an invitation to think small

The pendulum of ideas of living will never cease to swing wildly and too far in one extreme and then – under the banner of correcting itself  – glide back too far in the other.  In this excerpt from his book The Meaning of Life, professor and critic Terry Eagleton tells us how postmodern intellectuals removed from the common lexicon the broad narratives that we have always used to describe our world, and invited us to think small:  pragmatically, cynically, rationally.  Eagleton claims that this reductive way of thinking and living leaves the western world flatfooted in an escalating conflict with a culture – Islam and fundamentalism – that still fully believes in those premodern and modern grand narratives.

This bit of revelation explains much more than just the nature of the conflict raging between western powers and Islam.  If the loss of allegory and grand narrative is the baby, then the loss of imagination is the bathwater.  The evidences of this are everywhere:  we are a sheep culture.  Banking crisis?  Oh well.  We went to war in the wrong country?  Whatever.  My purchasing power has radically reduced and I’m working longer hours?  La la la, I’m not listening!  Imagination is fueled by allegory and myth and narrative and if we allow these magical tools to be squeezed out of our lives we will suffer the consequences.

When I started writing coromandal two years ago, I was strongly influenced by Krzystztof Kieslowski‘s preoccupation in making film:

“Getting to the realm of superstitions, fortune telling, presentiments, intuition, dreams.”

Paying attention to the narratives of our lives, no matter how abstract, will reinduct imagination and will bring us back into conversation with ourselves, and with people both at home and over there.

Here is Eagleton –

In the pragmatist, streetwise climate of advanced postmodern capitalism, with its scepticism of big pictures and grand narratives, its hard-nosed disenchantment with the metaphysical, ‘life’ is one among a whole series of discredited totalities.  We are invited to think small rather than big – ironically, at just the point when some of those out to destroy Western civilization are doing exactly the opposite.  In the conflict between Western capitalism and radical Islam, a paucity of belief squares up to an excess of it.  The West finds itself faced with a full-blooded metaphysical onslaught at just the historical point that it has, so to speak, philosophically disarmed.  As far as belief goes, postmodernism prefers to travel light: it has beliefs, to be sure, but it does not have faith.

-from The Meaning of Life, Terry Eagleton, Oxford University Press, 2007

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