Crazy Postmodern…

… or moderns on controlled substances.

I am reading Peter Leithart’s excellent book Solomon Among the Postmoderns and let me say again, it is excellent.  Let me give you a bit of Dr. Leithart that may cause a stirring in your “gotta read it” gullet:

Modernity is the civilization that attempted, with quite astonishing successes but also blatent failures, to manage and shepherd the vapor of time, society, and nature.  Postmodernity is vapor’s revenge, the recognition of modernity’s failures and an embrace of the fragmentation and dissolution of politics, self, language and life. (pg 39)

 Leithart translates the Hebrew word hebelin Ecclesiastes this way:  Vapor of vapors.  All is vapor. (Eccl 1:2 and 12:8).  It is steam coming off a bowl of stew, visible just a few inches from the surface.  This vapor is what modernity has tried to capture and tame, desiring that it stick around and do our bidding at dinner.  One of the right things about postmodernity is its recognition of modernity’s hubris. 

Here is the thing moderns (and postmoderns for that matter) don’t get… God provides us with a paradox of sorts in Ecclesiastes.  Life is a burst of vapor and yet the world continues as it did before we ever exhaled.  The Sun rises and sets with a monotonous regularity (monotonous if all you have is a stopwatch); and we are violently born and at times violently die. These two, the unchanging and impermanence together, will wear us out.  

Leithart says, “The weariness that Solomon describes (2:17) comes about not because of change alone or permanence alone, but because of the dynamic interaction of change and permanence. (pg 68)”  Neither change nor permanence by themselves would be frustrating, but the two together cause all manner of angst.

Modernity tells us that we can corral change.  That we can as Leithart translates Solomon, “Shepherd the wind.”  So that all is now or can be permenant and stable.  Call this the Ted Williams philosophy.  Embrace it and go freeze your head.

  Remember the old Biosphere projects?  To me that is a picture of modernity’s triumphs and failures. 

It was a magnificent display of environmental control.  They had rain forests and deserts within walking distance of each other.  But try as they might no one could contain the vapor of the outside world.  The Biosphere kept getting contaminated – until they had to abandon it for Biosphere2, which was better because it had a ‘2’ behind its name.

Postmodernity is not the answer to modernity though.  It is not enough to simply embrace change and ignore that which is permanent.  The sun rose again this morning just as God said it would and modernity gave us a GoogleMap that shows us the progression of solar eclipses into the next century. 

Leithart cuts a nice balance between modernity and postmodernity.  Take it up.

al sends


One response to “Crazy Postmodern…

  1. Brilliant.
    I’ve often thought that “Vanity of vanity, all is vanity” would make a great high school graduation exhortation/speech. “Vapor of vapors” would be even better. Can you see people’s faces when you say that a high school education is, in the grand scheme, vapor? Priceless

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