Metamodernism is a set of developments in philosophy, aesthetics, and culture which are emerging from and reacting to postmodernism. While divergent readings of the term have been offered, in recent years metamodernism has been positioned as an intervention in the post-postmodernism debate, characterized by mediations between aspects of both modernism and postmodernism.
In 2010, cultural theorists Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker proposed metamodernism as an intervention in the post-postmodernism debate. In their essay Notes on Metamodernism, 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 them, 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. They asserted that “the postmodern culture of relativism, irony, and pastiche" is over, having been replaced by a post-ideological condition that stresses engagement, affect, and storytelling.
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. Vermeulen and van den Akker described metamodernism as a "structure of feeling" that oscillates between modernism and postmodernism like "a pendulum swinging between…innumerable poles". According to Kim Levin, writing in ARTnews, this oscillation "must embrace doubt, as well as hope and melancholy, sincerity and irony, affect and apathy, the personal and the political, and technology and techne." For the metamodern generation, according to Vermeulen, "grand narratives are as necessary as they are problematic, hope is not simply something to distrust, love not necessarily something to be ridiculed."
Professor Stephen Knudsen, writing in ArtPulse, noted that 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." Vermeulen asserts that "metamodernism is not so much a philosophy—which implies a closed ontology—as it is an attempt at a vernacular, or…a sort of open source document, that might contextualise and explain what is going on around us, in political economy as much as in the arts."
The return of a Romantic sensibility has been posited as a key characteristic of metamodernism, observed by Vermeulen and van den Akker in the architecture of Herzog & de Meuron, and the work of artists such as Bas Jan Ader, Peter Doig, Olafur Eliasson, Kaye Donachie, Charles Avery, and Ragnar Kjartansson. In his formulation of the "quirky" cinematic sensibility, film scholar James MacDowell described the works of Wes Anderson, Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze, Miranda July, and Charlie Kaufman as building upon the "New Sincerity", and embodying the metamodern structure of feeling in their balancing of "ironic detachment with sincere engagement".
In literature, authors including Roberto Bolaño, Dave Eggers, Jonathan Franzen, Haruki Murakami, Zadie Smith, and David Foster Wallace have been described as metamodern, in a series of essays in a 2013 issue of the American Book Review dedicated to metamodernism. In a 2014 article in PMLA, 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 discussing twenty-first century writers such as Tom McCarthy.
The Metamodernist Manifesto
In 2011, the artist Luke Turner published The Metamodernist Manifesto, later credited to his collaborator Shia LaBeouf, citing 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” as part of a collaboration with Turner and performance artist Nastja Säde Rönkkö, described by Dazed as “a multi-platform meditation on celebrity and vulnerability.” This included LaBeouf 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 brown paper bag over his head emblazoned with the words "I am not famous anymore"; 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 May 2014, country music artist Sturgill Simpson told CMT that his album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music had been inspired in part by an essay by Seth Abramson, who writes about metamodernism on his Huffington Post blog. Simpson stated that "Abramson homes in on the way everybody is obsessed with nostalgia, even though technology is moving faster than ever." According to J.T. Welsch, "Abramson sees the 'meta-' prefix as a means to transcend the burden of modernism and postmodernism's allegedly polarised intellectual heritage."
Previous uses of the term
Although the term metamodern was used as early as 1975 by Mas'ud Zavarzadeh in his article The Apocalyptic Fact and the Eclipse of Fiction in Recent American Prose Narratives, its usage here was explicitly as an alternate label for the postmodern, describing "a cluster of attitudes which have emerged since the mid-1950s" within American literature. In a 1999 essay Returnee Recollections: Transatlantic Transformations, Moyo Okediji instead described the metamodern as an "extension of and challenge to modernism and postmodernism", identifying a coterie of black American artists who aimed to "transcend, fracture, subvert, circumvent, interrogate and disrupt, hijack and appropriate modernity and postmodernity".
In his 2002 article Guy Davenport: Postmodern and After, Andre Furlani meanwhile described metamodernism as a literary aesthetic that is "after yet by means of modernism…a departure as well as a perpetuation." Furlani said that the metamodernists' relationship with modernism "goes 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 her 2007 essay Interconnections in Blakean and Metamodern Space, literary theorist Alexandra Dumitrescu chose to describe metamodernism as partly a concurrence with, partly an emergence from, and partly a reaction to postmodernism. For her, "metamodernism champions the idea that only in their interconnection and continuous revision lie the possibility of grasping the nature of contemporary cultural and literary phenomena."
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