Metamodernism is a post-postmodern movement of the late 20th and early 21st centuries that both departs from and is informed by modernism and postmodernism. While divergent readings of the term in the arts and in criticism have been offered since the 1970s, a common feature of its usage is treatment of metamodernism as a mediation between important principles of modernism and postmodernism.
The word metamodern was used by University of Oregon professor Mas'ud Zavarzadeh in his April 1975 article The Apocalyptic Fact and the Eclipse of Fiction in Recent American Prose Narratives. Zavarzadeh described the metamodern as a "response to the emerging realities of a technetronic culture," specifically the "overwhelming actualities of contemporary America, which render all interpretations of 'reality' arbitrary and therefore simultaneously accurate and absurd." Quoting Alain Robbe-Grillet, he described a body of literature in which daily experience was rendered as "neither significant nor absurd. It is, quite simply." According to Zavarzadeh, the "fusion of fact and fiction blurs the dichotomy between 'life' and 'art' and indeed such a sharp division between the two does not exist in the emerging aesthetics which I shall, for the lack of a better term, call 'Metamodernist.'"
In a 2000 article entitled Transatlantic Dialogue: Contemporary Art In and Out of Africa, Moyo Okediji instead described the metamodern as a "extension of and challenge to modernism and postmodernism." Okediji identified as metamodern a coterie of black American artists who expanded existing definitions of form while also aiming to "transcend, fracture, subvert, circumvent, interrogate and disrupt, hijack and appropriate modernity and postmodernity at nearly every available point."
In his 2002 essay Guy Davenport: Postmodern and After, Andre Furlani described metamodernism as a literary paradigm that is "after yet by means of modernism...a departure as well as a perpetuation." According to Furlani, in metamodernism "the transcendent categories underlying modernist transpositions of myth are jettisoned, as is the neo-romantic belief in the modifying faculty of the imagination." Furlani describes the metamodernists' relationship with modernism as "go[ing] far beyond homage, toward a reengagement with modernist method in order to address subject matter well outside the range or interest of the modernists themselves."
In 2007, literary theorist Alexandra Dumitrescu, analyzing the poetry of William Blake, chose to describe metamodernism as partly a concurrence with, partly an emergence from, and partly a reaction to postmodernism. To her, metamodernism is "a turn away from both modern individualism and postmodern fragmentarism" towards the story itself, not merely as a source of entertainment (as in postmodern literature) but "as meaningful narrative that involves the audience, and answers some of its quandaries, thus aiming to either coax or shock the reader into regaining their humanity of concern, care, and compassion." In 2010, Dumitrescu published a study of Arundhati Roy entitled Intimations of Metamodernism, which noted the "principle of polarity at work...in the metamodern attempt to recover unity after fragmentation has become the norm and to integrate....intuition or emotion with what is thought of as 'masculine' reason."
Vermeulen and van den Akker
In their 2010 essay Notes on Metamodernism, cultural theorists Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker introduced a new definition of metamodernism as an intervention in the post-postmodernism debate. They asserted that the 2000s were characterized by the return of typically modern positions that did not forfeit the postmodern mindsets of the 1980s and 1990s. According to Vermeulen and van den Akker, the metamodern sensibility "can be conceived of as a kind of informed naivety, a pragmatic idealism", characteristic of cultural responses to recent global events such as climate change, the financial crisis, political instability, and the digital revolution. The prefix "meta-" here referred not to a reflective stance or repeated rumination, but to Plato's metaxy, which denotes a movement between opposite poles as well as beyond them.
Writing in ARTnews, Kim Levin noted that Vermeulen and van den Akker "propose that ‘the Postmodern culture of relativism, irony, and pastiche’ is finished, having been replaced by a post-ideological condition that stresses engagement, affect, and storytelling. ‘Meta,’ they note, implies an oscillation between Modernism and Postmodernism and therefore must embrace doubt, as well as hope and melancholy, sincerity and irony, affect and apathy, the personal and the political, and technology and techne.”
