b) A world without "impassable horizon": Sartre
Let us listen, before reaching any conclusions, another great thinker of this period of great narratives: Sartre. It could enable us to understand this era from within. In his book Situations, he describes Marxism as
the impassable horizon of our time. This is a second diagnosis, which does not use the concept of narrative, but that of horizon. What can we get from this second determination? What is a “horizon”? What does it mean to be “horizon for something”?
The horizon is that which is immensely far away; the more I try to reach it, the more it flees from me. Its distance reveals the range of my sight, and the vast expanse of landscape that I can take in at a glance. It is often when I contemplate the sea, or snowy valleys from a mountain pass, that I feel a impression of power.
So when Sartre says that Marxism is the horizon of his time, that means that it is the point of view from which man understands the whole of his time, since each event is included in this Marxist horizon. It is from this perspective that everything makes sense. The Marxist is the clear-sighted one who is conscious of this, who has “an insight into the requirements of the time” knowing what is “ripe for development” (Hegel thus defines the great man in Reason in History).
In brief, the post-modern era seems to be an epoch “without horizon”, a time which has lost any horizon. What might it mean?
It is difficult to imagine, because it seems that in any landscape, we may discern a foreground, and a background which composes the horizon line. What would a landscape composed only of a foreground look like?
It would precisely not be a landscape, rather a messy room. A room is already in itself a confined area, characterized by the fact that the vanishing lines cannot vanish anywhere, or do not even have enough time to constitute themselves as such. But the bric-a-brac in this place has its importance too.
In a landscape, like that of the ocean for example, each element of the set, like the waves, naturally points towards the horizon. There is an unobstructed view, viz. every object or living being may be harmoniously included in this great movement which leads them all towards the vanishing point. In the mountains, the sheep at the foreground refers naturally to the sheepfold and the large meadow in the middle ground, which themselves fade quietly into the background, composed of several mountains illuminated by the setting sun. The scene’s elements are “for the sake of each other”, or at least they seem so. The horizon is this content of meaning which ultimately makes possible the union of these elements, which constitutes their “being for the sake of each other”.
In a messy room, full of things, this harmony cannot be found. The books stacked on the table refer neither to the statuette fallen on the ground, nor to this pile of crates which nearly crush a decrepit piano. In this case, the elements are “one next to each other”. No horizon tends to unify all of them.
If our epoch is without any “impassable horizon”, unlike Sartre’s, that means that the elements which constitute it are “one next to each other”, and not “for the sake of each other”. Our era is a bric-a-brac of meanings, rather than a harmonious whole. Man has ceased to contemplate the magnificent landscape of the ocean, in order to enter into the sinister room of a decrepit hotel.
Now we are ready to try to capture the axiological character of our time, since we are at present armed with two concepts: “great narrative” and “horizon”. Has our epoch abandoned any attempt of “great axiological narrative”, and lost any “axiological horizon”?