Tag Archives: Modernity

Why “modern tension”?

“the attitude of modernity… to imagine (the present) otherwise than it is, and to transform it not by destroying it but by grasping it in what it is.” – Michel Foucault “What is Enlightenment?”

Cornel West says about philosophy that it is a critical disposition striving to assert “desire in the face of death, dialogue in the face of dogmatism, democracy in the face of domination” but you never reach the end.  That statement fits well with the reasons I chose the title for this site: Modern Tension.  I think this title can in some way tie together a whole range of philosophical projects I’ve undertaken over the past 10 years or so as a student and researcher.  Most everything that provokes me to read, to talk, to write… connects somehow with questions of how to create, demand, desire, construct a sense of self, sustain a sense of purpose, compile something like meaning, and learn to live.  How do we put things in tension to enable critical perspectives and imagine possibilities?  How can we sustain tension and develop a discipline to live with irresolvable ambiguities, ambivalence and aporias?  How can we keep open a space for creativity, desire in the face of forces which shape us and subject us?  And how can we conceive of pursuing possibilities in the face of contingency and precariousness?

Several years ago, I wrote a short article for Adbusters with the title “Post-Millenial Tension” not long after reading Nicolas Bourriaud’s The Radicant.  I was responding to the question: “What comes after Post-modernity?”  and there seemed to be a certain tension in the air around this question.  A “tension” in the sense of waiting for something, after the death of certain dreams had settled over our world there came an uneasiness about what sort of future might be coming on.  And of course, it’s a tension that cannot be resolved so long as the thought assumes that the resolution will indeed arrive in a definitive form, from without, from on high…

I imagined that article as a response to the typical pitfalls I had grown tired of in “radical” political theory and critique, such as the usual polarization between “purity” and “corruption” and the insularity of universalizing ideologies.  In all of it, there often seems some attempt to satisfy an incessant yearning for BIG Events, BIG Truths, Destiny… It all seems a bit neurotic… There’s something in it that feels like taking the “give me liberty or give me death” motto to the absolute extreme (Give me absolute Truth and Purity, or blow up everything!)  It either makes me feel worried, or bored.

I’m a little more interested in thinking fictions and imagining “as if” scenarios. I’ve never been very interested in Godot actually arriving, even if it is supposedly imminent.  So, what are our other options?  That’s something I suppose want to keep thinking about…

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