modernity


modernity
  ---- by Ryan Bishop
  Although Baudrillard is often associated with postmodernity, his writings, just as postmodernity itself, have been forged in the intellectual, political and aesthetic fire of Modernity. Modernity remains operative within a postmodern world, but has undergone enough permutations, extensions and contractions as to make the 'post-' in postmodern useful for indicating both an intellectual and temporal relation to 'the modern'. A tricky and elusive term, Modernity denotes a few larger trends useful for considering Baudrillard's writing: these include the economic shifts from feudalism to mercantilism to capitalism, the emergence of the subject and the human as central political and historical tropes, the increasingly secular nature of society in the West, the shift in science from merely describing nature to turning it to human advantage (including the prominence of technology), the increase of urbanisation and industrial production, consumer culture, the emergence of different kinds of media, a glorification of innovation and progress, and wholesale changes in social stratification and political systems. Revolutions mark the historical epoch of Modernity, and revolutions of thought, representation, signs, images and objects mark the work of Baudrillard.
  However, the boons of Modernity have always been mixed, and Modernity contains within itself the spirit of self-reflexivity and critique. In other words, any heralded revolution can be just as static and stultifying as that which it replaced: that the first act of revolution is to ensure the cessation of any further revolutionary ideas or possibilities. Modernity as the symbol of revolutionary spirit ironically seeks to impose its unitary vision on the world and make it a mirror of itself. 'Modernity is neither a sociological concept, nor a political concept, nor exactly a historical concept,' Baudrillard writes. 'It is a characteristic mode of a civilization, which opposes itself to tradition' (Baudrillard, 1987: 63). For Baudrillard, though, the idea of revolution and the posture of opposing tradition are worth celebrating but should never be confused with actual change or progress in social justice.
  Lyotard (1986) has argued that an incredulity toward metanarratives constitutes postmodernity: that is a suspicion of the 'grand stories' that constitute the hermetic explanatory encapsulations of thought that characterise knowledge production in Modernity. Examples of metanarratives can be found in the works of Darwin, Marx, Freud and Einstein, in which all organisms, all of economics/history, all of the mind and all of the universe, respectively, are explained. If metanarratives are indicative of Modernity, then Modernity enters Baudrillard's writings through the work of those writers who had the most difficulty being contained and domesticated by metanaratives. In other words, Baudrillard accesses Modernity by the alternatives and excesses Modernity seeks to contain but ultimately cannot. These thinkers include Artaud, Nietzsche, Hölderlin, Jarry, Bataille, Mauss, Borges, Licthenberg, Ciroan and Heidegger among others. Nonetheless, Baudrillard is a Modernist thinker through and through, reading deeply from the major Modernist avant-garde traditions, so Modernity with the varied opportunities and crises it wrought formed the subtext and pretext of his writings.
  His rhetorical mobilisation of binarisms and Manichean thinking, however, reveals an earlier and particular anti-modern aspect of his thought because it does away with dialectic and its attempts to ameliorate oppositional forces. Dialectic resolves oppositions in a singularity that becomes for Baudrillard the basis of what he calls 'integral reality' (LP), or the global triumph of the Real. Thus he writes about Modernity that the 'dialectic of rupture' becomes instead 'the dynamic of amalgamation' (Baudrillard, 1987: 70). Difference is absorbed, revolution domesticated. Modernity repeats Tradition, with both sporting capital letters befitting static proper nouns.
  Baudrillard's own encyclopaedia entry on 'Modernity' helps us to understand his unique reading and critique of the conceptualisations of Modernity, but only in a limited fashion. The entry proves most useful when it explicitly connects the immaterial and material domains, to argue that the 'technical, scientific and political upheavals' (Baudrillard, 1987: 65) begun in the sixteenth century were translated into structural and symbolic changes within the social and noetic domains. That is, Modernity conceived of itself as Modern, and thus understood the ways in which this very conceptualisation could change relationships in the world, that the map could change the territory, or even replace it altogether. In so doing, Modernity paved the way for postmodernity and the third order of the simulacrum.
  As an extended example of the epochal shift out of Modernity, we can look with some detail at Baudrillard's The Ecstasy of Communication (1988c [1987b]) and examine his analysis of the ways in which broadcast media have changed the status of the object, therefore reconstituting the subject-object relationship that characterises one of the major divisions of Modernity: the subject and the object. Baudrillard argues that the traditional subject-object relationship still existed in the 1970s, at the time of composition, but that it was rapidly disappearing, giving way to one predicated on the screen and the network. The traditional subject-object relationship inherited from at least the Enlightenment constitutes the object as a mirror for the subject, in which the subject comes to understand the self as a self similar to but different from others. The subject also realises that s/he functions as an object in a similar fashion for others in their consciousness as subjects. From this relationship follows a range of attributes for modern existence: similarity and difference, connection and alienation, exteriority and interiority, public and private. This relationship constitutes a 'common-sense' notion of the subject and becomes the basis for agency and action in the world.
  The subject-object relationship plays itself out in what Baudrillard calls 'the scene', which is divided into the private scene (time for the self, the domestic sphere, the cultivation of interiority) and the public scene (engagement with object-others, the site of historical and political action). The scene is theatrical (or performed) as well as natural; that is 'the way things are', the way society is arranged, our existential condition. The theatricality of the scene allows us to understand, critically, the historical conditions of and the ideology operative in the construction of the natural.
  Baudrillard argues that the subject-object opposition and the privatepublic opposition began to disappear in the early 1970s under the onslaught of numerous telecommunications and broadcast technologies, the most influential and pernicious of which being television. The mirror, he argues, has yielded to the screen and the network enacted in a nonspace called 'the obscene'. The scene, too, is disappearing and is being replaced by the obscene, a term he uses in an unusual manner while also maintaining elements of its common usage in that the obscene is the space where all difference is obliterated and everything is viewable.
  The setransitions from subject-object to screen-network and from scene to obscene are indicative of others: from the second stages of simulation to the third, from the virtual to the Real, knowledge to information, secrecy to visibility, violence to terror, material to immaterial, and so on. Each also indicates a shift from Modernity to postmodernity for Baudrillard. However, he does not argue that the shift is complete or without traces of the previous stage in the present. Modernity remains omnipresent though perhaps occluded by its most recent avatar, postmodernity.
  Passwords
   § Manichaeism
   § object
   § obscene
   § postmodernism / postmodernity
   § real
   § simulation

The Baudrillard dictionary. . 2015.

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  • modernity — UK [mɒˈdɜː(r)nətɪ] / US [mɑˈdɜrnətɪ] / US [moʊˈdɜrnətɪ] noun [uncountable] Word forms modernity : singular modernity plural modernities 1) ideas and practices that use modern methods, styles etc 2) the period of history, especially European… …   English dictionary

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  • modernity — noun (U) formal the quality of being modern: a conflict between tradition and modernity …   Longman dictionary of contemporary English

  • modernity — modern ► ADJECTIVE 1) relating to the present or to recent times. 2) characterized by or using the most up to date techniques or equipment. 3) (in art, architecture, etc.) marked in style or content by a significant departure from traditional… …   English terms dictionary


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