Strategies of the metamodern

The modern is associated with politics as diverse as utopism, formalism, functionalism, seriality, art for art’s sake, the flaneur, syntaxis, restlessness, alienation, streams of consciousness, the cinematic apparatus, cubism, Reason, trauma, mass production, and schizophrenia. The postmodern tends to be associated with strategies as varied as dystopism, late capitalist flexibilisation, the ‘end of history’, formalism, différance, relativism, irony, pastiche, the waning of affect, consumption, multi-culturalism, deconstruction, poststructuralism, cyberspace, virtualisation, pluralism, parataxis, the ‘unrepresentable’, and interesse. The French cultural philosopher Jacques Rancière has further suggested that both signify a democratisation of the relationship between the sayable and the visible.

Now, the metamodern too is expressed through a variety of mind-sets, practices, art forms, media and genres. Certainly, it has been expressed most visibly in the emergence of a New Romanticism. Artists such as Olafur Eliasson, Gregory Crewdson, Kaye Donachie, and David Thorpe, and architects like Herzog & de Meuron no longer merely deconstruct the commonplace, but seek to reconstruct it. They exaggerate it, mystify it, alienate it. But with the intention to resignify it. With the intention to create within the commonplace an uncommonspace. Many of these artists draw on the philosophies of Schlegel and Novalis. Many refer to the paintings of Friedrich and Böcklin. Some return, significantly, to figurative practices. Their works show grandiose landscapes, ruins, lonely wanderers. (As an aside, it was this ‘movement’ that initially drew our attention to the decline of the postmodern and the rise of something else. We will come to discuss the New Romantic and its relationship to early German Romanticism in much more detail later this week.)

The metamodern sensibility has further been expressed by what art critic Jörg Heiser has called Romantic Conceptualism. Heiser defines Romantic Conceptualism as a tendency within both recent and past conceptual art that replaces the rational with the affective and the calculated with the coincidental. It is also expressed in Performatism. The German scholar Raoul Eshelman defines Performatism as an act of ‘wilful self-deceit’. It is the enactment of a truth that cannot be true, the establishment of a holistic, coherent identity that cannot exist. Eshelman refers to works and texts as varied as the architecture of Kleihues, Yann Martel’s Pi, and Amélie. In cinema, it is articulated first and foremost in quirky. James MacDowell will write a post on this trend associated with the informed naivety of films such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Rushmore and Juno later in the week. In pop music, it is articulated in the freak folk of Antony and the Johnsons, Akron Family and Devendra Banhart, but also in the heartfelt ballads of Best Coast. It is articulated in trends such as Remodernism, Reconstructivism, the New Sincerity and Stuckism. In unique works of artists and authors as varied as Ragnar Kjartansson, Mariechen Danz, Roberto Bolano and maybe even Dave Eggers. And just think of developments like the restructuration of the financial system, Obama’s ‘Yes we can!’, and environmentalism. And so on and so forth.

Some might argue that this multiplicity of strategies expresses a plurality of structures of feeling. However, what they have in common is a typically metamodern oscillation, an unsuccessful negotiation, between two opposite poles. In, say, Bas Jan Ader’s attempts to defy the cosmic laws and the forces of nature, to make the permanent transitory and the transient permanent, it expresses itself dramatically, as a struggle between life and death. In, for example, Justine Kurland’s efforts to present the ordinary with mystery and the familiar with the seemliness of the unfamiliar it exposes itself less spectacularly, as the unsuccessful negotiation between culture and nature. But both these artists set out to fulfill a mission or task they know they will not, can never, and should never accomplish: the unification of two opposed poles. And both are concerned with Novalis: the opening up of new lands in situ of the old. Odd new lands. Untenable new lands. But new lands nonetheless.

Over the next weeks, months, years we will try to discuss and draw your attention to as many metamodern strategies as we possibly can. Strategies that we feel, whatever their disparate intentions and dissimilar interests, all have the oscillation between the modern and the postmodern at its heart. We will discuss the New Romantic later this week. Quirky the next. Performatism after that. Some might be a bit more than metamodern; others might be somewhat less. You might disagree with any one of them. Please feel free to challenge us! If metamodernism is an oscillation rather than a balance, an ongoing discussion without answer, then so is this blog.

Top left image: Justine Kurland, West of the Water (2003). CourtesyMitchell-Innes & Nash
Bottom right Image: Mariechen Danz, Ye (2006). Courtesy Galerie Tanja Wagner

There are 5 comments

  1. PD

    As one who is growing tired of post-modern irony, I find your site very interesting. In describing meta-modern sensibilities as oscillations, does such an outlook fit within more of an historical perspective or an ahistorical perspective? Perhaps my question is more clearly asking what perspective does meta-modernism have upon historical unfolding/progression?

  2. Cath

    This is in reference to such a tiny thing, but I feel as if Stuckism doesn’t fit into metamodernism at all. With Stuckism postmodernity is disregarded rather than valued [as a point of oscillation], and lacks the celebration inherent in metamodernism. Like that Stuckism is a rejection rather than an engagement, while metamodernism is the realisation that both modernity and postmodernism need to be measured in terms of their respective modernity and postmodernity. I think maybe

  3. Thomas Evans

    Irregardless of any interior perspective, all motive developmental manifestations of modernity may be quantified by a linear evolution of technological quantification. For instance, modernism foreshadowed electronic media and in a symbolic sense (forgive me Pound) the atomic bomb. All roads lead to a wake or awake. Media as environment, technology as nature, and humans as information. Postmodernism perhaps unknowingly assesses the psycho/physio/neurological e/affects of electronic media, by which man is rendered discarnate, violently-deprived of identity, as well as reassessing certain modernist developments. Metamodernism represents a paradoxical reconciliation with electronic media, which are “extensions” of our central nervous system to begin with. The definitive features of metamodernism will stem chaotically, nearly atonally, from the dialectical association of human beings existing as processing automation, media as information, technology as environment, and conception as nature. Postmodernism is aptly named for its’ dealing with post-modernity, in part foreshadowed by the modernists’ assessment of temporality as an illusory dialectic of spatiality. In short, as a general movement, metamodernism will grope frenetically within a unification of polarities. All artistic forms of irony are redundant. For something as contradictory as our universe to still appear coherent, it implies our entire existence flourishes and withers beneath, around asides and within a vast field of irony.

  4. Juliet

    Hi there! I’m very fascinated with metamodernism… As a high school student writing a short story for my Extension 2 English Major Work, I find myself identifying more and more with metamodern attitudes, or oscillations. The more I research, the more I enjoy it- it has made studying interesting (could I say exciting?) again. Thankyou for this blog!

    I am, however, struggling how to ‘write’ metamodernism- at the moment, I’m using a blend of postmodern and modern style, and some symbolism of the ‘vertical layering’… But as to any specific techniques, it’s a little unclear. Is there any definite literary techniques I can use to express metamodernism (for example, stream of consciousness for modernism/ fragmentation for postmodernism).

    1. Steve James

      A common approach for writing about philosophy that I have seen is to 1. Describe the context. 2. Explain movements leading up to it (Modenrism/Pomo) 3. Explain how meta is different. 4. Give an example 5. Conclude.

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