Doug Bruns

Posts Tagged ‘Modernity’

Enter Stage Left.

In Creativity, Family, Philosophy, The Examined Life, Thinkers, Writing on September 26, 2012 at 6:00 am

Scene: Bruns kitchen, about 6:45pm. Pandora station streaming (Mumford and Sons in the background).

Characters: Doug and Carole

Action: Doug prepping dinner, sipping a cocktail. Carole in a chair reading.

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Doug: “I’m feeling a particular depth of emptiness.”

Carole (incredulously): “Depth of emptiness?”

D: “Yeah. You know, the ennui of modern existence and all that…”

C: “Did you just use the word ennui?”

D: “Yes. It means boredom.”

C: “I know what it means. I just can’t believe you used it. Nobody uses that word.”

D: “Fine.”

C: “But I know what you mean, I think.”

D: “Pound referred to the ‘domination of modern life.'”

C: “First you use ennui, then you quote Pound. I can’t believe you quoted Pound.”

D: “I’m a cliché. What can I say? Anyway, I think moderns have a tough time of it. Maybe the species was always troubled this way, but it’s more acute in modern existence, I think.”

C: “And your thesis, professor? Why do you think it’s more acute?”

D: “For two millennium the species had distractions. There were predator beasts to escape. Food to find. Weather to survive. Tribal warfare–all that stuff. For a lot of us, at least those of us in the rich Western countries, those things are no longer factors. Lack of distraction equals too much time facing the void.”

C: “How much have you had to drink?”

D: “No really. It’s the plague of modernity.”

C: “And what do we do about it?”

D: “We have to create a way out of the wilderness.”

C: “Too dramatic.”

D: “Yeah, I get that way, you know. But, really, Camus said we have to create meaning. No one’s gonna hand it to you.”

C: “Lots of people try.”

D: “Indeed. But we’re independent thinkers.”

C: “Maybe we’re just cynical.”

D: “That too. I embrace the cynical, gateway to fresh horizons…”

C: “Okay, you’re officially cutoff.”

D: “Fine. Dinner in ten.”

Walk On!

In Philosophy, The infinity of ideas, Thinkers, Wisdom on October 15, 2010 at 1:41 pm

I have new essay is up at The Nervous Breakdown. It begins:

“Despite my titanium hip, and the foot problems from years of marathoning, despite my tender back–one slipped disc–and the general wear and tear on this 55 year-old aging-athlete’s body, I (still) like walking. It does not escape me that my ancestors trekked from the savanna plains of Africa over 100,000 years ago and never stopped. It comforts me that, as a species, we have walked virtually everywhere, planting our feet on most every single spot planet earth has to offer.  It comforts me too, that despite the automobile and the jet, the boat and the train, our first inclination is to get up and walk. I do not take walking for granted. Over the years I have occasionally been in traction, on crutches, in pain or in some other way disposed of my ability to walk. When this has happened, I pretend that I will never walk again. I do this, like thinking of sickness when I am perfectly healthy, as a way to remind myself not to take walking for granted. (This is not unlike the Buddhist practice of going to the cemetery to remind oneself that one day it will all come to an end.) There are a lot of people who cannot walk and I do not want to be one who forgets this.”

To read the full essay, follow to this link: Metaphor: On Walking

A Pandemonium of Myths…

In Mythology, Philosophy, The infinity of ideas, Thinkers, Wisdom on August 19, 2010 at 1:45 pm

Nietzsche held that a problem of modernity is that the modern man (and woman) is a “mythless man.” As a result, we take the mundane and lift it to the glorious, making it “shine.” As Julian Young says, “the problem, in fact, is that too many things shine in modernity, and that their shine rubs off too soon.” He continues to cite cultural examples of what so cheaply shines. (You can fill in the blanks; it’s not hard.) As a result there is a “pandemonium of myths…thrown into a disorderly heap,” [Nietzsche]. We live, as Zarathustra puts it, in a “motley” town.

This resonates with me. It feels true and is at the center of a personal quest for authenticity. One effort, along these lines, is the rejection of the shiny.  Or at least a severe analysis thereof. Regardless of what shines, glamor, consumerism, materialism, personality, this, that and the other thing, so often–always?–the shine wears off. We live in a neo-Guilded Age. There is no sustainable myth. (David Foster Wallace wrestled with this theme in Infinite Jest, the idea that our energies are spent on the mundane, seeking addiction in something, so as to fill some nascent unrealized need.) A mindful challenge of the assumptions of modernity correlates with a minimalist approach to living–which brings me to the most emailed New York Time’s article of last week, But Will It Make You Happy? The piece takes a look at the growing American phenomenon at personal down-sizing. (Can you live with just 100 things?) I will not attempt to encapsulate the article. Read it. (I expressed similar thoughts on happiness and the gross domestic product in previous blog entries.) There is also a wonderful blog linked in the article which warrants consideration, a collection of musings  advocating “social change through simple living,” by Tammy Strobel, called RowdyKittens.

As the slow cooking movement began as an Italian reaction to a new Rome-based McDonalds, so might a minimalist, non-consumptive living movement gain purchase against the drive to the abyss which our species seems hell-bent on completing. To paraphrase a personal hero, Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, We have marched to the brink of existence, now we have to turn 180 degrees and take a step forward. Backward is no longer backward. It is forward. Can we escape this motley town?

Thursday Grace Notes

In Books, Death, Philosophy, The Examined Life, The infinity of ideas, Thinkers, Wisdom on April 29, 2010 at 1:20 pm

There is a phrase that caught my eye in a book I’m reading: “…the search for lives lived as art.” It comes from the biography of the Renaissance writer, artist, and builder, Leo Battista Alberti, by Anthony Grafton. Grafton is commenting on the observation of a previous Alberti biographer, Jacob Burckhardt. The full passage reads: “Burckhardt saw the full aesthetic development of personality as the Renaissance’s highest creative work; the search for lives lived as art, rather than a precise analysis of texts.” Lives lived as art–I love that.

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-A SHORT HISTORY OF AN IDEA-

Never do to others what you would not like them to do to you. ~ Confucius (551 – 479BC)

Do not do to others that which angers you, when done to you. ~ Isocrates (Greek philosopher, 436 – 338 BC)

And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. ~ Jesus Christ (Luke 6:31)

Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you. ~ Muhammad (570 – 632)

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At dinner with friends last night, we were talking about the passage of time and that it has been six months since our friends got their new dog. “Six months!” I blurted out. Then, perhaps because of an excess of wine, I remarked: “Six months closer to death.” I was met with blank stares and gaping mouths. Note to self: Just because I think it’s an important concept, does not mean I can stomp all over the conversation. And on that note: “Death is not an event in life.” ~ Wittgenstein

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And lastly, I’ve been going through some old journals and found this passage from December, 1980: “The solution to the problems of modernity are usually thought to be: God, democracy, socialism, sex, art, family, economic growth. But these in fact are the problems, not the solution.” I still wrestle with this problem, “the solution to the problems of modernity,” and am disappointed that in thirty years I’ve made no progress.