Throughout history, something new and unfamiliar always catches the attention of people. It seems that people have a craving for innovations and are easily tired of things of old age. Some people do not even prefer the classics and view them as obsolete. That may have been the very reason why modernism had swept the thinking of the society by storm. It is very possible that there is no other cultural movement that is still as prevalent as modernism today. In many ways, modernism had a stronger impact on humanity than others. As a testament to that claim, there are countless great works that is attributed to modernism—even up to this day.
There are even museums that are dedicated to modern art in many major cities around the globe. In a sense, the concept of modernity had become one of the concepts that had fascinated the world. It appears that the common notions and stereotypes about modernism are mostly positive in nature. A discussion of the problems with modernism seems to be rare. People had become so fixated with the concept of modernity that the modern culture is still being embraced all around the globe. As humanity progresses more and more, it seems that our mentality should also be inline with our progress.
But it should be important to consider that modernism is not all positive—all things are double-edged. There are some ramifications of modernism that we overlook because we are so fixated on its positive effects. Objectives The purpose of this paper is to make the problems of modernism that are usually taken for granted. That is with the thinking that if we are aware of the implications of modernism, we could understand ourselves and the society better. This paper would utilize the works of three of the most resounding names in modernism. They are namely Franz Kafka, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, and Michel Foucault.
To specify the works that would be utilized, they would be Kafka’s “A Report to an Academy” and “In the Penal Colony”, Nietzsche’s “On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense” and “Beyond Good and Evil”, Foucault’s “Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. ” This paper would try to attempt to isolate the problems of modernism from these works. Brief recap of modernism But before we traverse further with the discussion, it would be essential to recap first modernism. The purpose of this short recap is for us to have a guided trajectory in our discussion.
Furthermore, we could review modernism whenever we need to do so in this paper. Modernism is basically the cultural movement that traces its roots between the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Modernism is in line with the concept of modernity, or simply deviating to the past. Modernism had sought to make radical changes in virtually all aspects of the society. Since the introduction of modernism, there had many radical and significant changes in art, literature, music, architecture, applied arts and many other fields. The most notable aspect of modernism is that it deliberately deviates from any influence from the past.
It rebelled against the ideas of the past and accused those classic ideas for holding back progress. As a manifestation of the impact of modernism, we just observe and compare modern visual arts to the classics. We could just see with our naked eyes that this particular field of art had completely deviated from its past. Problems with modernism We do not need to look any further to locate a problem of modernism, we just need to look at its definition. The word “modern” is the exact of the old, of the past. Modernism seems to be obsessed in deviating from the past. Lack of importance for the past
In some ways, modernism is one of disrespectful and arrogant concepts that were ever conceived by man. It is common in any culture to be respectful of traditions. In the context of families, it is also common to be respectful of one’s ancestors. But modernism deliberately refuses to accept such notion. Kafka’s “A Report for an Academy”, is basically a story about an ape that had learned how to act as a human. The premise of the story could roughly translate to the separation to the past self. The story is ultimately about radical change and how it would affect an individual, ape or not.
The unnatural evolution of the ape to human begs the question why. During the course of the story, the outspoken ape had reiterated repeatedly that he had acquired human behavior not because he had a desire to be human, but only to escape from his cage (Kafka) The ape’s reason for radically changing his ways is also the alibi of modernist to explain their rejection of traditions. It could be roughly interpreted that Kafka had written this particular piece in defense of modernism. Modernists say that they want to deviate from traditions not out of disrespect for them, but for them to have the opportunity to create something new.
Even if we accept this analogy, modernists are still disrespecting traditions. What is happening is that modernists have the thinking that modern works and concepts are the only aesthetically acceptable ones. This makes them arrogant and Traditions are basically practices that people have been doing for a very long time. Then modernism enters the scene to completely eliminate the traditions. As a manifestation of modernisms deviation from the past, we could just observe how Kafka had written this particular story, he did not follow traditional guidelines.