According to Professor Stephen Knudsen, writing in ArtPulse, Vermeulen and van den Akker's conception of metamodernism "allows the possibility of staying sympathetic to the poststructuralist deconstruction of subjectivity and the self—Lyotard’s teasing of everything into intertextual fragments—and yet it still encourages genuine protagonists and creators and the recouping of some of modernism’s virtues."
The Metamodernist Manifesto
In 2011, the artist Luke Turner published The Metamodernist Manifesto, later credited to his collaborator Shia LaBeouf, based on Vermeulen and van den Akker's text. The manifesto called for an end to "the inertia resulting from a century of modernist ideological naivety and the cynical insincerity of its antonymous bastard child", and instead proposed metamodernism as "the mercurial condition between and beyond irony and sincerity, naivety and knowingness, relativism and truth, optimism and doubt, in pursuit of a plurality of disparate and elusive horizons."
In January 2014, LaBeouf stated that his Twitter account was "meta-modernist performance art”. Collaborating with Turner and performance artist Nastja Säde Rönkkö, LaBeouf embarked upon a series of actions described by Dazed as “a multi-platform meditation on celebrity and vulnerability.” This included a sequence of appropriated Twitter apologies and skywriting messages, following revelations he had plagiarized the work of graphic novelist Daniel Clowes; walking out of a press conference at the Berlin Film Festival quoting Eric Cantona’s famous “seagulls” speech, before turning up on the red carpet wearing a paper bag over his head with "I am not famous anymore" emblazoned on it; staging a six day performance in a Los Angeles gallery entitled #IAMSORRY, in which he sat wearing a tuxedo and the paper bag, crying in front of visitors; and presenting a lecture on metamodernism via Skype at Radboud University Nijmegen.
In November 2011, the Museum of Arts and Design in New York staged an exhibition entitled No More Modern: Notes on Metamodernism, based on the text by Vermeulen and van den Akker, featuring the work of Pilvi Takala, Guido van der Werve, Benjamin Martin and Mariechen Danz.
In March 2012, Galerie Tanja Wagner in Berlin curated Discussing Metamodernism in collaboration with Vermeulen and van den Akker, billed as the first exhibition in Europe to be staged around the concept of metamodernism. The show featured the work of Ulf Aminde, Yael Bartana, Monica Bonvicini, Mariechen Danz, Annabel Daou, Paula Doepfner, Olafur Eliasson, Mona Hatoum, Andy Holden, Sejla Kameric, Ragnar Kjartansson, Kris Lemsalu, Issa Sant, David Thorpe, Angelika J. Trojnarski, Luke Turner, and Nastja Rönkkö.
In July 2013, writing on his Huffington Post blog, American poet and critic Seth Abramson positioned metamodernism as "much more than the implicit proclamation that postmodernism is dead...[but] an active and expanding poetics that makes positive submissions of a historically idiosyncratic sort." J.T. Welsch, at a conference of the British Association for Modernist Studies, said that Abramson "sees the 'meta-' prefix [of 'metamodernism'] as a means to transcend the burden of modernism and postmodernism's allegedly polarised intellectual heritage." According to Abramson, this new poetics submits "that the time for merely edifying America as to the realities of language is over; the time for speaking primarily in the language of realities is beginning." In May 2014, country music artist Sturgill Simpson told CMT that his album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music had been inspired in part by one of Abramson's essays. According to Simpson, "Abramson homes in on the way everybody is obsessed with nostalgia, even though technology is moving faster than ever."
In discussing twenty-first century writers such as Tom McCarthy, literary scholars David James and Urmila Seshagiri argued that "metamodernist writing incorporates and adapts, reactivates and complicates the aesthetic prerogatives of an earlier cultural moment", in their article Metamodernism: Narratives of Continuity and Revolution, published in PMLA in January 2014.
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