The renowned arts and culture magazine TANK Magazine has published an interview with Notes on metamodernism co-founder Timotheus Vermeulen. In the interview, Vermeulen discusses the meaning of the term metamodernism, the effects of the geopolitical and financial crises, generational differences and developments in the arts.
Timotheus Vermeulen, with fellow cultural theorist Robin van den Akker, introduced the term metamodernism in 2010 as a declaration of independence from postmodernism. But rather than a two-fingered-salute to a previous generation, metamodernism is a gesture of, “sorry-we’ve-grown-apart”.
Cher Potter: As a way of explaining metamodernism, what does the transition from postmodernism tell us about our generation?
Timotheus Vermeulen: I would say it tells us that twenty-somethings have come to the realisation that the critical and creative vernacular with which their parents tried to intimate and influence what was going on around them is no longer sufficient to capture, let alone change, their experience of the world today: a world in all sorts of geopolitical, economic, ecological turmoil, where “left” and “right” are suddenly actual categories again, where jobs are scarce, and where melting icebergs are no longer a projection but a reality. Today’s students have learned all about postmodernism, they understand its critical value, but they find it difficult to relate to it. Politics doesn’t end with Lyotard, art doesn’t stop with Derrida. Jeff Koons’ critique of consumerism, Brett Easton Ellis’ interrogation of mediation, Todd Solondz’s play with white, middle-class suburbia; they suddenly seem anachronistic in the contorted face of capitalism 4.0, populism and so forth.
The metamodern generation oscillates between a postmodern doubt and a modern desire for sense: for meaning, for direction. Grand narratives are as necessary as they are problematic, hope is not simply something to distrust, love not necessarily something to be ridiculed.
CP: Can you explain the meta in metamodernism.
TV: For Robin and myself, meta signifies an oscillation, a swinging or swaying with and between future, present and past, here and there and somewhere; with and between ideals, mindsets, and positions. For us, the prefix meta indicates that a person can believe in one thing one day and believe in its opposite the next. Or maybe even at the same time. Indeed, if anything, meta intimates a constant repositioning: not a compromise, not a balance, but an at times vehemently moving back and forth, left and right. It repositions itself with and between neoliberalism and Keynesianism, the “right” and the “left”, idealism and “pragmatism”, the discursive and the material, web 2.0 and arts and crafts, without ever seeming reducible to any one of them.
CP: As a philosophy with its own blog, one way in which metamodernism exists is as an open-source document with tabbed divisions of architecture/arts/fashion/network culture. Have outside contributions added any wildly unexpected avenues to the work?
TV: Yes, definitely. For us, metamodernism is not so much a philosophy – which implies a closed ontology – as it is an attempt at a vernacular, or as you say, 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. When Robin and I began writing about metamodernism, that vernacular was very limited. Each new author has stretched those limits up. Sometimes a lot, other times a bit. Our contributors, among them Hila Shachar, an Australian cultural theorist, James MacDowell, a British film scholar, and Nadine Fessler, a German literary critic, have turned our attention to phenomena, art works and texts that we had no awareness of, picking out and unpicking artistic choices we would have never considered, and as such have expanded the idiom far beyond its initial boundaries.
Read the full interview here.