segunda-feira, 28 de novembro de 2011

Pendulum of History - The Symbol of Frankenstein

Mary Shelley published “Frankenstein” in 1818. There is something related to this book that we do not pay attention: the complete title of it. The title is “Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus”. In what meaning the author used the word “modern”?
Prometheus was the greek myth that created the human being from clay and stole the divine fire from the gods (varying with the version:Hyperion, or Apolo, or Zeus) to give it to mankind, to make them intelligent. In some versions Prometheus is punished by Zeus because of this. In some other versions he is punished because he mocked Zeus when offering a sacrifice. Anyway, the myth of Prometheus is an emblematic symbol of audacity and at the same time of punishement.
Mary Shelley was influenced by her father William Godwin, a philosopher and writer, who was influenced by the ideals of the French Revolution. The house of Godwin was visited by writers, thinkers, scholars, scientists (the word “scientist” would be created only in 1834 by Whewell), in an environment that was perceived by Mary.
Science was starting to grow in society at the same time that people like Percy Shelley (husband of Mary), were enthusiastic by the possibilities to dominate nature by Science. Others, like Mary’s father, did not have that same confidence.
In the beginning of the XIXth century, chemistry and mainly electricity seemed to be powerfull tools of Science.
Mary Shelley lived a kind of ambiguity between the ideas of her father and her husband, but she put some caractheristics of Percy in the personage of the failing scientist Frankenstein. This point can indicate that she was also not too confident in an optimistic view about the power of science over the nature.
Looking to the book by a larger context, when Shelley uses the word “modern” she do not express an “optimistic” or “positive” sense, but a kind of defeat, or a lost humanity, because everything went wrong after Frankenstein created “the Creature”. It is interesting that, outside the book, the unnominated Creature got the name of its creator and the creator became just a caricature of the “mad scientist”.
The “ancient” Prometheus was forgiven by Zeus, after his penance on the Caucasus mountain, but maybe it was not the same with the “modern” Prometheus of Shelley. He did not follow the Aristotle idea that “the whole is more than the sum of the parts”, idea that it is possible to apply to "human being" in the place of the word "whole". The Creature was a sum of parts of men’s bodys, but it did not make a human being as a whole.
Symbolically, Mary Shelley’s use of “modern” can express a perception of what was going on in the world, seeing the menace of science, and maybe the menace of industrial revolution to society.
Maybe the Pendulum of History of 200 years can remember and warn us that “modern” and its derivatives doesn’t have necessarily the meaning of “the better for all” or “the better for us”.
And it can also show us that the “conscience of modern” as an ambiguous or dangerous thing is not new. Today several artworks express also this feeling about the power of Science.
Maybe, as "modern", "postmodern" is also ambiguous...

quinta-feira, 24 de novembro de 2011

Part 4 - Pendulum of History - The End of Efficiency

Let's stop a moment the linear discourse and let's skip to this year 2011. Maybe it is not necessary to explain "the end of efficiency"; it could be enough just read international news... Many authorities are trying but, for while, no one get to fix international economy. The last crisis started in 2008 and did not stop. In 2011 there is not a new crisis. There are variations of the same crisis.
In 2008 someone said that it was a new 1929. Many people did not agree, and said that mankind learned with the Wall Street Crack of 1929 and would not repeat the conditions that led to the Great Depression.
Here we can see the pendulum of History coming and going between the two moments. But we must see also that it is not exactly the same thing now, although there are similarities.
The 2008 crises came after a time of "efficiency" , an efficiency as professed by the Postmodern Period that started after Second World War. At the same time that there was the Cold War, the aim of the governments was to surch and show efficiency, without giving importance to the way to achieve the efficiency. Based on the success of technology men thought that with Science and Technology everything could be possible, with no need of things like Philosophy, Humanities, etc, and Ethics could be only a relative colecction of rules that resulted from the evolution of Science and Technology.
At the same time there was a vestige of ideals of modernism and romanticism in the "counter culture movement" that was not well received by "the postmodern".
As stablished by Thomas Kuhn in "The Strucuture of the Scientific Revolutions" the paradigma, the model, only works in the time that it is possible to find answers for all questions and problems in a specific field . When the questions start to not find answers under the paradigm, the necessity of a new paradigm arises. Kuhn stablished it for Science, but it is possible to extend the concept for other fields of knowledge.
The Paradigm of Postmodern Politics had a climax in the 1990 decade with the discourse of Globalization.
But, we can think that the first globalization came with Alexander The Great... In the 1929 crises there were a globalization of the effects and it was also a globalized crisis in a globalized economy.
So, maybe "globalization" in 1990ies was a kind of trade mark, a marketing mark....
Now, day after day, globalization seems to be a kind of epidemy, a contamination, a vicious cycle...
So, now are we modern, postmodern, or what? Are we making a coming back to "modern" pre postmodern?
What is better, modern or postmodern?
The nowadays modern is marked by Science. Is the success of Science enough for humanity to consider "modern" a good thing?
One of the first authors to use the word "modern" at a parallel with the progress of Science was Mary Shelley in 1818 in the book named "Frankenstein, The Modern Prometheus".
This is an issue for the next text.

