The Persistence of Modernity

I was thinking this morning about the phenomenon of people pushing back on ideas — not strictly ‘postmodern’ ideas, but ideas that have become generally accepted in the aftermath of the strong pressure postmodern thought exerted over several decades. (That last clause made me feel rather old.) Think of the idea that ‘objectivity’ isn’t a viable stipulation; sure, we should strive for impartiality, but at this point I can’ think of anyone who holds on to the discourse of being objective. Even relatively conventional biblical scholars make productive use of the premise that particular ways of thinking contribute to, and are shaped by, the cultural milieu from which they emerge. To a certain extent, postmodern thought won — that is (far from justifying Trumpism and its allied discourses of deliberate falsehood), even the sort of thinker who belittles anything to which the epithet ‘postmodern’ can be even implausibly attached has often assimilated some of the pivotal points associated with the execrated French names and neologisms.

Nonetheless, people dig their heels in and resist the full implications of the ideas that they’ve partly assimilated. In fact, they resist all the more determinedly as they’re sure that the postmodern bogeyman is wrong; ‘that’ — whatever the theoretical or political or cultural point in question — ‘is too far, that can’t be right.’ Or more often, they just take as granted some implicitly very modern premise, such as the univocity of meaning, or the superiority of the contemporary world, or some other such (usually unstqted) axiom. and because the critic knows enough that he’s not objective, or that everyone knows that the latest X, Y, or Z is best.

The gesture that says, ‘I’ve adjusted what I think about meaning, power, privilege, social location, and so on, so I can just return to interpretive business as usual’ — which I’ve seen over and over — needs a shorthand signifer. I was tempted by ‘neomodernism’, formed analocially to neoliberalism: the same thing in a slightly different form, but just as pernicious if not more so. But Neomodernism is already in play as the designation for an architectural movement and as an effort at a reasoned reassertion of modern philosophy. To avoid confusion, I think I’ll call it remodernism.

Most theological critics paid only cursory attention to the specific study of modernity (or the rich varieties of antithetical movements artificially grouped together as ‘postmodernism’), so that if there’s a general assent within the interpretive discipline that it’s safe again to do the same old thing so long as you don’t make crude blunders about the role of power/authority/race/gender/sexuality/culture, almost everyone will revert to the modern homœostasis. It’s like Peter Sloterdijk’s observations on ‘enlightened false consciousness’, only in a slightly different key. Everyone knows, but no one changes their practice. Welcome to remodernity.

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