Postmodernism, a critique of the over-ambitious nature of Enlightenment rationalism, is the beginning of an age deeply disenchanted with modernity. What is modernity and (following the most powerful of Twentieth Century constructs) its –ism? This generalization strikes me as a decent one.

I think modernism and its stylistic descendants can be reasonably conceived of as the defiance of common experience, endless experiments based in theory and speculation, very few of which work out; by contrast, tradition, those practices based in experience, are more likely to succeed. Without echoes and remembrance of our human experiences, where is eternal life? The loss of place is the great dread of Sheol, Purgatory, and Hell. It is the absence of relational communion whose summit is Eucharistic Communion, a descent into the despairing punishments of nothingness. A lonely absence is the fate worse than death. Much of the modern human is a tourist, a sampler, a “chooser” of taste and fashion consistently and fundamentally unnourished. The complexities of the human experience will defy the reductionisms of modernism, from the many varieties of Marxism to utilitarianism to architectural “cleansing,” if we allow it. A reality beyond our experience – the embrace of mystery that is postmodernism rightly understood – is revealed in historical and limited circumstances. These can be uprooted in the embrace of wandering, shallow emotions at the peril of an imaginative core that prompts truth to become gradually known. The faddish freedoms that supposedly liberate from the past are an absence of place. These reduce humans to the small and unimportant, granting little more than the illusionary lie that life is a monologue and one is capable of creating, even of directing, a destiny. What is needed is greater skepticism of the apostles of Progress and greater scorn to the notions that politics may be reduced to a set of problems that our rational intelligences may solve. No cold, synthetic creation such as government will ever accumulate sufficient knowledge or goodness to “solve” anything. But an understanding and appreciation of place, of belonging, will help.

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Articles by Jonathan Jones

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