Any definition of modernity is, by virtue of its subject, vertigo-inducing. A phenomenon that necessarily remakes the world in its image, modernity spawns a reality where everything that follows its advent is indicative of its presence. What makes defining modernity hard is that definitions are, naturally, compartmentalizations, and thus things to which modernity cannot lend itself: there’s modernity in your clothes, modernity in your food (I’m not just talking about microplastics), and there’s modernity on your bookshelf. Modernity is everywhere, and trying to catalog something that’s everywhere is an arduous, if not unthinkable, task.
Two months ago, I was put off by vaguely humanoid Stable Diffusion generated shapes that people were passing off as their own work, and unnerved by an exceptionally warm day in October. Today, I was disgusted by an ad promoting paid services for bot-written essays, and horrified by what felt like a summer day at the onset of winter. The dismal reality at hand is that things aren’t just moving fast anymore; the speed at which they speed up is itself speeding up. We lurch further, with every passing minute, into an unending and banal milieu of crises, and all we can do is watch as the death spiral etches towards a velocity we can no longer keep pace with. The long awaited man-made horrors are advancing beyond our comprehension as everything else stumbles and falls onto the asphalt.
Since the dawn of ‘Western’ civilization, it’s been customary for aging pop-intellectuals (or whatever the equivalent role was at a given time) to point to a dichotomy between the East and West. Today, and excuse my polemics, mediocre faux-intellectuals point to a regressive, ecclesiastical East dominated by Imams and oligarchs, and contrast it with a progressive, technocratic, civilized West. WJD, a collection of poetry from Khashyar Mohammadi, is an ethnography of the margins of the Islamicate world, and, in my eyes, a scathing critique of Euro-American reductionism and today’s incarnation of orientalism.
I experience the existential horror of sci-fi literature in a strange, almost counterintuitive way. While it seems that I’m immune to Lovecraft’s insidious neuroticism, I experience unbound dread and awareness of my own minuteness when I read the sprawling space operas of Isaac Asimov. I always read the former casually tearing through an increasingly decrepit anthology of stories my mother bought me for my birthday one year, but I shudder at the thought of ever touching anything written by H.G. Wells. For me, Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness is a romantic romp through Antarctica’s ancient past, but narratives of intergalactic empires and cyborgs grim reminders that time is running out and everything returns to dust. In my relatively uncreative mind, I used to implicitly assume that these two sides of fiction were never bound to intersect; that changed when I was sifting through shitposts one day and came across, alas, a serious post from Instagram user @theclockspider!