Modernism was an age of faith and belief in progress and development, and saw the exploration of the world and humanity reach a crescendo. In literature you had the books from HG Wells and Isaac Asimov, and you had a belief in science and progress that seemed undefeatable, and which culminated in placing a man on the moon in 1969. It had lasted from the age of Enlightenment through the 1950s and 1960s, only to peter out in doubt and questioning and retraction.
This was post-modernism and the only characteristic of it was that it was a reaction to what had gone on before. Doubt and insecurity was its essence, and the idea that humanity was ever developing to a higher state of civilisation and existence was quietly squashed.
Fuelled by the horrors of the Second World War, and maintained by the subsequent wars in Asia we reoriented from optimism to pessimism. The Cold war transformed the promise of Science and Technology into an existential threat.
It is said that we live post-post-modernist now, but nobody has an idea of what the essence of this time is. Maybe it is everything, and maybe it is nothing. Maybe the scrutiny of society that went on during post-modernism has become a scrutiny of the component of society, the individuals.
It seems, looking at literature today, that this is the age of essentialism. We exist, and we scrutinise the existence, and the existence is banal. Therefore our literature is banal and selfish.
The American author Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” is an excellent example of this, as it is a book about a boy and a man whose only drives are their own essences. The world is dead around them, other humans are ever a threat that needs to be watched, and even the environment is a slowly rotting thing, a nuclear winter. Even the language itself is fragmented, essentialist.
Not even the dependencies between the boy and the man is anything else than a selfish thing, where the man sees the boy as a link to his god, and the boy sees the man as his meal-ticket and protector. No sense of a love and affection here. It is all about egoist emotional dependency.
Some academics even want to redefine modernism in this light of essentialism, such as Liesl Olson’s “Modernism and the Ordinary” (Oxford University Press, 2009). The ordinary and the mundane in the modernist writers become the focus, just like the ordinary and banal have emerged in post-post-modernism, like in “The Road”.
I see this a lot when I read, and I’m wondering if there is a new post-post-modernism emerging that tries to neutralise even the last vestiges of humanity out of art. Is it to turn it into an emotionless-free thing where the unfelt moment is the ideal?
I don’t think I want any of that, and maybe I should start a counter-movement. Anti-post-post-modernism maybe. Or counter-modernism. Or Parallell-modernism. I’m being a bit flip, but the idea of an emotion-free art movement is frightening because it would be inhuman.
It may be that bored critics, academics and authors in New York and London are effective automatons devoid of emotion, and that they reward authors that write to this spec with attention, but it then perverts one of the key things that was good about post-modernism, the examination of the authentic and the inauthentic.
If the successor of post-modernism is in its essence inauthentic, and based on a false premise of the emotionless human, then maybe post-modernism has a last task to perform in defrocking its progeny.
The empiricism and observation of the grandfather movement modernism can join forces with post-modernism, and together the two movements can, through evidence and observation and questioning, point out the emperor’s new clothes in the current movement.
Now that I think about it, a fusion of modernism and post-modernism appeals to me. The faith in progress, the faith in science, the faith in truth-seeking, and the ever questioning of the nature of things would surely be needed in this world we have now. That would certainly be better than descending into navel-gazing emotional flat-lining.