The problem with studying literature is that I become hyper-aware of the ways in which I am conforming to some supposed universality of existence, feeling almost powerless to change it up and that I have this constant need to reevaluate the epochs in literary history, wondering where we are now.
The problem comes from the “Modern” period. Naming it the Modern period was really short sighted, in my opinion, because now we are left to try and figure out where to go from here. As they read this, people will be thinking that I’m being stubbornly simply in my definition of modern. After all, Shakespeare himself said that “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” but even he was wrong here. There is power in the naming (Thank you Jamaica Kincaid.) that changes the way that we see a thing or an idea. If you called a rose a fart, I’m pretty sure it would start to smell like one. Suggestion is powerful.
And I am well aware that Modern is just a way to name that one particular period, but just look at how the language had to shift to accommodate that one naming. Now, when we talk about the current period, we tend to call it contemporary, which causes still more problems because we use that word to describe an event that happened at the same time as something else in history. And then we were faced with the question of what to call the period after that. We settled on post-modern, which makes us sound like refugees surviving the nuclear age. In fact, I’m almost certain that when our society has died out and a new society has taken our place, it’s archeologists will think that we all survived a great nuclear war that left us all enjoying our underground music, going crazy over anything green (alive), and traveling through a vast system of plumbing to save a princess in a castle from a new species that emerged after the bomb (it‘s all recorded in the sacred Nintendos, played by the priests who devoted their entire life to rereading the fateful events).
Talking with a colleague yesterday, I realized that a hefty portion of the population, people who have gone to school and should have some idea of the scope if history, are actively looking for signs of the impending apocalypse. I’m not just talking about the guy who kept predicting the rapture or the 2012 Mayan nonsense, but people who truly believe that the signs are here and the apocalypse is pending. Now, please believe me that I’m not looking to make fun of anyone’s religious beliefs here. I have enough good sense to know that just because I believe or don’t believe in something doesn’t mean it is so. What I am saying here is that there are people who think that politics, war, natural disasters etc are worse than they have ever been and are, therefore, certain signs of impending doom. Maybe it’s because, in my mid-twenties, I’ve already survived six end-of-the-world predictions or maybe it’s because I am, in general, a jaded person, but I think this is a load of hogwash, and I think we can partially blame the way that we named the literary etc epochs of the past century.
I think that, because of the way language influences us, we automatically make the jump from Modern to Post-Modern to Apocalypse. Personally, I would say that we have never come out of modernism. I don’t see enough of a difference in the literature produced now and that which was produced at the turn of the century to make a distinction. And since we are liberal in applying epochs to the past, using Beowulf, for example, as the defining aspect of thousands of years of oral traditions, then I think we can stop being so nit-picky about our own era.
Then again, it could be that I am not truly educated and simply cannot see the nuances that everyone else gets. If that’s the case, don’t tell my boss. And maybe I’m going to be one of those people going door to door looking for supplies when the world truly ends because I am not looking for signs. If that’s the case, don’t tell God I wasn’t listening.