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The maelstrom of modernity

The epithet 'modern' has become what Raymond Williams would call a 'keyword' of our age, a free-floating term, prone to wide usage and misuse.-Sunalini Kumar

india Updated: Mar 10, 2004 05:45 IST

"There is a mode of vital experience - experience of space and time, of the self and others, of life's possibilities and perils - that is shared by men and women all over the world today. I will call this body of experience "modernity". To be modern is to find ourselves in an environment that promises us adventure, power, joy, growth, transformation of ourselves and the world -and, at the same time, that threatens to destroy everything we have, everything we know, everything we are. Modern environments and experiences cut across all boundaries of geography and ethnicity, of class and nationality, of religion and ideology: in this sense, modernity can be said to unite all mankind. But it is a paradoxical unity, a unity of disunity: it pours us all into a maelstrom of perpetual disintegration and renewal, of struggle and contradiction, of ambiguity and anguish. To be modern is to be part of a universe in which, as Marx said, "all that is solid melts into air."
-Marshall Berman,
All That is Solid Melts Into Air

It is probably not misplaced to suggest that almost every human being alive today, whether young or old, educated or illiterate, a connoisseur of high culture or a consumer of mass art has wondered what it is about our age that makes it different from the others before it.

First Published: Mar 10, 2004 05:45 IST