Postmodernism and Cultural Identities

Postmodernism and Cultural Identities: Conflicts and Coexistence

Virgil Nemoianu
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 406
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  • Book Info
    Postmodernism and Cultural Identities
    Book Description:

    Virgil Nemoianu's book starts from the assumption that, whether we like it or not, we live in a postmodern environment, one characterized by turbulence, fluidity, relativity, commotion, uncertainty, and lightning-fast communication and change.

    eISBN: 978-0-8132-1757-4
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. History of the Chapters
    (pp. xi-xii)
    • I Philosophy of Culture in the Present Age
      (pp. 3-10)

      I think it is best to begin with some statements of the obvious before I venture toward a affirmations that sound less usual or certain.

      Thus let me remind the gentle reader that in English, unlike in other languages, the word culture serves a variety of purposes. It is often used in order to designate a society as a whole, with its habits, its politics, its social customs and norms, and its historical and geographical outlines, large or small, as the case may be. On other occasions, the word is used to refer to “canonical” or “high culture”—the best...

    • II Does Postmodernism Have a Substance?
      (pp. 11-22)

      Let us step closer to the crucial questions of the present book. We just asked ourselves whether the decades that are now most often called “postmodernist” fit into any of the patterns of the philosophy of culture as understood until now or whether they signal a wide chasm between the “age of history” and the present or the future. We also asked ourselves whether an entirely new mode of understanding the philosophy of culture has to be forged, one that should be adapted to the new events of our contemporary time.

      After the preliminary answers sketched out, it may be...

    • III Leibniz, Vico, and Alternative Modernities
      (pp. 23-37)

      The present chapter begins the longer series of actual, concrete examples of continuity and of stability (potential or real) in recent historical evolution. Together, these chapters will, it is to be hoped, convince the reader that the postmodernist existential mode is (1) not absolute and (2) able to function and survive precisely thanks to the counteracting forces that arise (again: potentially or in actuality) inside and alongside it. Reading the Enlightenment project as a broad and generous range of options, some chosen, some not, is a very useful procedure. It provides us with a better perspective and with a more...

    • IV Conservatism as a Branch of Liberalism
      (pp. 38-61)

      It may be useful to introduce at this point in the flow of our general narrative the following question: Is the current situation (in the first decade of the twenty-first century) entirely unique? Does humanity encounter it for the first time without any prior analogy? Is the dialectic between convulsive and buzzing relativity and separate zones of serene isolation totally unexpected? I said in a previous chapter that history may well be understood as a succession of unpredictable episodes, so devised or prepared by divine providence (or not), and that such episodes are meant to function each time as fresh,...

    • V Christian Democracy and Subsidiarity in the World
      (pp. 62-73)

      Assuming, as is often done in this book, that the few decades just before and after 1800 mark a major turning point in both Western and world history, we note primarily the enormous variety of responses to the coming of consciousness concerning the process of modernization and “Enlightenment,” as it occurs at that point and highlights it for us. I just gave a quick overview of the “hybridization” of conservatism and liberalism at the beginning of the nineteenth century (and earlier) as one of the responses. We can expand this view further, by showing how in the nineteenth and twentieth...

    • VI Christian Martyrdom and Christian Humanism
      (pp. 74-102)

      For various complicated motives (sometimes too unpleasant to discuss, even when they are suspected), Christianity has been often regarded (and sometimes still is) by many as a religion of victory, of triumph, of battles won, and of domination (early on Origen felt obliged to combat this erroneous understanding). Such an impression was encouraged among other things by the impressively swift spread of this faith on all continents of our planet: in its first few centuries around the Mediterranean basin; thereafter for another few centuries throughout Europe, among the immigrant tribes massively settling here; finally, during the latest half-millennium, on all...

    • VII The Insertion of Religion: The Model of Benedict and Habermas
      (pp. 103-121)

      In this chapter I should like to press a little more closely the question as to how stability and continuing identity are compatible with the agitations of postmodernism. The specific question is whether and/or how religion can be inserted plausibly and convincingly into the problematics of contemporary societies. The case analysis offered below may well serve as a more general kind of response to our doubts about survival in the midst of the “postmodernist fog,” or, more mildly, in the midst of the plurality of views that is constitutive of it. I suggested already that I regard the beautiful (literature...

    • VIII Pieper, Hope, Imperfection, and Literature
      (pp. 122-132)

      This turning-point chapter is designed to provide the reader with a sketch of the concrete and specific mode in which the Beautiful is connected with the world of the religious. In other words, I will try to suggest how two of the chief areas of “island space” present similarities. I would like to outline how such a connection comes about in the specific and concrete case of a major thinker, and to suggest that this model can be thereafter applied to a much larger number of situations and persons.

      First, I must offer a word on the twentieth-century theological movement...

    • IX Globalism, Multiculturalism, and Comparative Literature
      (pp. 135-154)

      Multiculturalism emerged into full maturity as a political and a literary topic only ater the end of the cold war. Nowadays it seems to affect the innermost mechanisms of contemporary societies, and sometimes to cast doubt on our corporate, or even our very individual, identities. It is part of the great postmodernist whirlwind of anarchic relativization that has spread over our planet and over the human race. Throughout our narrative I have sought to define it, to explain its part in the current world, and to point to some possible stabilizing and tempering forces in the world. Among these, I...

    • X Teaching Literature from a Catholic Angle
      (pp. 155-167)

      The array of American colleges and universities that like to describe themselves, with more or less justification, as Roman Catholic and that are still sponsored by religious orders, dioceses, or other ecclesiastical authorities continues to be impressive, although periodically, and on one issue or the other, their legitimacy finds itself questioned. Their abundance is still superior, at least quantitatively, to the Catholic university instructional range existing in any other country of the world. This system was largely developed in the nineteenth century and its purpose was at first to protect young minds against the ideological agendas of secular state institutions,...

