chapter  3
Modern Rhetoric and Memory
Pages 14

Timothy Reiss opens his study of modern thought with an observation made by Mircea Eliade in 1956: "For almost two centuries, the European mind has put forward an unprecedented effort to explain the world, so as to conquer and transform it. " 1 In Europe and America, modernism was the age of science, enlightenment, and liberal politics. It was also the age of colonization, world war, genocide, and systematic destruction of the environment. Reiss comments:

As we emerge from modernism, we are able to see its limits more clearly. Here's a vest-pocket definition of modernism: It is the congeries of intellec-

tual assumptions that privileges individuals over social collectivities. 2 Modern-

ism assumes that each person is an integrated, coherent self, and whereas this self undergoes changes as it experiences new situations, it remains relatively stable throughout its lifetime. In order to insure that some social order prevails in this wilderness of rampant individualism, modernism privileges reason over all other human faculties and posits that all rational persons think alike, at least when they are thinking rationally. Human reason is transcendental and universal and, as such, it functions independently of an individual human's social station or experiences. The preeminent instrument of reason is the scientific method. When this is rigorously followed, it can produce true knowledge. Language is the medium through which selves express the fruits of their reason, and it is utterly transparent to the expression of meaning; that is, if humans use language carefully, they can make it represent their meanings and intentions. Michel Foucault called modernism an age of representation, because its adherents believed that human reason repeated the truth of nature (including human nature), and accurately represented this truth to itself.