Contrary Brin: A guest Commentator on the Modernist Rift

Contrary Brin: A guest Commentator on the Modernist Rift

David has been developing a theme at some length concerning the ongoing war of romaticism vs modernism. In April 28th’s post he has a guest commentator, Frederick Turner who has this to say:

I believe that the rift between the sciences and the humanities is profoundly dangerous both intellectually and culturally, leading to deep errors of understanding and unwitting crimes. Certainly at the time it seemed the only defense against what looked like a brutal pragmatism in personal relationships and a ruthless historicism in international realpolitik, where the victors in both cases would write history. But the apparent cure–the cordon sanitaire between science and the humanities–had side effects perhaps worse still. Let us look briefly at the history of those key humanistic ideas: freedom in moral action and originality in art.

To be free one must have free will. Will became the core concept of nineteenth century moral philosophy. It was will or intentionality that set us apart from brute nature. But what was the direction of will? It could only be the extension of its own field of action, since any focussing down on a specific object in the world would enslave it to the deterministic motivations of physicality. “Extension of the field of action” is nicely glossed by the word “power”: so “Will” now became “the Will to Power”. Thus power eventually became the key idea of the Humanities, as it remains today in its Foucauldian, Feminist, Postcolonialist, Lacanian, and Neomarxist versions. Strangely, our original enterprise, which was to delineate an alternative humanistic world to the deterministic realm of physical forces, has logically morphed itself into the very enemy it was designed to escape.

Power, whether expressed in oppressive violence by a reactionary elite, revolutionary acts by the disenfranchised, or legal sanctions by an enlightened ruling group, is the same thing as physical force: politically it means that you can send men with guns to make people do what you want. If beauty has been culturally relativized out of existence (which is indeed the result of avant-garde theory) and if logical reasoning is, as part of the regnant regime of power and knowledge, no more than the linguistic property of the oppressor, the only way to persuade people is through force.

…Thus the humanities, when cut off from nature, ended up not only looking exactly like the brutal world they hoped to transcend, but also trapped in the gradual entropic heat-death of the physical universe.

I have _major_ problems with that conclusion. To me it is an extreme generalization, illogical and not backed even by the limited amount of very selective evidence presented. To make another generalization, I’d say that too much thought is being presented in a supposedly rigourous manner but completely lacking in objective logic.

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