terça-feira, 22 de novembro de 2011

Part 3 - Pendulum of History - The End of Efficiency

Philosophy, Politics, Economy, Science, Arts interact with each other through History. It is an illusion to think that Science or Politics, or any discipline could walk alone "with its own feet". They are not independent. Each of them is influenced by the others. Near the French Revolution it was a debate in the French Academy between the supporters of Ancient Art and the supporters of Modern Art. That debate shows a perception of what was coming at other levels of society, or even other areas of knowledge. So, in the begenning of XIXth century Hegel expressed a discurse about History including the mention that he was in "modern times". In the middle of that same century the french writter Baudelaire coined the therm "modernity" and then expressed "a state", a state of "transitoriness" tipycal of a time of transformations in society related to Industrial Revolution and to new technologies associated with scientific discoveries.
Scientific discoveries did not appear alone by some scientist isolated on a high mountain. Well, even the word "scientist" was coined by Whewell in 1834. So, before that maybe we can say that there were "no scientists"...
Scientific discoveries happened because there were interested scholars, but we must see that scholars were people from nobless. We must see also that in the decade of 1660 the first scientific societies were created by kings of England and France.   So, the political power of XVIIth and XVIIIth centuries understood that Science was becoming an important "tool" to keep the power, even to counterbalance the power of the Church in that days. 
In XIXth Century, at same time of the Modernity of Baudelaire, there was the Romantic Movement in Arts.
The Romantic Movement had a kind of nostalgy by the ancient origins of the communities that were becoming  nations. In a certain way, "modern" and "ancient" were mixed... But the discurse of modern is almost always "we are new", "we bring the new". 
We are not judging if modern is good or bad. We are trying to say that "modern" means more than just "new".
This phenomena reappears again and again and it can help to understand the "after postmodern"... 

sábado, 19 de novembro de 2011

Part 2 – Pendulum of History – The End of Efficiency

If we look to the first use of the word “modern” by Cassiodorus in the century A.D., it is possible to associate it with the perplexity of Cassiodorus about the lost knowledge of Greek language by the roman people. Symbolically it was a final mark of the period of the Hellenistic Culture, that was started by Alexander The Great, although he was macedonian.
So the Greek would be replaced by the Latin as an international language. This moment was more a cultural transition than a political transition. The political changes were greater before, even it was a continuous process.
In a first moment, it seems a paradox that after the falling of the West Roman Empire, the Latin stood as an international language, and before, while the Roman Empire was strong, the international language was the Greek...
At this point ( century) the pendulum of history was between the Greek Period of Culture and the Latin Period, in a certain way. Latin language would stay important. Mainly in the academic environment until Ambroise Paré (1510-1590) who defied the rule which stablished that the Latin was the exclusive language of Science in the Universities, including books.
Of course that was a long period process, it was not an overnight change. The vernacular languages were coming step by step through centuries, but in the universitary environment, vernacular language was not recognized and free in the times of Paré. He was living in the XVIth century and the so latter called “Modern Age” was beginning.
Petrarca (1307-1374) and Leonardo Bruni (1370-1444) were some of the first scholars that could be considered “founders” of the Renascence. They saw the historical period before them as a kind of a“dark age”, or a time of ignorance. They thought that times of knowledge were times of Greek and Latin Culture, until the end of the Roman Empire in 476 A.D. Bruni was the first to stablish a triple division of History: Ancient, Middle and a New Period. It is interesting to see that, in the contemporary concept, Petrarca and Bruni were also in the “Middle Age”.
Christoph Cellarius (1638-1707) consacrated that periodization of History.
In XVIIIth century the “Illuminists” reinforced the Middle Age as a time of obscurity. They got “light” for them and let “shadows” for that centuries ago. So they did a kind of projection, thinking they were in the era of Reason and the medieval period was a time of ignorance. But, this alleged Reason soon would be shaked by “Terror” after the French Revolution...
The so called “Modern Era” was a time with more slavery than before in Western World, with more things like Inquisition than before...
In a certain way, to be “modern” was to try a comeback to the “ancient times” before the Middle Age...
We are not saying that Middle Age was a paradise, but if we look with attention we could see that each century has its good things and its bad things. Maybe the XXth century was the century with more violence than ever...  

