Enlightenment and modernity

For whatever reason, I’m simultaneously reading two books with very different readings of the Enlightenment project–Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue and Nestor Garcia Canclini’s Hybrid Cultures: Strategies for Entering and Leaving Modernity.  I feel that I should not like them both, because they’re so different, but I do anyway, because they’re both teaching me important things about the Enlightenment as an ideology of modernization.  In other words, I’m using these writers to understand Enlightenment as a form of temporalization.

Since people on this blog may not be as familiar with Garcia Canclini’s work as AM’s, I’ll talk about NGC tonight.  Garcia Canclini’s anthropological essays are rooted in his work on Latin American politics and popular culture, and focus upon the difficulties faced by regions that have experienced modernism but not modernization.   

In other words, modernity seems unevenly distributed in certain parts of the world, and this “multitemporal heterogeneity” (47) in places like Mexico or Argentina leaves the relation of the traditional to the modern an open, and still unresolved, political question.  This is especially true for those who would like to activate modernity’s “emancipatory project,” its “expansive project,” “its “renovating project,” or its “democratizing project” in their own regions (12).  These various projects fall in line with familiar macronarratives about modernity in the West, because they trace rise of just about everything–individualism, capitalism, urbanization, improvement, distinction, and the diffusion of knowledge–that we’d associate with the positive sides of modernity.  And yet despite our own qualms regarding the unforeseen consequences of modernity, we still associate phenomena like inequality or fundamentalism in those parts of the world with insufficient modernization, when we might see them as the logical outcome of such actions, policies, etc.

This is why the opening paragraph to his essay, “The Future of the Past,” caught my eye:

The modern world is not made only by those who have modernizing projects.  When scientists, technologists, and entrepeneurs search for clients they also have to take into account what resists modernity.  Not only in the interest of expanding the market, but also in order to legitimize their hegemony, the modernizers need to persuade their addressees that–at the same time that they are renewing society–they are prolonging shared traditions.  Given that they claim to include all sectors of society, modern projects appropriate historical goods and popular traditions (107). 

And my thought was, well, this nicely describes Macpherson’s Ossian and the Scottish Enlightenment, but not Percy or Gray and English nationalism, exactly.  Or maybe my analogies are piling up too high, and threatening to come down on my head?



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