Jiang Sun
Pages 1-11
DOI: 10.3726/cul.2018.02.01


If we do not shrink from making rough generalizations and adopt a broad, conventional approach, then what we call modernity refers to the process whereby a state of heterogeneity progresses toward homogeneity in time, space, human collectives, social order, and other areas. In his book The Cheese and the Worms, Carlo Ginzburg discusses a late-16th century incident of heterodoxy that cannot be classified into previously existing standard categories. As new knowledge was disseminated thanks to the invention of the Gutenberg printing press, old and new knowledge came into conflict in the mind of a heterodox figure by the name of Menocchio. He attacked the church, saying that it was more important to love one’s neighbor than to love God (Ginzburg, 1992: 38). Through these small, humble manifestations of change, Ginzburg was able to reveal the juncture when European modern knowledge first emerged from a muddled, undifferentiated state into one of clarity, whereby over the course of about a century of fermentation, its contours eventually became clearly evident around the year 1800. This process has been termed by the pioneer of conceptual history Otto Brunner as the “threshold era” (Schwellenzeit) (Blänkner, 2012: 107), and by Reinhart Koselleck as the beginning of the “saddle era” (Sattelzeit) (Koselleck and Richter, 2011: 9).