Saturday, 10 October 2009

A New Fetish. — “Then all of a sudden . . . a number of impious creatures arrived on the scene, uttering the rankest blasphemies; these were ‘the Moderns’, who overturned the alters of the ancient gods. And behold! the word itself, the mere word modern, had suddenly become a sort of wonder-working shibboleth, a magic formula which robbed the past of all its power. . . . The past, with all its mighty dead, was set at naught. The great thing now was to feel the insolent rapture of youth, to drink deep of its vivifying spirit, to make the most of the day while the day lasted, though the night was bound to come. . . . A new superstition, a new fetish, came into being, and we have not rid ourselves of it even yet. Novelty, which in the nature of things must be perishable, fleeting, has assumed such overwhelming importance in our eyes, that, if it is absent, nothing else avails; if it is present, nothing else is needed. If we would escape the reproach of nullity, if we would avoid being objects of ridicule, if we would save ourselves from utter boredom, we have to be constantly more and more advanced, in art, in morals, in politics, in ideas, and now, such is our nature, all we care about, all that matters to us, is the shock of wonderment and surprise.” [1]

Not a barbarian in awe, but a mechanical philistine — that is what we have been creating: a detached element of our own technology.

[1] Paul Hazard, The European Mind 1680-1715, tr. J. Lewis May (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1964), pp. 46-7.

1 comment:

euphemia said...

Very good, D. Here is a not entirely tangential observation from Bishop Butler (a mere one of the mighty dead) in 1736:

"It is come, I know not how, to be taken for granted, by many persons, that Christianity is not so much a subject of inquiry, but that it is now at length discovered to be fictitious. And accordingly they treat it as if, in the present age, this were an agreed point among all people of discernment, and nothing remained but to set it up as a principal subject of mirth and ridicule, as it were by way of reprisals, for its having so long interrupted the pleasures of the world. "