Thursday, June 07, 2007

The dissociation of modernist sensibility

I currently have the pleasure of reading a collection of Edmund Wilson's essays (published in 1950). That confident, coherent, serious tone does bring back feelings of regret. Surely in that tone, in that moment, our liberal Western civilization achieved its peak. I do not see any other competitors to moral seriousness than this great liberal tradition of literature and literary criticism. Certainly not organized religion with its feverish and comforting, undisciplined imaginations, as much as it has been a historical source for meaningful ethical thinking. Nor really in the artificially abstract, dry formulations of formal philosophy. But it is 2007 now, and books don't matter any more, or no-one any longer believes or pretends that they do - instead the chorus of primitive Bible (or Koran or for all I know Bhagavad Ghita) thumpers is actually growing ever louder. Loud they might be, but not serious, there is no seriousness in that atavistic escape to wishful thinking. The kind of ethical, secular, austere tone that is so proudly ringing in Wilson (among many others) has mostly disappeared. Naturally one should be careful when establishing glorious pasts, Eliot himself being a good example, but I still would argue that something valuable has been lost in the relentless onslaught of postmodern all-doubting scholastism. Essential foundations have been needlessly undermined and nothing really ethically and morally serious and durable has been built to replace the current ruins. Ruins are all we have left, if you don't count the entertainment industry, of course.

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