Thursday, August 11, 2005

All That is Solid Continues to Melt

Modernity at the most personal, and most social levels is a maelstrom torn paradoxically between the nihilistic commodification or even destruction of all and the developing creative powers and critical abilities born of humanity's assertive protest and a desire to transcend.


Bergman describes Goethe's Faust as the first and best tragedy of development. In this section, worth reams of analysis, he describes Faust's growth into a larger self through development - but a development that always has a dark side. "He won't be able to create anything unless he's prepared to let everything go, to accept the fact that all that has been created up to now--and, indeed, all that he may create in the future--must be destroyed to pave the way for more creation. This is the dialectic that modern men must embrace in order to move and live; and it is the dialectic that will soon envelop and move the modern economy, state and society. Bergman believes that with modernism comes an irony and tragey in all forms of modern enterprise and creativity, "an emerging economy of self-development". An unhindered gospel of development would read: accept destructiveness as part of your share of divine creativity, and you can throw off your guilt [arising from a relation with nature and fellow human beings whereby one takes what one needs for one's own development and leaves the rest] and act freely. No longer need you be inhibited by the moral question, "Should I do it?" Out on the open road to self-development [authenticity], the only vital question is, "How to do it?" What matters is process, not the result: "It's restless activity that proves a man" (175-60). The pressure of modernism is to use every part of ourselves and everyone else to push ourselves and everyone as far as we can go. The growth is real, but it always comes with a cost. It is this gospel of development that is the irresistible pull of modernity. The lesson that Bergman announces is that those in modernity must take a share of responsibility for the development of those coming into it. Where man or nature is effected, Faust must confront the consequences of his own emerging nature, or be responsible for the doom inflicted. One thing, though, you can't go back to a time before modernity. To do so would be to suffer again the death of the premodern against the riptides of the in-rushing modern. What Faust, and we, ultimately long for is a way of dealing with modernity in which man does not exist for the sake of development but development for the sake of man.

Marx, Modernism and Modernization

In this world, stability can only mean entropy, a slow death. Progress and growth is our only way of knowing for sure that we are alive. Thus, to cry that our society is falling apart is merely to say that it is alive and well. We live in a state of permanent revolution--from nature to culture to self--and in order to survive, the personalities of human beings must take on the fluid and open form demanded by such an environment. Modern men and women must learn to yearn for change: not just to be open to it, but to demand and seek it, to carry it through, to delight in mobility and thrive on renewal, to look forward to future developments, all the while avoiding nostaliga for the fixed relationships. This is exactly the culture of the burgeoisie, the most destructive ruling class in history [repeated intentional destruction of the "built environment" is integral to the accumulation of capital], yet that very class claims to be the Party of Order--which is a political slogan since order is impossible. This situation, as Bergman says, is modern nihilism. There is nothing that may transcend the constantly-swallowing abyss of change. Between men and women there are no halos, no masks, no clothing, but only the bond of naked interest and callous cash payment. In the beginning of modernity, thinkers embraced this enforced nakedness. Hereditary privileges and social roles are stripped away. All, then, may now enjoy an unfettered freedom to use all their powers for the good of all. This, of course, ignores the constantly-present dark side. Unfettered freedom makes everything a negotiated commodity. Therefore, any imaginable mode of human conduct becomes morally permissible the moment it becomes economically possible and valuable: anything goes if it pays. This, again, is modern nihilism, equating our human value with our market price. The intellectual classes cannot escape. Even artists cannot escape this. They are paid wage-labors of the bourgeoisie, members of the modern working class, the proletariat. They are modes of production, and their productions, once accomplished, are valued by the ups and downs of the market in a manner completely separate from the intention or will of their creator. What this means is that the market does not just employ their labor, but also the fruits of their creative energy--their spirit. Intellectuals are dependent on the market not only for bread but for spiritual sustenance. Surely, everything and everyone is entangled in the market.

Bergman concludes this section with a question about the possibility of political community. How, in such a maelstrom as this, can the nihilistic thrust of modernity be avoided enough to create some kind of lasting political bond between human beings?

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