It is still up for grabs. Whether we are at an ephocal change or not. Whether we can consider ourselves to be in late modernity or not.
The clown, though, is the chief agitator of modernity. The idea of the fool is evident in classical culture, and according to common knowledge and backed up by a glance at Wikipedia, the clown in modern times can be traced to comedie dell’arte. The clown as the rustic fool, with a childlike outlook or as clumsy.
The clown is a consequence of modernity, or even part of modernity. The clown performs the absurd, the contradictory, the paradoxical as a performance of instability or clumsiness, as slapstick.
Cultural contradictions emerge with the enlightenment, contradictions within everyday life, monotony, necessarily dulled affect and emotions, rational dominance and bureaucracy. The instruments of the enlightenment when enacted in society necessarily lead to ambiguity and contradiction. Because there is always a lag between experience of the Real, Enlightenment symbollism and the rationality of modern bureaucracy and culture. This state of alienation is a psychosocial experience, one that leads to contradictions between thought and feeling. And one that is based on a logical system that when concluded is paradoxical.
Modernity is a crisis of representation.
What is happening when we are entertained? Our attention is absorbed and our emotions and affects are stimulated, laughter, fear and sadness etc are stimulated by a performance. We process that relationship between the performances and caricature of our lives that are fed back to us and engage with our emotions. Clowning exploits the contradictions, the more extreme contradictory with and through innocence and naivety. The performance of the contradictions, in ways that bear resemblence to and are stylised from daily live create resonances with the audience.
While the clown (he says stepping back from the earlier) comment may not be the agitator of modernity. Clowning is an expression of and response to modernity.