Notes on Metamodernism http://www.metamodernism.com Sat, 24 Dec 2016 04:03:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.16 [Re]construction: Metamodern ‘Transcendence’ and the Return of Myth http://www.metamodernism.com/2015/10/21/reconstruction-metamodern-transcendence-and-the-return-of-myth/ http://www.metamodernism.com/2015/10/21/reconstruction-metamodern-transcendence-and-the-return-of-myth/#comments Wed, 21 Oct 2015 15:29:13 +0000 http://www.metamodernism.com/?p=8932 As the nineteenth century drew to a close, traditional religion and its grand narrative were in general decline — a social reality captured by Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous declaration, “God is dead” (1). While this statement, of course, served Nietzsche’s own philosophical ideals (which in 1882 were still idiosyncratic enough to allow it a serious challenge), one hundred years later and Nietzsche’s prophecy seemed virtually fulfilled. That is, the conception of postmodernity, specifically as put forward by Lyotard, rejected the grand narrative and, by extension, all transcendent narratives and mythic systems (2). The metaphysics upon which God, religion, and other paradigmatic models had rested was deemed discredited and so discarded.

Today, however, as postmodernism gives way to the new ‘structure of feeling’ called metamodernism, the transcendent and archetypal impulse is seeing a resurgence. Myth and grand narratives are receiving a second look and, from a once-homed focus on contingency and context, interests in the ‘timeless’ and ‘universal’ are again finding energetic expression. Has transcendence become viable once more — or has it been reconceived?

In this article I consider the relationship of such a philosophical revaluation to a new and distinctly ‘metamodern’ sensibility. This post-postmodern ethos, eschewing both the naïve metaphysical systems of the past as well as the superficial materialism of postmodernity, has occasioned a project of reconstruction — one in which new myths and paradigmatic models are now being artfully crafted for the twenty-first century.

Immanence and Transcendence: A Useful Hermeneutic

To be clear, the word ‘God’ in this context signifies a conceptual paradigm more expansive than common Western colloquial usage (i.e., ‘a supernatural deity’, typically the Judeo-Christian one). Here I wish to employ the term in its broader sense — one perhaps best elucidated by the traditional philosophical dichotomy immanent/transcendent (3). In this dichotomy the immanent denotes essentially the physical world as such, the domain of empirical phenomena and of our sense perceptions. The transcendent, by contrast, posits a meta-physical reality, which exists beyond or outside of the material world, more fundamental in vantage and essence.

Indeed, envisioned spatially, this image of foundation — of grounding, of basis — serves well. The immanent ‘apparent world’ can be thought of as resting upon transcendent ‘reality’ almost as a superstructure. As such it is secondary, derivative, contingent; it indicates something deeper. So it was that, through the linkage of these two — through relationship of the contingent to the archetypal — purely immanent phenomena were thought to ‘mean’ something or have deeper ‘significance’. Such was ‘God’: as a word, a kind of shorthand for any deeper, transcendent paradigm giving sense and meaning to our immanent, contingent lives.

Postmodernism: Or, the Loss of Depth

The process by which transcendence and grand narratives of faith lost their value or stronghold within contemporary society appears to have begun with modernity and the modern critique of religion. This process culminated within the postmodern worldview, which eschewed not just religious truth but all notions of transcendent truths, all grand narratives, archetypes, and paradigmatic models for living.

In doing so, however, postmodernism saw a radical narrowing of focus — a loss, one might say, of dimensionality. For, without something ‘deeper’, there is only surface: the one-dimensional plane of here and now. Without the grand objective picture there are only countless subjective lenses: no facts, only interpretations (Nietzsche again). In short, the foundation is removed, there is nothing to ground, nothing ‘deeper’ any longer. Now there is only total immanence.
As critics such as Baudrillard have pointed out, this distinctly postmodern development has led to a philosophical preoccupation with surfaces and simulacra—of shallowness and leveling (4). From (pre)modern icons of spiritual transcendence…

Michelangelo_-_Creation_of_Adam

we come to the postmodern kitsch of total material immanence…

ballon dog

…to signifiers without signifieds, to sensations without Sense, to life without depth.

So, for example, David Harvey’s analysis in The Condition of Postmodernity. Harvey frames his assessment of postmodern thought and culture around Baudelaire’s assertion in “Le Peintre de la vie moderne” that “Modernity is the transient, the fleeting, the contingent; it is the one half of art, the other being the eternal and immutable” (5). Baudelaire here interprets art and its role in modernity precisely in terms of the immanent/transcendent paradigm, associating modernity itself with the former while suggesting that art represents a delicate synthesis of the two. The challenge for the modern artist thus becomes the expression of modernity’s growing immanence through an art still invested with ideals of transcendence. It is precisely here, however, that Harvey locates the postmodern break, arguing that, while modernism grappled in this way with modernization’s heightened sense of the immanent,

postmodernism responds…in a very particular way. It does not try to transcend it, counteract it, or even to define ‘the eternal and immutable’ elements that might lie within it. Postmodernism swims, even wallows, in the fragmentary and the chaotic currents of change as if that is all there is. (6)

Fredric Jameson draws a similar conclusion in his seminal assessment Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, seeing in postmodern theory, for example, the total collapse of the “depth model” with its predicated dichotomies of essence vs. appearance, latent vs. manifest, authenticity vs. inauthenticity, and signifier vs. signified. Indeed, the whole “hermeneutic model” is rejected as “depth is replaced by surface” (7). Postmodernity thus seems uniquely preoccupied with immanence, with a world where nothing is ‘out there’, nothing can ‘mean’ anything—and ‘God’, at last, is dead.