quarta-feira, 16 de novembro de 2011

Pendulum of History - The End of Efficiency

Pendulum of History – The End of Efficiency

History can be seen as a linear process, and also as a cyclical process. The both together can build an image of a time vortex.
So, on the timeline, History has a kind of a pendular carachteristic.
Day after day, more and more we feel that the world is probably in a big transition.
But between ten and twenty years ago many people thought so.
“Globalization” was the name of the supposed transition.
After the falling of the Berlin Wall in 1989, it was an optimistic vision of the apparent “victory” of Capitalism and the international economy sang a unisonous song of the globalization as “salvation of the world”.
But some people perceived that something was going wrong and the anti-globalization movement started in 1999. Anyway, until 2008, most part of governments stood for free market and globalization of economy.
We must say that this comment is not left wing, or wright wing, or “any wing”...
We think that more than “polarities” we must see “complexity”. To better understand our times we can look to the “after postmodernity” by the thinking of Edgar Morin, Basarab Nicolaesko, Boaventura de Souza Santos and others that talk about complexity.
In terms of pendular history, you can choose what extension of period you want: million years, thousands, hundreds, or less.
We will continue the next text from here.   

segunda-feira, 14 de novembro de 2011

after postmodern - the end of efficiency

We are conditioned or “educated” to think that “modern” is good and “unmodern” or “old fashioned” is bad.
But what are the meanings of “modern”? What does it mean to be “modern”?
As we know, Cassiodorus (485-585 A.D.) was the first person to use the word “modern” in a similar sense as it is used today; from the Latin “mode” and the Greek “modus”, the “modern” of Cassiodorus was related to a perception of “changes”, or yet “changes for the time being”, when he came back from Constantinopla, where he were several years, and saw that Romans did not understand Greek language anymore. So he said that he was in “tempus modernus”.
The word “modern” was also used in medieval texts in a similar way, in times of Charles Magne for exemple.
“Modern Age” was a concept established between Leonardo Bruni (XIV-XVth centuries) and Christoph Cellarius (XVII-XVIIIth centuries) (both created the periodization of history), mainly as opposed to Middle Ages as a kind of “Dark Ages”, or an age of ignorance (as they supposed to be).
The use of “modern” reached a new step with La querelle des Anciens e des Modernes, The quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns, in the end of the XVIIth and the beginning of the XVIIIth centuries in Europe, mainly as an art debate.
In the end of XVIIIth and the beginning of the XIXth century, Hegel wrote about “modern times”, analysing a historical context.
In the end of XIXth and beginning of XXth century the Modernism or Modern Movement was a kind of reaction to the Realism. In a certain way, Modernism had some correlation with Romantism, and so we see that sometimes what is named “modern” or “new” has some charge of “return to the past”, although it speaks with the innovations in technology.
Anyway, during the XXth century the mass media popularized the use of the term “modern” as we see today in any banalities, for example, when someone buys a new product and says “I bought the modern one”, or “I bought the modern version”, or I am trying to stay modern by buying this new one”, etc, etc.
We must remember that Bruno Latour wrote “We Have Never Been Modern”(1991) criticizing the use of “modern” by scientific discourse, but we must also remember that there is a consecrated use of the word by the people as several other words.
Although the word “postmodern” appeared in the end of the XIXth century, it was after the book “The Postmodern Condition”, in 1979 by Jean-François Lyotard, that “postmodern” achieved a level of general discussion.
It is necessary to remark that “modern” and “postmodern” is used in different meanings by different disciplines at the same period of time. Sometimes  it also used concepts as “modernim”, “modernity”, “postmodernism”, “postmodernity”.
After the first decade of the XXIst century it seems that we are living big changes.
The Postmodern Period started after the Second World War; characterized by “efficiency”, it seems to have ended...
The years between 2001 and 2008 were a march to the end of the “efficiency” as we knew then... After 2008 the world crisis continues, and the usual efficient measures do not effect anymore...
Still talking about words.
In the end of XXth and beginning of XXIst century many people started to use various prefixes before postmodern trying to carachterize that postmodern time is surpassed by history: neo, meta, trans, not, post, “etc-postmodern”... But also other people are asking “What comes after postmodern?”
Maybe we can ask: “what comes after the end of that revered efficiency of postmodern times, vanished with the several crisis of XXIst century”?