It is the pathos of modern philosophy and theology to try to figure out the nature of modernity and late modernity on the basis of which mythological Greek figures things correspond to. Nietzsche’s notion of Dionysus against Apollo (and “the Crucified”) has become a standard way of talking about the matter. Also common is to talk about the movement way from Promethean modernity into Dionysian postmodernity.
In his erudite diagnosis of modern culture, Hoekendjik argues, in contrast that the image of our age is not Dionysus, but Sisyphus. “Previous generations found their symbol in Prometheus, the undaunted revolutionary who has dreamed up a new future for mankind and who now is going to bring it about, striving boldly after the divine crown. . . . Our generation is in the process of exchanging this symbol for another one: Sisyphus, the ‘hero of absurdity,’ who mockingly plods along, although he knows that the whole business does not contain a single promise.”Contrary to understanding the late modern age as a period of unbridled exultation in pleasure and excess, “this sisyphean existence is marked by incessant boredom.” (p. 49)
This goes along with David Bentley Hart’s incisive comment that “the precise symbol of this anesthesia [of modernity], perhaps, would be not wine (which speaks of creation’s goodness and tends to disorient the acquisitive rapacity of a keen mind) but aspirin (which speaks of the world’s oppressive glare and thins the blood).” The notion that the late modern life is one of over-jubilation and excessive gratification is skewed. The pathos of modernity is a life of yawning impotence. Viagra, anyone?
Again, as Hoekendjik says, “This yawning boredom lies behind so much busyness and noisy ideology. It is often as if in an opera we hear the whole chorus sing fortissimo, ‘We are marching! We are marching!’ but nobody advances. We will not understand the bragging song if we do not notice that in the meantime everybody in boredom is marching in place; we don’t understand the ideology quite right if it escapes us that it is often used merely as a hand to cover the yawning mouth. We overestimated the rebellion if we forget that it is the resistance of a conformist, who really discovered a long time ago that it is all so meaningless. It is the scream of a trapped animal.” (p. 50)
The person of the modern age is a listless wanderer who trudges around, moving from one stupid pleasure to the next, never enjoying much of anything in the process. This sort of sentiment is captured perfectly by Stewie Griffin in “Family Guy.” In the process of trying to win a bet about being able to pass as the coolest kid in a high school, he takes on the persona of “Zac Sawyer” who just transferred in from “rich, expensive, car driving, sex having high school.” Upon being told that “that’s sooo cool” he replies “No, it’s lame. Everything’s lame.” At once he is received as the coolest kid in school. And there you have late modernity in a sentence.