    • XI Literary Canons and Social Value Options
      (pp. 168-198)

      In the previous chapter a strong pillar of the whole argument was a discussion and support of the “literary canon” as an element of stability and continuity in the academic life whether Catholic or secular, and ultimately in human society with its incessant convulsions as well. It is therefore appropriate to take a closer look at these canons, which are themselves under debate and often seem quite uncertain. Of course, doubts and apprehension are natural and predictable in any kind of exploration. Fresh openings toward areas of the secondary, marginality, and heteronomy, and a more generous valuation spread over broader...

    • XII The Argument from Variety
      (pp. 199-207)

      This chapter will deal with the “argument from variety” in trying to convince the reader that aesthetic humanism as embodied in literature can provide a rather reliable point of support, identity, continuity, or stability in an environment in which principles of uncertainty and relativity are prevalent.

      It is, of course, a little frightening to observe how many the scholars are who stampede relentlessly toward a fresh theoretical paradigm once it has been erected, along with the blind allegiance that it comes to command. Thus the “left Nietzscheanism” so widely spread nowadays in the literature departments of North America, with its...

    • XIII The Argument from Persecution
      (pp. 208-221)

      The present chapter starts from deeply felt concerns and deals with matters that are, I am convinced, of the highest importance not only for the profession of humane studies, but for human self-understanding in general. It tries to draw the readers’ attention to gaping rifts in the studium generale, to define oppositions, and—in a way that may be less than usual nowadays—to take sides and vindicate one set of propositions against the other. This “judgmental” kind of argument was imposed on me, I believe, by the very state of affairs in the surrounding intellectual world: the open displeasure...

    • XIV The Argument from Practicality
      (pp. 222-230)

      The observations made in the several chapters immediately preceding this one may have indicated clearly enough for what reasons and in what manner I regard aesthetic beauty, and, of course, literary writing in particular, as elements of stability in a world that seems uncertain, dubious, and fundamentally relative. It may be useful, however, to emphasize also why and how this kind of stability is not irremediably at odds with prevailing modes of existence and of thinking, but in rather unexpected ways proves to be almost indispensable to the latter. (I am developing here some points made much more briefly in...

    • XV The Argument from Opposition
      (pp. 231-237)

      We remember that concerns about the future of the humanities in a world ruled by science and technology date to the nineteenth century. We can think of Cardinal Newman’s eloquent essay on the “Idea of a University” (1852) in which he drew the line between a purely professional education and a “universitary” one, that is, a “gentlemanly” and gratuitous formation of the mind by the synthesis of values and fundamental knowledge, a mind that could in turn be used everywhere and anyhow.¹ Three quarters of a century later Friedrich Gundolf explained wittily how Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream had prefigured comically...

    • XVI The Argument from Defeat
      (pp. 238-244)

      I will now introduce another relevant fact, one that will sometimes overlap with, but, I am sure, also strengthen the points I have already made. To repeat, aesthetic imagination and literature especially have been regarded with doubt, in fact with hostility, by all kinds of regimes and systems over the centuries, from Mediterranean antiquity and the Middle Ages to “bourgeois” and democratic states, not excluding self-censorship and “political correctness,” and certainly the great totalitarian systems of the twentieth century. All were severe in their attempt to eradicate or at least to marginalize aesthetic imagination and to rein in literature. Why...

    • XVII Following the Classics: Layers of Stylistic Mimesis
      (pp. 247-258)

      Anybody who wants to understand the mechanisms of durability and stability inside an age of change could do no better than to look at the historical destiny of classicism, with all its ups and downs, let alone all of its deeper or subtler changes over the centuries. Therefore I will begin my short series of examples precisely with some meditations on what is still the bedrock of Western civilization, and for many, a continuing hope for the ties binding past, present, and future. First a word of caution.

      Too much effort has been devoted to elucidating the intrinsic meaning of...

    • XVIII Reinventing Romanticism or Nineteenth-Century Kitsch?
      (pp. 259-284)

      Not only is classicism (as just shown) an example of “stability in change,” so too is romanticism. The following chapter will select one group of authors, one moment in time, but will concentrate on just one author, and try to illustrate how things occur.

      Already in several of my writings¹ I have pointed out that the only reasonable way in which we can understand romanticism is a dynamic one, that is, romanticism as a succession of waves. Romanticism per se, seen strictly and narrowly, was a brief, explosive, and unstable movement. However, its subsequent impact has been nothing short of...

    • XIX Ernst Jünger, Distance, Proximity, and Transfer of Cultural Values
      (pp. 285-314)

      The case of Ernst Jünger, one of the greatest German writers of the twentieth century, is highly significant in connection with the studies undertaken in the present book. Above all, he is significant because his life and the period of his writing career cover an unusually long time, virtually the whole of the twentieth century, and his artistic sensibility responded faithfully to all the changes experienced during this time. The author’s responses were highly symptomatic not least because they focused on three points that are fully relevant to our stream of ideas. One of these is the dialectic between alienating...

    • A Philosophical Garden
      (pp. 317-336)

      Almost any author of a book devoted to the history of ideas or to literary history feels obliged to offer a kind of conclusion. I will break this rule and provide instead an epilogue (or call it an appendix), an illustrative text that will try to bring together most of the arguments of the previous chapters in a more subjective manner.

      In this epilogue I will try to depict what a protected space against the deconstructive, relativistic, and straightly destructive tendencies existing inside a postmodernist environment might look like, or how defenses against said tendencies can be erected. It may...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 337-380)
  10. Index of Names
    (pp. 381-392)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 393-394)