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Monday, December 8, 2014

The alternative - Modernity or Postmodernity - is False

"Modernity appears as an ideology - that is to say, a series of more or less developed representations that concealed a practice. Modernity was promising. What did it promise? Happiness, the satisfaction of all needs. This promesse de bonheur - no longer through beauty, but by technical means - was to be realized in daily life. In fact, the ideology of modernity above all masked daily life as the site of continuity, by floating the illusion of a rupture with the previous epoch. Now that this illusion has been dispelled and modernity dismissed, discussions about its essence and significance have lost some of their interest. What survives of this period is the general slide from a concreteness derived from nature towards the abstract-concrete as the mode of social existence, something that extends to works of art. The predominance of abstraction in art goes together with the extension of the world of commodities and of the commodity as world, as well as the unlimited power of money and capital, which are simultaneously highly abstract and extremely concrete. The art work thus renounces its previous status: proximity to, and even imitation of, nature. It is detached and released from naturalism. This likewise goes together with the short-lived triumph of the most abstract signs - for example, banking and monetary dummy entries - over what remains of concrete reference systems. 
   "The crisis has brought about the separation of modernity and modernism. If the career of modernity as ideology is over, modernism as technological practice is more than ever with us. For the time being, it has taken over from modernism as regards a possible real transformation of daily life. In short, modernity as ideology now appears as an episode in the development and realization of the capitalist mode of production. In contradictory fashion, this ideology provoked its own specific opposition: the heedless promise of novelty - immediately and at any price - has generated a return to the archaeo and the retro, the optimism of modernity becoming tinged with nihilism. From this great confusion emerges modernism: a clear field for the deployment of technology and the proclamation of the end of ideologies (the ideology of the end of ideology), and yet the advent of new myths to which we shall have to return, such as the myth of transparency in society, the state and political action. 
   "How can we avoid the conclusion that the alternative - modernity or postmodernity - is false? Posed in this way, the question avoids the main thing: technological modernism, its import, its capacity for intervention in daily life; and the related problem, which is simultaneously theoretical and political, of controlling technology. Meanwhile, daily life goes on."
 

—Henri Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life, v.3 [written 1945-47] (Verso, 2014) p723-724.