveling, equalization, the production of more and more comprehensive social circles” but also “the independence of the person, the autonomy of its development” (Simmel, pg 21). Moreover, money has begun to lose its importance as an exchange mean and become an end in itself. “This is the tendency to perceive money, a mere means to acquire other goods, as an independent good, whereas its entire meaning only as a transition, a link in a series that leads to a definitive purpose and enjoyment” (Simmel, pg 25). Thus, Simmel asserts that “psychologist simply cannot ignore the frequent lament that money is the God of our times” (Simmel, pg 27). While pointing all these facts, Simmel does not have an economic determinist approach and he deals with the superstructural cultural changes caused by money and modernity.
Marshall Berman’s “All That is Solid Melts Into Air” work is also very beneficial for our modernity versus post-modernity discussion. Berman chronologically tells the development of modernism and post-modernism very clearly. Berman begins the article by defining modernity as the “unity of disunity” of all mankind (Berman, pg 15). Modernity has many constituents according to Berman such as great discoveries in physical sciences, industrialization of production, new forms of class and corporate struggle, enormous demographic increase, mass communication, emergence of nation-states and increasing internationalism etc. Berman roughly divides modernism into three stages. The first stage is the period between 16th century and the end of 18th century, the second starts with the French Revolution and goes until the 20th century and the final stage begins with the 20th century. In his view, the best representative of earlier modernism is Jean Jacques Rousseau with his insistence of participatory democracy and the majoritarian democracy. Rousseau in his romantic novel “The New Eloise” perfectly pictures the dynamic atmosphere of modernity in Europe towards the end of 18th century. The first thing we notice in his writings is that there is a “highly developed, differentiated and dynamic new landscape in which modern experience takes place” (Berman, pg 18). Nietzsche also had the same feeling with Rousseau. Although Marx had a critical stance against modern capitalism he was very well aware of the contradictory dynamism of his epoch and he historically defined it as a progressive movement in transition from feudalist society to socialism. Marx, while analyzing the society of his epoch, solely focused on the substructure and analyzed the whole changes from an economic perspective. Max Weber however, in his masterpiece “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” not only criticized the economic side of capitalist modern society but also resembled it to an “iron cage” because of its hierarchies, red tape and giant bureaucracy. 1960’s however witnessed an important development within the left that would shake the modernist ideologies. Herbert Marcuse’s “One-Dimensional Man” left deep impact on the revolutionary 1960’s generations who revolt against centralization policies and rules because of its emphasis given to freedom of individual and society at the same time. “According to his paradigm, both Marx and Freud are obsolete: not only class and social struggles but also psychological conflicts and contradictions have been abolished by the state of total administration” (Berman, pg 29). This approach Marcuse claimed that was not able to grasp social realities and true human nature which is consisted ego, id, soul etc. in addition to social realities. This was a turning point for modernism and a chance for post-modernism as a new school of thought and artistic fashion. Berman claims that these developments led to a division within the modernist school of thought in the 1960’s. So, affirmative, negative and withdrawn attitudes have become apparent. This was the point where post-modernism and post-structuralism started to become dominant in art and philosophy.
Post-modernism is a subject on which Jean-François Lyotard has a lot to say. According to Lyotard, post-modernism has been established on three basic grounds. First, it has become obvious that the idea of progress, rationality and scientific objectivity are no longer acceptable. Secondly, there cannot be a separation between high and low culture. Thirdly, it has become really difficult to separate the real from the copy or the natural from the artificial. Lyotard thinks that this modernism has many problems. He claims that this “post” in the term post-modern for Lyotard is totally a modern concept since it is based on the idea of progress and a rupture from the past by a revolution. He thinks that “this idea of chronology is totally modern” (Lyotard, pg 171) and it is very problematic since it only tries to forget the past, not to overcome it. Secondly, modernism drives humans crazy because humans on the one hand face with the complexity and on the other hand “face with ancient task of survival” (Lyotard, pg 173). Thirdly, modernism’s emphasis on avant-garde culture is refuted by the complexity of cultures and cultural relativism understanding. All these developments led to the rise post-modernism and post-structuralism “as a process of ana-lyzing, ana-mnesing and reflecting”…
Finally, in my opinion post-modernism’s and post-structuralism’s nihilistic attitude can be disturbing and dangerous in the field of politics although in arts and other stuff it is totally new and creative. Post-structuralism’s resistance not to accept any norms and to analyze everything as a discourse containing inner power relations may be a great problem since without the presence of norms social life can be difficult or problematic. What we need maybe not post-modernism but rather a revised modern approach to social problems and politics since we have to deal with many problems in today’s complex world.