Well I feel like I have been handling this topic in my recent essays. Especially my essay 'The Genealogy of the Modern Mind'. I think that essay really honed in on this idea of figuring out what is going on in the present. I described it as 'coming up with a diagnosis for present minds'. But now I want to just explain and reflect one of the moments in my personal life where this whole idea became imperative.
I wanted to write this after me and Rob left Borders books on 8/2/10. I got my duplicate title this day. It was five days before I left for California to then move from Seattle. Rob and me were spending time together, hanging out. We decided to go to Borders books and just check it out. But the experience at borders was really strange for some reason. We encountered a lot of weird books that spoke to the strangeness of contemporary culture.
Either way at Borders there was a bizarre mixture of cultural insight, like Virus of the Mind, The Shallows, and other psychology books that were trying to understand the effects of contemporary culture, and cultural inversion, like Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, Look at This Hipster, and lots of other weird novels and pop culture books that reflect what Foucault calls 'The Age of History'. A book called 'Writing Jane Austen' really reminded me of it. Literature that has turned inward on its own development. Obviously there are new novels being written that are great in their own right. But many novels just sort of are running with what other novels in the past have been. Many of these novels seemed to be representing representations. It was not just a novel in its own right, but a novel that is written about another novel.
I'm not saying this is bad. But it just demonstrates what Foucault takes about in The Order of Things and what Baudrillard talks about in Simulacra and Simulation. They both talk about cultural 'inversion', 'implosion'. Where culture turns inward on its own development. This is what I really felt when I was inside this Borders looking at all these strange books. They were cultural inversions. They were existing in 'The Age of History', where the history of novels and writing governs the state of contemporary living. How do I grapple with this? How do I figure out wtf is going on? How do I use that knowledge tactically to construct myself now? How do I be modern right now?
So at this bookstore I was just like whoa what is up with all these books. All these books about old books. All these inverted representations. And Foucault's definition of modernity came to mind. Foucault talks about modernity as an attitude, a philosophical ethos. He says that it is a concern for the self in the present moment in relation to history. Once I understand history, how am I to understand myself, right here, right now, in this historical moment? So this moment in Borders, surrounded by books about old books, I felt that I didn't know how to be modern. I didn't know how to understand the present historical moment. How am I to find to figure out what is happening with minds in the present moment? This is hard for me but I think it is a worthwhile question.
I'm not sure what else I can really say about this or what I want to say about this. But this is one of the crucial questions that my essay 'The Genealogy of the Modern Mind' is all about. How can we use theory of mind to come up with a diagnosis for the state of present minds? How can we use history to figure out what is going on here? How am I to be modern in this totally strange cultural moment? Isn't culture weird right now? I think culture is weird. Maybe culture is always weird. But doesn't culture now seem weirder right now? Has it reached a sort of critical mass where it has 'inverted' or 'imploded'?
I don't really know. I just feel a desire to be modern. To understand myself in relation to history. To be able to give a decent answer to the question: What the hell is happening to me? Why is my experience in 2010 so weird? What is the deal with this twenty-first century?
I don't know. After I read The Principles of Art I think I'll read David Harvey's The Condition of Postmodernity. Who knows. Cultural change will happen all the time.
I don't know how to figure any of this out. But I'll continue the chain that I began in "The Genealogy of the Modern Mind." I'll keep chasing these ideas on education, the humanities, modernity, and the history of thought. Who knows.
I want to be modern. I want to understand why I am living these ways. Why anyone is living these ways.