, by Vanessa Machado de Oliveira, is one such book.1
Perhaps to do so you must borrow the traits of one of
Vanessa Machado de Oliveira’s grandmothers – determination, endurance, and
confidence. It is fitting that Vanessa Machado de Oliveira titles the Preface
to her book, My Grandmothers’ Gifts. One Grandmother comes from German heritage
and the other Guarani (an indigenous people of South America.) So it is that Vanessa
Machado de Oliveira is well placed between both worlds – the coloniser and the
colonised – to write this book.
Vanessa Machado de Oliveira is right to make this buyer
beware warning. This is not an easy book to read. Indeed, it is
Little wonder. For, as Vanessa Machado de Oliveira
tells us, “Modernity conditions us to avoid, escape, or want to be rescued
(Before continuing, there is one further caveat that
may be worth considering. If you are a reader who wishes to change the world,
then after you have read this, you may want to do so in a totally different way
than you were before reading it. That is, if you wish to change the
world at all – you have been warned!)
So, let go of your desire for comfort, disregard what
you thought of social/environmental change, and allow Vanessa Machado de
Oliveira’s experience, knowledge, and wisdom guide you through some thought
experiments and exercises that will leave you questioning not only the system
we are trapped within, but also your own self.
Modernity does trap us.
Vanessa Machado de Oliveira’s gift to us in this book
is to make the bars, the padlocks, and the security cameras, of this trap
But, once visible, what do we do?
This is where the title of the book is significant. Consider
a hospice. Most often it is a place in which those who are dying are cared for
and supported through their dying. It is not a place for healing. So it is with
modernity. Vanessa Machado de Oliveira warns us against wanting to fix, reform,
or otherwise solve a set of problems. Modernity is a predicament, not a problem
(nor even a set of problems.) Problems potentially have solutions. Predicaments
do not, only an outcome – which we are unable to predict or plan for.
Indeed, trying to fix problems, and find solutions is,
she says, part of the very nature of modernity itself.
Vanessa Machado de Oliveira suggests that modernity is
in its dying stages and as such, the best we can do is to offer our hospicing
skills. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Not so, as we are part and parcel of the very
thing that is dying.
But Vanessa Machado de Oliveira does not leave us
floundering or grasping at some forlorn hope. She counsels us that, “Whatever
happens ‘then’ (the future) depends more on the quality of relationships
in the ‘now’ than on the accuracy or appeal of images of the future that one
projects as a way forward.”
The journey between the ‘now’ and the ‘then’ will be a
difficult and uncomfortable one, and we will not even know where we will end up
– or even, if we will end up. However, the
thought experiments and exercises that Vanessa Machado de Oliveira
offers us throughout the book at least make the journey possible, albeit
Get ready to overcome (if you can) the six C’s that
Vanessa Machado de Oliveira associates with our ego-logical desires of
modernity – comfort, convenience, consumption, certainty, control, and
Overcome also the warnings given early in the book and
read this important addition to the understanding of our times.
Heed also one more warning the author imparts: “I
cannot say ‘I hope you enjoy reading this book.’” It may change you though,
or at least change the way you perceive modernity.
1. Vanessa Machado de Oliveira, Hospicing Modernity:
Facing Humanity’s Wrongs and the Implications for Social Activism, North
Atlantic Books, Berkeley, California, 2021.