Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Post-secularism in the flesh

Rebecca Mead’s astute review “Proud Flesh” (Nov. 13, 2006) raises complex philosophical questions related to this contemporary medical niche. Cosmetic surgery indeed serves quasi-religious functions, but it seems not so concerned with “the notion of human perfectibility” as much as with the idea of infinite deferral: there will always be another possible surgery, a next procedure to undergo. In this way, the cult of cosmetic surgery is a decisively post-secular phenomenon. The cultural trend appears to rely on faith, and yet there is no transcendent object of worship; even the physical body, as Mead aptly notes, is emptied of any final value. What one desires is an experience of endless permutation—never any calculable progress. If we translate this attitude over to the political realm, we can begin to comprehend the comportment of individuals who call for revolutionary change, but, to echo St. Augustine, “not just yet!”