Legend has it that one day in 1871, there was a man who, having entered a food shop in Amsterdam, spotted some Japanese prints being used as wrapping paper. So enamored by these prints was he that he bought one on the spot—and, in so doing, revolutionized the history of Western art. Now, the man was Claude Monet, and, in fact, not only did this centuries-old traditional Japanese art inspire him and other Impressionists like Edgar Degas, it also, in the style of Proust's madeleine, sparked off the great waves of Post-Impressionism and Art Nouveau, and even colored Proust's modernist masterpiece “In Search of Lost Time” (“A La Recherche du temps perdu”) itself.
Now, my purpose in drawing up this anecdote is to illustrate three points: firstly, tradition can inspire modernity through innovation; secondly, not only can tradition inspire modernity, it can also do so across geographical and cultural borders; thirdly, it can do so by means of culture and leisure, which serves as a counterbalance to the modern ill of overwork.
[...] On an ideological plane, many modernists clamour for political liberty and the democratisation of non-Western states. However, the point that many of them miss is that “freedom in its absolute form is the absence of all external checks to whatever actions the will prompts”. As Herbert Spencer goes on to explain so eloquently, “freedom in its sociallyrestricted form is the absence of any other external checks than those arising from the presence of other men who have like claims to do what their wills prompt. [...]
[...] This episode demonstrates two further points. Firstly, it shows that the ruthless efficiency and fast-food culture so integral to modern standards of as symbolised by McDonald's, is simply not able to cater to all our human needs. This is probably the reason why the Slow Food movement has met with success, expanding and generalising over time to become the Slow Movement i. Secondly, and perhaps more interestingly, Carlo Petrini's one-man protest against McDonald's hints to us that in some ways, the tyranny of a despot's mass oppression has been replaced by big business' more insidious mass production, because mass production standardises, simplifies, de-humanises, and deadens—all the while telling us that it's convenient and easy, and therefore better. [...]
[...] Nonetheless, modernisation has various drawbacks as well. Firstly, it has caused many environmental problems, such as global warming. The hole in the ozone layer is getting bigger, temperatures are becoming higher, ice caps are melting, and sea levels are rising. These problems, amongst a whole host of others, have been caused by our ruthless and reckless collective push for convenience and efficiency. Secondly, many of us are now overdependent on technology. Hardly can we function when the metro—or perhaps worse, the internet—breaks down. [...]
[...] The need to be seen and appreciated! It is the need to belong. The need for nearness and care, and for a little love! This is given only through slowness in human relations. In order to master changes, we have to recover slowness, reflection and togetherness. There we will find real renewal.” ii It would be interesting to note at this point in the essay that science, too, in its original sense (from the Latin The entire passage, which, though rather long, is worth reading, goes like this: “There has grown up quite scientia) meant “knowledge”. [...]
[...] Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, there is now all too often an overemphasis on the material aspect of our lives, and this at the cost of the less tangible: many of us find ourselves more stressed, and less attentive towards our mental and spiritual selves. We have, in this sense, gained in modernisation but lost in balance. II. Inspirations from Traditions Now that I have addressed the question of modernisation, let us presently turn to the idea of tradition as an inspiration. How might tradition come into play with modernity? In my opinion, there are three ways: it can oppose, complement or enhance modernity. First of all, tradition can counter modern ills. [...]
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