The prefix ‘meta’ has acquired something of a bad rep over the last few years. It has come to be understood primarily in terms of self-reflection – i.e. a text about a text, a picture about a picture, etc. But ‘meta’ originally intends something rather more colloquial. According to the Greek-English Lexicon the preposition and prefix ‘meta’ (μετά) has several meanings and connotations. Most commonly it translates as ‘after’. But it can also be used to denote qualitative ‘changes’ or to designate positions such as ‘with’ and ‘between’. In Plato’s Symposium, for example, the term metaxy designates an ontological betweenness (we will return to this in more detail in a later post).The Online Etymology Dictionary gives the following description:
prefix meaning 1. “after, behind,” 2. “changed, altered,” 3. “higher, beyond,” from Gk. meta (prep.) “in the midst of, in common with, by means of, in pursuit or quest of,” from PIE *me- “in the middle” (cf. Goth. miþ, O.E. mið “with, together with, among;” see mid). Notion of “changing places with” probably led to senses “change of place, order, or nature.
When we use the term ‘meta’, we use it in similar yet not indiscriminate fashion. For the prefix ‘meta-‘allows us to situate metamodernism historically beyond; epistemologically with; and ontologically between the modern and the postmodern. It indicates a dynamic or movement between as well as a movement beyond. More generally, however, it points towards a changing cultural sensibility – or cultural metamorphosis, if you will – within western societies.
Image: Gregory Crewdson, Untitled (2006). Courtesy White Cube.