Toulmin[1] - What Is the Problem About Modernity? Dating...

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Toulmin: Cosmopolis page 1 of 23 What Is the Problem About Modernity? Dating the Start of Modernity Statements like “The modern age has come to an end” are easier to resonate to than to understand. We can see why people set such store on the demise of modernity—a demise that is supposedly unavoidable, if it has not already happened—only if we first ask what they mean by the word “modern”, and just when do they think that Modernity began. Raise these questions, and ambiguity takes over. Some people date the origin of modernity to the year 1436, with Gutenberg’s adoption of moveable type; some to A.D. 1520, and Luther’s rebellion against Church authority; others to 1648, and the end of the Thirty Years’ War; others to the American or French Revolution of 1776 or 1789; while modern times start for a few only in 1895, with Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams and the rise of “modernism” in the fine arts and literature. How we ourselves are to feel about the prospects of Modernity—whether we join those who are despondent at its end and say goodbye to it with regret, or those who view its departure with satisfaction and look forward with pleasure to the coming of “post-modern” times—depends on what we see as the heart and core of the “modern”, and what key events in our eyes gave rise to the “modern” world. In one sense, the idea of Modernity “coming to an end” is paradoxical. For advertisers of consumer goods, to be modern is just to be new (to be the latest thing , le dernier cri ), superseding all similar things. Most of us are living in a consumption economy, which never tires of novelty, and its motto— semper aliquid novi was already familiar to Paul of Tarsus. In this sense, the future brings us new (and “more modern”) things one after the other, so that Modernity is the inexhaustible cornucopia of novelty. The Modern age can have a stop, then, only in some quite other sense, which marks off an identifiable period of history, beginning in or around 1436 or 1648 or 1895, and now showing signs of completion. The critical question is, ‘What marks define the beginning and end of Modernity?” The end of Modernity is closer to us than the beginning, and may be easier to spot; so let us look at the groups who write or speak about the coming, “post-modern” period in various fields of human activity, and decipher the signs that herald the end of Modernity for them. Recently, this debate has been most articulate in architecture. For thirty years after the Second World War, the modern style of Mies van der Rohe and his followers, with its anonymous, timeless, indistinguishable buildings, dominated large- scale public architecture worldwide. In the 1970s, a new generation of architects and designers, led by Robert Venturi in the United States, with colleagues in half-a-dozen European countries, fought against this featureless and minimal modern style, and reintroduced into architecture elements of decoration, local color, historical reference, and even fantasy that Mies would have objected to on intellectual as well as aesthetic grounds. These
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This note was uploaded on 09/08/2011 for the course ART 101 taught by Professor Brianseymour during the Spring '11 term at Community College of Philadelphia.

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Toulmin[1] - What Is the Problem About Modernity? Dating...

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