Moving on to another work, In Nietzsche’s philosophical work ”Beyond Good and Evil”, he attacks the early philosophers by accusing them of blindly accepting the premises of the Christian faith. He is disrespectful in the sense that he argues that the early philosophers are lacking critical sense and judgment. In the initial part of the book he had mentioned the classic ideas of the early philosophers. Then he would argue that their search for an objective truth is just a masquerade. And then the modernist arrogance would kick in when he would state that it is the “free spirits” that would eventually replace the old thinkers (Nietzsche 7)
It could be easily interpreted that the “free spirits” is alluding to the modern thinkers like Nietzsche. The tone of arrogance is indeed noticeable in Nietzsche’s work. It was like Nietzsche wanted to dismiss all the classic ideas a replace it with new ones. In this sense, the author is very ungrateful to his past. It was as if Nietzsche himself did not study the works of the past philosophers and used what he has learned for his modernist concepts. Nietzsche had also expressed the same idea of making the ideas of past philosophers obsolete in his work “On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense” through the words:
“…it is high time to replace the Kantian question “how are synthetic judgments a priori possible? ” with another question: “why is belief in such judgments necessary? ”—that is to say, it is time to grasp that for the purpose of preserving beings such as ourselves, such judgments must be believed to be true, although they might of course still be false judgments! ” (Nietzsche 78) Nietzsche’s method of presenting his arguments is typical of modernists. It seems like they would want to make old concepts obsolete to pave way for their new ideas. Moreover, there is a tone of arrogance and superiority in modernists addressed to the past thinkers.
It is like the modernists are fully convinced that modern ideas would always be better than the old ones. Modernism generates unnecessary conflicts The next problem of modernism is an offshoot of the previous problem. Modernism seems to generate many unnecessary conflicts, between modernists themselves and modernists, and non-modernists. When modernism is being discussed, many disputes and debates are likely to arise. Modernism begs certain questions that can only be answered in vauge terms like: what can be considered modern? What is acceptable in modernism? Moreover, modernism creates unnecessary conflicts by inciting rebellious thoughts.
Although, modernists cannot be accused of deliberately inciting rebellious thoughts, but in many modern works, the struggle between the controlled and the controller is a prevalent theme. One work that expresses this theme is “Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison” by Michel Foucault. Foucault had expounded on the concept called the “panopticon ” in this particular work. The panopticon is basically the ultimate method for a modern disciplinary institution. It is commonly translated as an “everlasting gaze” A simple interpretation of the concept the panoptcion is that we are constantly being watched by an unseen observer.
This particular aspect of Foucault’s work incites rebellious thoughts when the context is driven to the area of politics. People become agitated because of the suggestion that a government, with the right equipment, could invade their privacy. Furthermore, reading the whole section of “Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison” is like reading a horror story more than a philosophical work. The previous sentence is of course an overstatement, but the effect Foucault’s work is somewhat scary and alarming. The whole book is basically a discussion of the social and theoretical mechanisms in penal systems.
There are sections in the book that are dedicated to the discussions of torture and punishment (Foucault) Another work of Franz Kafka mirrors the nature of Foucault’s “Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. ” The short story “In the Penal Colony” is basically a story that is full of instances of tortures and executions. These instances of tortures and executions would be described in a dramatized and graphic manner. There is even a device in the penal colony that carves the sentence that was given to the prisoner, carves it on his skin before the prisoner is executed (Kafka).
The story is generally categorized as belonging to the horror genre. Foucault’s “Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison” and Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony” might incite rebellious thoughts not because it scares the people. It becomes a dangerous when people interpret it as a revelation, a spoiler, or a warning of the possible methods that a tyrant would use. Here is a quote from the book that could incite rebellious thoughts “…the establishment of truth was the absolute right and the exclusive power of the sovereign” (Foucault 35)
Going back to Nietzsche, he had posed a question in Beyond Good and Evil: why should we want an objective truth rather than just accepting the untruth as the normal condition of life? Nietzsche did not consider that we are searching for objective truths so that we would not argue anymore. The search for objective truths is undeniably unrealistic, but the intention is much nobler than of the modernists. The untruths that Nietzsche would want us to accept are basically what make life miserable like poverty and corruption. Moreover, these untruths would only leave us arguing. Modernism versus faith
Modernism focuses much on the individual, it is man-centered rather than God-centered. Then it would promote individuality, freedom of expression, and even radicalism. In addition to that, modernism deliberately and explicitly rejects tradition. These are just some of the aspects why faith and modernism finds it hard to co-exist. Modernists also seem to have poor sensitivity when it comes to faith or religious issues. It appears that they would like to radically change everything, even the very complex concept faith. This is why modernists are often entangled on debates with other people.
