Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

The Nightmare of Clever Children: Civilization, Postmodernity, and the Birth of the Anxious Body

Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

The Nightmare of Clever Children: Civilization, Postmodernity, and the Birth of the Anxious Body

Article excerpt

Whether he is better or worse off there where he awoke after his death, whether he was disappointed or found there what he expected, we shall all soon learn.

--Leo Tolstoy


I just received a terrible grade from a professor for using the pronoun "I" in an academic paper. Admittedly it is my style of writing to do so, and I am aware that professional research papers have always been absent of the subject. In modernity science is reason and the truth is authorless. Post-modernity, however, is reflexive (Giddens, in Beck, Giddens and Lash 1994) as are the personality types it produces (Lasch 1979) of which I am one. In the absence of the modern [and thus antique] idea of objective truth I will allow the ideas of this paper to be subjective. They are my ideas and the ideas of those I have read. Even objective reality, as best we can discern it, is subject to the limitations of humanity.

That said, I have bit off more than I can yet chew. The essay I am attempting to write is as difficult to write as its subject matter is to understand. Categorizations of times, or rather stages in human development which we label modern, post modern, radically modern, or any combination thereof, are explained, refuted, and disputed in different ways by different authors. Though the use of the term 'modern' would seem to denote a time-order, I believe this is a misnomer. Even antiquity had its modern and postmodern thought. I have to admit to a longstanding aversion to these topics altogether; a fact which has inevitably doomed me to a compulsion to understand them. I can always tell that a bitter distaste for a subject is certain evidence of its importance.

My distaste for the question of modernities could itself be a reflection of the postmodern condition. Epistemological concerns always drive me crazy for how unpractical and useless they seem. However, in a sense, epistemology is the very condition of humanity in postmodernity, or perhaps the ability/necessity that makes it inevitable. Chicken and egg arguments are also a source of angst for me!

My aversion stems from the difficulty and futility of trying to understand reality from within one human body which is merely an infinitesimal fraction of that reality, whatever it may be. The work of any thinker is his own take on reality, influenced by that of others. No matter how much empirical evidence he cites to make his claim it is always a reflection of himself. A theory can never be separated from its theorist. Her blood, sweat and fears always color whatever she calls truth. The same applies to all of the collective 'truths' which we call things such as science, sociology, psychology, etc. The empirical findings of our collective understanding are merely that which we collectively agree upon at any particular time. They are Kuhn's paradigms. They are as trapped by the confines of our social existence as our individual truths are trapped by our own bodies. So, in a preemptive defense of my own truth, before you come to the conclusion yourself, I will tell you one thing that has as much or more to do with the formation of my subjective reality than any other--I am afraid to die. And unless my findings are merely narcissistic generalizations--which they very likely may be--so are you.


Cheating death, achieving immortality, eternal youth ... humanity has been obsessed with these pursuits as long as history and literature has been recorded. The epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest known piece of human literature dating back to the third millennium, B.C., is the story of Gilgamesh, whose "grief and fear of death are such that they lead him to undertake a quest for eternal life" (Sandars). wars were waged during the crusades which were not unmotivated by a belief that the holy grail of Christ would lead to eternal life. Indeed, the Heaven of Judeo-Christianity is described as 'life everlasting.' Ponce DeLeon scrambled around the everglades early on in the European chapter of this continent's history searching for the fountain of youth. …

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