Brett Williams's Reviews > Hypermodern Times

Hypermodern Times by Gilles Lipovetsky
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Lipovetsky’s mixed bag of modernity

Lipovetsky is one of those French philosophers who’ve rebuilt their intellectual tradition after the wreckage of Foucault, Derrida, and the postmodernist gang. This slim book packs a punch, dismissing catastrophe claims of others in “trajectory of civilization” circles. Lipovetsky sees ills of Western civilization more as transitional. Ancients saw history as cyclical. “Decline written into the spokes of the wheel of fortune…its arrival as necessary,” notes the author. In the Christian world, Fall and Judgement are two beacons connected by a transitory present which really doesn’t matter much. Promise comes when it’s over. But the “first modernity,” meaning 17th – 18th century Enlightenment, was a break. Happy times of a mythic past were now promised for the future as aspiration, and the present was one of endless progress. “Reason would rule the world…with peace, equality, and justice.” Two world wars put an end to that. Reason was demoted to calculations and bureaucratic domination. The second modernity, or hypermodernity, commenced around 1950, says Lipovetsky, when advances in production met post war and Depression cravings for gratification. Both past and future were dismissed, making our perpetual present of positive experience the priority. Consumption was no longer the private purview of the privileged class in a society imbued with “the logic of seduction,” providing “a sense of eternity in a world in thrall to the transience of things.” For Lipovetsky, that’s not so bad, a turn of the wheel, which may not be round, as we figure out the future as we go. The old rules are lost, but new ways evolve. “People are no longer forbidden to smoke by legislative decree: instead, they’re made aware…of health consequences and life expectancy.”

Lipovetsky has much to say about fashion as a perspective (not of clothing alone), representative of individual autonomy. Not just from parents, hence traditions; not just as a way to renew the thrill of desire and satisfaction through consumerism, repeating our exercise of “choice;” but with consequent rejection of “regulative social principles…emptied of transcendent substance.” Lipovetsky doesn’t acknowledge that fashion also represents tribal affiliation. Not so autonomous as he claims.

The double edged sword is Lipovetsky’s frequent refrain. Hypermodernity is a paradox, “Every increase in autonomy occurs at the expense of a new dependency…The great socializing structures have lost their authority, the great ideologies are no longer productive,…the age of emptiness has dawned, but without tragedy or apocalypse.” “Hypermodern individuals are better informed and more destructured, more adult and more unstable,...more open and more easy to influence, more critical and more superficial, more skeptical and less profound.” And yet, “Anxieties about the future are replacing the mystique of progress…the present increasingly lived out in a sense of insecurity. Abandoned to himself, deprived of any frameworks, the individual finds himself deprived of the social structures that endowed him with an inner strength that enabled him to live up to life’s trials and tribulations…Everything worries and alarms him…However frenzied he consumes spirituality [and all things are now merely consumed] he appears not the least more serene… We have embarked on an interminable process of desacralization and desubstantiation of meaning…this is how the gods die: not in a [much predicted] nihilist demoralization of the West and anguish over the loss of values, but in small jolts of meaning.”

Doesn’t sound so good to me. Despite Lipovetsky’s repeated attempt to polish that silver lining in a dark cloud, one can’t help but come away with a sense that modern man is just killing time.
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Reading Progress

December 6, 2017 – Started Reading
December 6, 2017 – Shelved
December 14, 2017 – Finished Reading

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