Hello, World! (What is “What is Metamodern?” ?)

Hi. We are Greg and Linda, your hosts on this blog (and also editors of its parent publication, Artocratic Magazine). We’re here to muse about a cultural and aesthetic turn that we have been tracking for a few years – the movement emerging from and responding to Postmodernism.

We first began puzzling over this cultural shift in the early-2000s. From our perch in Seattle, we could sense that something different was happening in the music and films and literature we encountered. And, we were noticing subtle shifts in certain uses of vernacular and humor on the streets and in our local haunts and coffee shops. It all seemed interrelated.

We weren’t sure what to call it, but we were pretty sure we couldn’t be the only ones tuning in. Once we starting clicking around the Internet, it wasn’t hard to hit upon other attempts to explore and to name it – attempts to creatively bypass the problematic default moniker, “Post-postmodernism.” With the discovery of Notes on Metamodernism, a scholarly web journal started by Dutch cultural theorists Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker, we found a lively community of inquirers who also seem to be considering this a bona fide cultural turn. And as well, they offered up a term we could get on board with. So, “Metamodernism” it is.

We intend this blog as something a bit different – a catalogue, of sorts, of cultural products that seem to bear the metamodern signature, both accessible to the popular readership and, we hope, useful as jumping off points to add to the conversation-in-progress.

Right. So, what, according to us, is Metamodernism?

Let’s start with a quick and dirty little historical breakdown of the time periods or “epistemes” prior to the metamodern (“episteme” is the term used by Foucault as a conceptual frame for delineating what characterizes historical time periods.):

There was Tradition.  That was the thousands of years of human culture that revered knowledge that had been passed down from rituals, authoritative figures, and the like, from the past. No questions asked, basically. (Remember, we said quick and dirty!)

Then there was Modernism.  Some locate this period as far back as the Enlightenment/Industrial Revolution*, though in many cultural domains it asserted itself around the turn of the Twentieth Century. Modernism is about putting hope in reason, science, and notions of progress and invention; modernists considered themselves to be seeing past the veils of traditional culture into an uncovered, objective truth.

Then there was Postmodernism, which, some time after World-War II, was a revolt against the excesses of technology and what increasingly began to be seen as a childish faith in reason. Postmodernism does that paradoxical move of creating an ideology, of sorts, out of the the futility of ideologies; it is suspicious of attempts to identify a single, grand unifying narrative to explain, well, anything important. Postmodernism killed off the subject. That is, deconstructed the idea that there’s any ‘there’ there – anything of independent meaning – and also that there is anything stable about the person, or subject, doing the interpreting. Postmodernism also made it embarrassing to express any earnest sense of an uncomplicated truth, or to openly identify with sentimentality.

In more recent history, for reasons that we seek to explore and elucidate, this rejection of the personal has become rather intolerable.  The generation born into postmodern disaffection/irony and now ready to move on from that seems to scream,“OK, there may be no ‘there’ there, but yet…I’m  here!” This is where one might locate the ground of Metamodernism, which, as we see it, seeks to resolve and/or engage the conflicts between Tradition, Modernism and Postmodernism by emphasizing felt experience.

Some of the methods we’ve observed in the employ of metamodern creators include: oscillation between seeming opposites (as discussed by Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker), the outer frame / inner frame narrative structure (in which an outer layer of fantasy surrounds an inner layer of believable emotional truth, as discussed by Raoul Eshelman in his theory of Performatism), constructive pastiche (as distinct from postmodernism’s destructivepastiche), and other tropes and themes  that we explore in our blogposts such as life-as-movie, the epic (maximalism), the tiny (minimalism), and perhaps most important: irony-embracing-earnestness / earnestness-embracing-irony.

We see evidence of this new cultural and aesthetic turn all around us – in music, film, literature, design, language, philosophy, religion and more. Here at What Is Metamodern? as mentioned, we are primarily cataloguing specific instances of metamodernism in these general areas, but, when helpful, we’ll also add abstract and theoretical posts to taste. And, in keeping with the culture of our home at Tumblr, we do reblog things that seem relevant.

Ultimately, we’re about exploring and questioning whether any of  these ideas and observations hold up under scrutiny, and what the implications of this new turn may be. So we welcome the input of anyone who has noticed that there’s life, of a peculiar sort, after postmodernism. If you show us your subjectivity, we’ll show you ours! 😛

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* The term “modernity” (as distinct from “modernism”), let’s remind ourselves, is frequently used to refer to the larger historical arc that begins with The Enlightenment, with “modernism” referring more specifically to the intellectual movements of the late nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century.

 

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