Now listening: Cerys Matthew's 'Don't Look Down', especially Track 6: "Smash the Glass"
'Modern' is one of those rich, annoying words - like 'Justice(1),' which I've already I think gone on about here - that's both an orientation and a data set, evidence and methodology. Modern Catholics live in a post-VII world; this means both that they live along a timeline which follows said historical event, and that they approach said living in a way conditioned by particular forms of knowledge. Modern scholars too, live in the 21st Century, and they school along with trends in critical, post-critical and post-ironic theory. All so very modern. (And I'm doing that which I hate, dividing the human world, at least in part, into thought and practice. Ideology and observation. It seems ...useful...to do that here, but I hope I don't have to stop with that.) Which proves 'Modern' is a living, important bit of verbiage, one worthy of the work it puts you to. Judging from the decade-long wrestle I've had with 'Justice,' I assume the farthest I'll every really get in terms of the ability to use 'Modern' in a way that feels responsible is a sense of resignation as I pick a use and apologize to all its disruptive supplements, like kids I'm not feeding who'll get fed somewhere else. And maybe foment revolution when they hit puberty.
My two projects for the next few weeks involve working through two 'Modern' moments: contemporary study of religion, and recent work in American Catholicism. Now, neither 'contemporary' nor 'recent' are synonyms for 'Modern' in any but the sloppiest ways. And yet. Theories and understandings of modernity run throughout. There's an idea that we've had a radical break with even the 'human' that came before us; and I can't help feeling that every generation ever feels that way. That they've killed their idols. That they've formed a distinct new branch off the evolutionary tree. And I'm not entirely convinced by the myth of the self-made modern. But my hermeneutic of skepticism is no substitute for looking closely at what's there, so I'll look for real discontinuities (conditioned, of course), and I'm sure I'll find them. Because if nothing else, the 'Modern,' is an inevitable comparative framework. You can study 21st Century CE French Islam and 3rd Century BCE Chinese Ascetics in the same week because the scholars are both modern, the studies are both markedly modern in methodology. Or, you can study Dragon King Temple resurgence in post-Communist China and Internet pilgrimage among Western Catholics because both are governed by 'popular' and 'technological' revolutions, markers of modernity as far as we've thought them. But I'm still undecided whether 'Modern' has any good, solid use for me outside of marking off certain comparative dangers to avoid. I'm afraid, though, that saying that commits me to a reification of discontinuous history, which just seems unverifiable.
(1) My feeling on this, basically, is that 'Justice' can be understood as a balancing of the scales, a way to restore equilibrium. But it intervenes, makes cuts, re-organizes. It isn't a balancing in the sense of restoring some perfect, prior, order; it builds an order it presupposes, and you could develop a system that 'restores' the equilibrium disrupted by 'Justice', and then corrects for that, ad infinitum. I don't think that makes 'Justice' in any way unnecessary, I just don't think it's got some kind of inherently transcendent purity to it either.