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Friday, January 16, 2015

ever-expanding open-ended world, in contradistinction to a closed cosmos: experience of [this] crisis splits culture itself apart

"The battle was triggered by the question
of how to achieve perfection, an aim
that both the moderns and the ancients shared. 
For the latter, perfection was achieved
by imitating nature, whereas for the former,
the ancient models were
no longer to be imitated
but had to be surpassed. 
Such a shift was largely due to the fact
that the moderns found themselves confronted
with an ever-expanding, open-ended world,
in contradistinction to the ancients,
who entertained the idea
of a closed cosmos.
Consequently, progress became
the guiding light for the moderns,
who thus turned the inherited world order
completely around by conceiving it as
an irreversible advance into the future.
The cyclical movement of day and night
and the seasons, indicative
of an ordered cosmos,
was replaced by a linear ascent. 
Perfection therefore was no longer a given
that required contemplation, as exemplified
by the Greek theoria
instead, it was now something to be achieved,
and as a task to be performed
it could no longer be an act of imitation.
...Moreover, the moderns proved
to be rather self-assertive
in this process of differentiation,
thereby endowing their discourse of history
with a teleological direction.
What, however, happens
when such optimism wanes?
The stage was reached...
when Rousseau 1750
by stating that the arts and sciences
had not, in actual fact, improved morals
but had corrupted them.
Such a devastating statement marked
the beginning
of what has since come to be known
as cultural critique, sparked off
by a crisis of culture
that had not been in the orbit
of those [moderns] who had pleaded
the superiority of their own culture
over the ancients. The experience
of crisis splits culture itself apart,
and this process began to deepen
and accelerate with the dawn
of the Industrial Revolution.
Fundamental differences opened up
in individual cultures..."

— Wolfgang Iser, "Thomas Carlyle's Sartor Resartus"
in The Range of Interpretation [1994] (NY: Columbia U Press, 2000) p160-1.