A philosophy is only as good as the art it spawns, and that is why postmodernism is a failure. Of the real, enduring art of the last century — and I include literature in this — there isn’t much that was produced in its second half. And what was produced only really served the purpose of generating long, rambling discussions of what defines art in a postmodern culture.

Postmodernism fails because it affirms the denials of modernism — there are no mysteries — but acts as if what is being produced can have a deeper meaning (“because I so affirm”). This is schizophrenic and necessarily kills any real creative impulse, and so the bastard child ends up rehashing its mother’s work, badly. The type set by Holden Caulfield — a character from the badly-named contemporary period but truly the illegitimate spawn of a modernist protagonist —  ends up being the voice of three generations, and the book ends the same way every time: isolated and agnostic.

When we talk about 20th century art, the discussion inevitably falls to the men and women who lived through the First World War and what they produced. The problem with modernism is that — while it did us the service of killing the false neo-classicalism of the romantic period — its end result is soullessness, a relentless search for truth and meaning while denying the mysteries of life, and especially religion. No wonder so many of them died before their time, either directly at their own hands or indirectly through substance abuse.

Which is why, I think, I find myself identifying more and more with the Baroque (gaudiness and all). Even though they painted a false picture of the middle ages and their views of the Greeks were reconstructed and cleaned up at best, it was a thoroughly Catholic period that — while affirming the truth of Christianity — was not afraid to embrace its Western past or acknowledge its Greek roots; the longer you look at philosophy, the more you realize how deeply entangled it is with theology, and thus with art.

Later, the Enlightenment, would usher in with it what has been labeled the Classical period in art, which eventually trashed both Christian philosophy and the Greeks; but the art that intellectual moment de novo spawned was devastated by the emo-kids of the 1800s, the Romantics.

And the Romantics, who were so full of emotion but divorced from religion and philosophy, were the logical precursors to the moderns, who realized that emotion without meaning was exactly that — meaningless self-flagellation. They felt nothing but isolation and could produce nothing more than terse verse, some of it quite good but not laying enough stonework for a foundation for the next step in artistic-philosophical evolution.

And thus, Holden Caulfield is truly the defining figure of the 20th century.

Of course, I realize most of this is just meaningless babble, not good enough for my predecessors, nowhere comparable to those I admire and as banal and short-sighted as my contemporaries, because — like them — I lack any real schooling in philosophy.

Such are the times.

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