Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Nietzsche on Post-Modernism

"Age of comparison - The less men are bound by their tradition, the greater the internal stirring of motives; the greater, accordingly, the external unrest, the whirling flow of men, the polyphony of endeavors. Who today still feels a serious obligation to bind himself and his descendants to one place? Who feels that anything is seriously binding? Just as all artistic styles of the arts are imitated one next to the other, so too are all stages and kinds of morality, customs, cultures.

Such an age gets its meaning because in it the various world views, customs, cultures are compared and experienced next to one another, which was not possible earlier, when there was always a localized rule for each culture, just as all artistic styles were bound to place and time. Now, man’s increased aesthetic feeling will decide definitively from among the many forms which offer themselves for comparison. It will let most of them (namely all those that it rejects) die out. Similarly, a selection is now taking place among the forms and habits of higher morality, whose goal can be none other than the downfall of baser moralities. This is the age of comparisons! That is its pride—but also by rights its sorrow. Let us not be afraid of this sorrow! Instead, we will conceive the task that this age sets us to be as great as possible. Then posterity will bless us for it—a posterity that knows it has transcended both the completed original national cultures, as well as the culture of comparison, but that looks back on both kinds of culture as on venerable antiquities, with gratitude."

The preceding quote was quite remarkably written by Nietzsche in 1878, in his first book of aphorisms; "Human, All too Human." It could serve as a Post-Modernist tract except for the ending, which I think is currently underway, particularly as it pertains to art.

Post-Modernism asked all the right questions; about quality and its criteria, about race and gender, authorship and originality, value, the autonomous vs. the contextual, and so on. Its main problem was that it left a legacy of about 40 years of forgettable art. This doesn't mean that the questions posed lacked validity - they just need to be addressed by better, more serious artists.