- From the Editor:Are We No Longer Modern?
Within the mobile boundaries of “theory,” we may observe a profound dissatisfaction with the modern. Such discontent is growing, and it even concerns all the categories that in fact shaped the multifaceted reality of “the” modern: modernity, modernism, postmodernity, and maybe anti-modern reaction as well. New philosophical systems are being elaborated against the “correlationism” that the Enlightenment promoted; one speaks of becoming “post-Continental” by way of “coming after” all the post- prefixes (and especially the postmodern); other propositions deliberately include anachronistic constructs and reject the human historical determination that lies at the self-reflexive core of modernity. While I can only assume to be part of this current move—a move being both more and less than a movement—I also want to take seriously what several articles in the current issue are advancing. Perhaps we should “rethink modernity,” as Jacques Rancière invites us to do, before trying to abandon it. Perhaps modernism itself might be revealed as (at least partially) enfolded into mannerism, as Ceciel Meiborg and Sjoerd van Tuinen encourage us to consider. In the interview that we also include in this collection, Rancière argues that with the modern redistribution of the sensible, artistic novelty is “really associated with the inclusion of a certain form of inaction.” In other words, the leisure (otium) that was key to freedom for Seneca, as Joan Ramon Resina reminds us, would not be completely lost. Then, “modern times” would not be limited to the mechanistic policing of human life. They might also contain (or channel) another kind of paradoxical promise. At any rate, this promise would mainly come to us through life and the arts, the authors of this issue seem to suggest.
Inna Viriasova, who inscribes her research in a critique of the totalizing tendencies of—modern—politics, pleads in favor of unpolitical life. She does so through an in-depth reading of Michel Henry. It is not easy to promote life and avoid linking the theoretical with the theological, and Henry certainly never concealed the Christian horizon of his own thought. Similarly, the religion of art often haunts aesthetics. Nevertheless, we have all the reasons in the world to believe in the arts, and in what makes life livable—without feeling the need to turn our beliefs into creeds. Humanistic scholarship, as long as it seeks to examine the rich and fragile envelope of things, artworks and experience, must go back to the singularity of an oeuvre or motif. Dissonance in baroque music, Béla Tarr’s sequence shot and multilayered temporalities, Isadora Duncan’s free movement, or a few pages by Marcel Proust are discrete opportunities to live differently, beyond the [End Page 3] predetermined contours of (political, individual, historical, subjective) identity. Worthwhile criticism—based, possibly, on the “disciplined reading” Resina speaks about— neither translates nor forgets what I perceive and think. On the contrary, the (dia)critical I sees oneself as the transient result of what “I” came to echo, question, embody, and live, through the process of artistic and interpretative displacements. In an era of “data mining” and “algorithmic reading,” this manner of speaking might sound a bit old fashioned, somehow archaic, and at least “pre-modern.” Well, maybe the paradoxical promise in a modern regime consists in the unexpected resurgence of quite ancient but still indispensable interrogations about the better life we may want to give ourselves, thanks to the transient and critical experience of the arts. [End Page 4]