Furthermore, it seems that it is the modernists who are seemingly begging for debates against religious people. In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche had accused the early philosophers for their lack of critical thinking and judgment. The premise that he had utilized to accuse the early philosophers of being uncritical is their acceptance of the premises of Christianity. Nietzsche even considers their acceptance as a blind act. There are also critics that argue that Franz Kafka’s “A Report to an Academy” could be interpreted as a satire of assimilation of the Jews into the western world.
Since this interpretation was released and became known to the public, may eyebrows were raised against Kafka’s work. Since then, the story had become a target for a barrage of criticisms form the religious communities, particularly from the Jewish communities. The one of the main themes of “A Report to an Academy” is also put into question in the context of faith and religion discussions. That particular theme is the changeability of identity of an individual. The ape in the story had seemingly changed his identify and his whole being when he wanted to. This is a very problematic issue in the context of faith.
Faith is generally defined as something that a person values more than anything else. The most notable aspect of faith is that it should not be changed however no matter what. The story touches many issues in religion, one of the most salient ones is regarding the origin of man. What Kafka did is fictionalize the counter theory to the creation theory, which is the evolution theory. If try to asses both theories, the creation theory would certainly be faith-centered. That simply means that the believers’ faith on that theory would never be shaken even if the counter theorists would present a barrage of evidences.
Their belief is after all banking on faith, something that should be unchangeable. This particular aspect of the story creates much attention from the religious communities. A major reason for that is because most world religions believe that the world was created by a divine being. The situation of the ape in the story is that he had to learn how to change as a human for him to achieve freedom. Almost all religions are burdened with the task of preserving their faith even though there could be challenges. What Kafka’s story had presented is an easy alternative to having faith.
This is one reason why modernism is regarded as many as not entirely moral. Modernism appear to be invoking criticisms and hostility from the religious communities. Modernists are regarded as one of the brightest thinkers in human history, they should have been aware that they should not challenge faith. Again, the modernists’ method of promulgating the concept of modernism seems to be to destroy the beliefs of others. Modernism contradicts itself Modernism is one of the most influential art and cultural movements in all human history.
There were many great people that are listed as active advocates of modernism. Many people also followed suit and accepted modernism. In this sense, modernism contradicts itself in a very profound manner. The popularity of modernism had paved the way for the modernist culture. There were many people that followed and embrace the ideals of modernism. They had shown their acceptance of modernism through their art, writings, and even in their way of living. If we could assess the success and influence of modernism, it had ironically become what it strived to fight in the first place.
The long time span of the popularity of modernism had made it more of a tradition. It is just profound irony that the movement that was dedicated to reject tradition had become a tradition of its own. Conclusion A discussion of the positive impact of modernism would not be as essential and timely anymore in the context of our time. These positive impacts are not unfamiliar to us anymore. What we might have overlooked are the ramifications that it had brought along. Although, we could consider these ramifications as subtle, we still cannot dismiss them.
Ultimately, the weakness of modernism could just be found on its definition. It had strived to breakaway from everything that has something to do with the past. And while promoting the idea of modernity, modernists had to be entangled in so many disputes. That is because the method of how modernism expresses itself is oftentimes offensive for some people. It can even be concluded that modernism is lacking religious and cultural sensitivity. All in all, modernism is too hasty to reject the concepts and ideas from the past. Modernists argue that people should be open to “modern” ideas.If they wanted to promote open-mindedness, they themselves should have been open to the classic ideas.
Eysteinsson, Astradur, The Concept of Modernism, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992 Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. NY: Penguin. 1979 Franz Kafka. A Report for An Academy. Retrieved May 22 2008 < http://www. mala. bc. ca/~johnstoi/kafka/reportforacademy. htm > Franz Kafka. In the Penal Colony . Retrieved May 22 2008 < http://www. mala. bc. ca/~johnstoi/kafka/inthepenalcolony. htm> Nietzsche, Friedrich. Beyond Good and Evil, Hollingdale, trans. (1973)