Sunday, June 22, 2014

This idea of cyclical regularity of change

"For a long time the 'modern' has been seen as the opposite of the 'ancient.' It is a word which for centuries the new and the here-and-now have used in triumphalist self-justification as a means of relegating everything that is not themselves (or that they think is not themselves) to the past. Its magic powers seem inexhaustible. Yet its meaning has changed... In France in the middle ages the elected or co-opted magistrates of the towns with burgomasters...and consulates...were known as 'moderns.' The retiring magistrates were called 'ancients' as distinct from 'moderns.' [The term modern] involved the double idea of renewal and of regularity in renewal; elections were held according to a strict mode [Latin: modus] laid down in the charter, or according to municipal tradition. This idea of cyclical regularity of change, and of change as a norm, did not last long. In the different sectors of social and political life, and above all in culture, the term reappears at various dates, and is always heavy with polemical [i.e., divisively hyperbolic] meanings... Later, the issue loses its polemical edge; it does not vanish completely, but it becomes subsumed in the self-triumphalism of 'modernism' and 'modern' tastes. By the end of the nineteenth century, with the 'modern style', 'modernism' (i.e., the cult of innovation for innovation's sake, innovation as a fetish) is fully fledged."
—Henri Lefebvre, (opening lines of) "What is Modernity" in Introduction to Modernity [1962], John Moore, transl. (Verso, 1995) p168 . [brackets are my clarifying insertions] (parentheses are Lefebvre).