24 February 2008

The Shape of Nihilism to Come

"The favourite formula was to declare that 'spiritual' - for the naive primordial opposition of spirit and matter was still accepted in those days - had not kept with 'material' advance. This was usually said with an air of moral superiority to the world at large. Mostly there was a vague implication that if these other people would only refrain from using modern inventions so briskly, or go to church more, or marry earlier and artlessly, or read a more 'spiritual' type of literature, or refrain from mixed bathing, or work harder and accept lower wages, or be more respectful and obedient to constituted authority, all might yet be well."
- H.G. Wells, The Shape of Things to Come

This week at work I picked up H.G. Wells' The Shape of Things to Come as I put down David Ramsay Steele's Atheism Explained. The latter of these is actually a fantastic read for anyone who is interested in the philosophical underpinnings of atheism and doesn't wanted to be ranted at by Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens. Arguments and (a)theological currents I hadn't been privy to or thought of filled this book to the point where I had to put it down. Essentially it got boring because, let's face it, there are no plausible or logical arguments for God and once you've read nearly 200 pages of debunking various arguments, things start to repeat and get a bit stale. Wonderful effort, though, and provides great answers to folks who get badgered by religious people about why they don't believe.

As for Mr. Wells, he was a genius and a prophetic bastard to be sure. I think I had mentioned in a recent post my ongoing struggles to understand and get a grasp on postmodernism and the postmodern condition. I had finished Terry Eagleton's The Illusions of Postmodernism, a critical yet even-handed examination of the "phenomenon" currently en vogue, at the same time I completed Turgenev's Fathers & Sons. At some point in my mind nihilism and postmodernism entwined and I've been gasping for air ever since. I bring up Wells, and the quote above in particular, because he was a good thirty-odd years ahead of the curve with some of the descriptions of what has come to define our contemporary modernity.

Right now I'm working out some of the interconnections I'm finding between the nihilism found in postmodernism, the supposed nihilism that follows the death of God (i.e.; the Nietzchean conception), and Turgenev's conception as portrayed in Fathers & Sons. Of course, this is material that would probably fill some huge volume, so I'm not even going to attempt it here, but I'm excited about the possibilities that Wells has set up in his own "history of the future" and how it might interact with what's in my head already. That's something I'll post on when I get there.

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