There is a dual narrative that is often taken to be characteristic of modernity: the first is the idea of its unique Europeanness, and the second is its translatability into non-European cultures. This narrative argues for the mutability of modernity, thus permitting its export and enhancing its universal character while putting a European epistemological stamp on its subsequent reception. The traveling character of this dimension of modernity as export understands modernity as emerging from Europe, say, from the mid-fifteenth century, and slowly spreading outward like a million points of light into the patches of darkness that lie outside its foundational center. Modernity in this guise was projected as an instrument of progress. The guiding concepts often associated with it—instrumental rationality, the development of capitalism—emerged in the debate between theological and scientific reason. These concepts also provided the foundation for the Renaissance and Enlightenment in Europe, in which feudalism and theological absolutism—two structures of power and domination that marked the Middle Ages—collapsed. Scientific rationality and individual property, which formed the basis of capital accumulation, were triumphant. The collapse of feudalism and theological absolutism shifted the scales of sovereign power from the theological to the secular.
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Okwui Enwezor; Modernity and Postcolonial Ambivalence. South Atlantic Quarterly 1 July 2010; 109 (3): 595–620. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00382876-2010-008
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