Immanent self-flagellation

If there is one statue that very few are keen to bring down, it’s that of modernity. Between Charles Taylor, Gaston Bachelard and Bruno Latour, the mythology of the modern age, its certainties, Supreme Scientific Court, incontestable faits faits (forged facts, Bachelard), its ‘Constitution’ (Latour) and ‘immanent frame’ (Taylor) is exposed, disassembled and shown for what it is: a centuries-old project of ambivalence and sweet delusion.

“The immanent frame is haunted”, Charles Taylor once noted. Latour went even further, stating that ‘we’ve never been modern’, if by modernity we understand the fundamental myths we’ve been telling since the 17th century about ourselves and the world around us.

Wherever you stand on the issue of ‘taking the knee’ within the current racial polemic, two things should be more or less clear: first, ‘taking the knee’ is an act of self-flagellation, which itself has a long tradition in the West. The second thing is that the act is meant to transcend the individual who does it, connecting him or her with values and ideals which are bigger than them. Although we think of ourselves as inhabiting a world we built, a party that the gods cannot gatecrash, a universe subject to the laws of nature and to the whims of human culture, we throw stardust in the air so that a Mount Olympus may emerge. The immanent frame is haunted by the spectre of transcendental presence, and that gives us a sense of purpose, the zeal to fight for purification and the enthusiasm for things beyond us.

The self-flagellatory practice of late brings with it the DNA of its evolution – the humility of the bowed head, the genuflected leg of the self-condemned, but also the sense of penitence of the ones doing it and that of penance-inflicting on the part of those demanding the act, all in the name of truths, values and beliefs which command, from a realm beyond our grasp, our allegiance and self-mortification. The medieval penitent, for instance, would humiliate herself for the sake of ideas belonging to a belief system which transcended her – and she knew that. Our belief system is supposed to lie within us, since we’ve cancelled all metaphysical spaces. But in fact, our acts give the lie to our profession of faith(lessness).

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