Tradition and Modernity

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November 27

Let us go back to the old ways, the traditional ways, a time when all things were in harmony and expectance. Tradition is thought of as an idyll, a resting place.

But how can one locate tradition? Is authentic tradition the times of a century prior, two centuries prior or the times of an even more distant past? Tradition sinking into the depths of the dark pools of time achieves the recognition of veracity. But despite its unchanging fixedness (reification) in the imagination of a people, tradition thought of in this way does not exist, and it is not but a dreamland of placid peace created from an overflowing feeling of nostalgia, and the desire to sleep tranquilly.

Tradition outside these floating cloudlands of sleep is in a state of movement, moving everforward in a state of becoming. Tradition flows freely, constantly created by the members of a community, who also flow freely in and out, adding, deleting and changing old habits. “Authentic” tradition is a label, a creation of the modern era to find fixation in the vertiginous postmodern era lacking a stable authority, creating this nostalgia for the unexperienced past.

So within tradition there is no respite, as restless transformation engulf the pleasant memories of the well gone past, forcing the drowsy bedridden into anxiety in confrontation with the unknown.

Then what does it mean to be modern? Kundera’s formulation in L’Immortalite concludes that to be modern is “to be allied with one’s own gravediggers.” To be modern is to live and create the future, like Miles Davis who destroyed and innovated past the foundations of jazz that he himself created.

Eternal youth is not found in the clean refreshing springs of a hidden fountain in distant lands. Eternal youth is found in a pit, attained only by actively digging deeper and deeper, until the digger is eventually consumed by a quaking mound of earth.

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