Wednesday 1 July 2015

Reader's question: Can anything useful to the Christian be learned from modernist literature?

Question: "Having read some Milan Kundera and his essays on modern literature and art has made me wonder the following -- Modern literature is said to go to the core of manhood or the existential experience of being a man, yet it clearly leads to (or amounts to the same thing as) what you would call, if I'm not mistaken, the demonic perspective. Can something/anything/nothing useful/beautiful/true be learned from this so called modernist world literature movement of the 20th century (Kafka, Joyce, Proust, Musil etc.)?"

My response: Yes, much that is positive can be learned from this genre of writing - so long as the metaphysical perspective of secular modernism is rejected.

The content is often profoundly insightful (e.g. Kafka, Musil, Proust), the quality of the prose may be superb (Joyce) and so on. It is also a document of the nature of the malaise, especially as it affected elites.

The main danger from this writing, and it is a very real danger, is in confirming people in their pessimistic, alienated, secular nihilism - making it seem inevitable, necessary, sophisticated...  

My angle on modernism is therefore much the same as Colin Wilson - although he was not Christian.



ted said...

Question for you Bruce: Are you familiar with the work of Ken Wilber, and his approach to integrate all perspectives (i.e. schools of thought, religions, worldviews)? And what do you think of such a post-metaphysical integral approaches that posit every perspective is "partially right" and bring something to the table?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Ted - yes, I looked through Ken Wilbur during my New Age era, which was during the decade of 1998-2007. I regard him as partly useful - he certainly could help address modern alienation by providing more animistic life and meaning; but does not address the nihilism of modernity nor provide purpose, because he is limited by lack of an objective objective metaphysics and a personal God.

ted said...

He does offer some sense of purpose with God being an evolutionary impulse. and we are a conduit for that evolution. But I agree with you that he grounds himself in more an impersonal absolute Buddhist metaphysic, than the personal Christian God. With that being said, I have seen some work from the integral community to move more towards this relationship.