Metamodern Mythmaking

With the recent ebb of typically postmodern sensibilities and the rise of a new generation — one reacting not only against a discredited notion of transcendence but also against the unfulfilling shallowness and existential disorientation caused by postmodern surface — we enter a new period: a metamodern period, whose structure of feeling is characterized by a sort of ‘oscillation’ between these poles. Proposed by cultural theorist Timotheus Vermeulen and philosopher Robin van den Akker as the new “dominant cultural logic of modernity”, metamodernism “evokes a continuous oscillation between (i.e. meta-) seemingly modern strategies and ostensibly postmodern tactics, as well as a series of practices and sensibilities ultimately beyond (i.e. meta-) these worn out categories” (8). Indeed, out of this crucible it seems an entirely new kind of depth model has been forged. For some of this generation are daring to imagine transcendence again. There is a revival of the mythic; sublimity, narrative, depth, meaning, and reorientation are once again being sought out and can be seen within metamodern artforms. And yet, precisely because one knows this transcendence cannot be unequivocally asserted (indeed, quite the contrary), its entertainment as an idea is of an essentially different sort than (pre)modern naiveté. It is indeed an “informed naiveté” (9) a sense of transcendence arising out of and ultimately held in check by the acknowledged immanent frame.

This new, qualified transcendence is already informing cultural production. Indeed, when most potently expressed, one sees a kind of metamodern mythopoeia at work — that is, the construction of entirely new paradigmatic models, which, because knowingly created, seem to operate as much as works of art as myth. This metamodern mythopoeia would seem to include both the postmodern condition of doubt and knowingness as well as a more modernist optimism, a naïve faith to create new mythic systems of meaning and thusly induce a sense of greater depth and sublimity. In metamodern mythopoeia, mythologies are invented: liturgies, hymns, ceremonies, scriptures, deities, all as an artist paints a scene. ‘Theology’ becomes a creative and exploratory act, done for the sensation of the thing itself within in the realm of immanence. The most successful metamodern mythopoeia are compelling; indeed, they create an almost convincing sense of transcendence. One even entertains the possibility of being converted to one’s own invented religion…

However, metamodern mythopoeia never decidedly affirms or rejects the idea of the grand narratives of faith and transcendence. Indeed, it is precisely this ambiguity which allows for transcendent experience in the first place: metamodern faith must presume a kind of atheism if one is to have the freedom to create ‘God’. But this fragile theism that metamodern religious conceptions generate never settles on a fixed perspective, never loses the malleability of art. It cannot ossify completely into characteristically naïve religious conceptions before it crumbles again under critical scrutiny back to atheism. Indeed, it is only within this dynamism that such myths can exist.

Reconstruction

In this way metamodern mythopoeia reasserts a form of ‘transcendence’ without forfeiting postmodern immanence as it reconstructs artificial paradigmatic models for the twenty-first century. The result is artistic mythmaking, a feature of metamodernism already observed by Vermeulen and van den Akker, who write that “architects and artists increasingly abandon the aesthetic precepts of deconstruction, parataxis, and pastiche in favor of aesth-ethical notions of reconstruction, myth, and metaxis” (10).
Indeed, more and more young artists today — such as Adam Miller, Martin Wittfooth and Billy Norrby — have begun working with entirely new pictorial mythologies. If contemporary artists such as Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst represented the “postmodern years of plenty [and] pastiche” (to adopt Vermeulen and van den Akker’s words (11)), when the seeming-triumph of late capitalism found expression through “wallowing” in materialist immanence, then these “Post Contemporary” (12) artists are meeting the breakdown of that old system with constructive (re)visions.

thepassions_pieta_web

Pieta by Martin Wittfooth, 2011

In their artwork, Wittfooth and Miller for example both employ traditional mythic iconography to frame their critiques of the ecological crisis. Wittfooth’s (2011) work Pieta, taking its name from the Judeo-Christian trope of the Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus, depicts the carcass of a bird whose stomach spews the pollutants and toxic materials that killed it. Here the tree upon which it is draped assumes the role of Mary, and through this association seems anthropomorphized. A conspicuous hole near its upper limbs acts as the traditional shaming gaze of the Virgin; like her, it stares out from the painting to indict the audience of the crime in its arms. The religious narrative of sin and atonement may have lost its general efficacy, but here it finds a replacement. The sense of the sacred is transferred to Nature — fully immanent, yet suggestive of some new transcendence, and demanding action.

2013-10-06-TheRosesNeverBloomedsoRed96x60

The Roses Never Bloomed So Red by Adam Miller, 2013

Similarly, Miller’s (2013) work The Roses Never Bloomed So Red employs the traditional composition of paintings that depicted the defeat of Satan by the archangel Michael. In Miller’s adaption a hunter takes the place of Michael, a satyress that of the devil’s. But the contemporary substitution is disturbing. The ‘savage’ fauness is vanquished by the violent angel of ‘development’, and yet the bleakness of the ‘developed’ landscape they foreground compels us to see this victory as a great spiritual defeat. The traditional religious narrative is thus literally inverted, and again we find our ‘religious’ sympathies lying with the untamed and natural.

14+Rise

Rise by Billy Norrby, 2012

In a related way, Billy Norrby’s use of the mythic in his (2012) work Rise elevates the early twenty-first century rebellions — such as Occupy, the Greek protests against austerity, or even the ‘Arab Spring’ — to the level of the heroic and the ideal. The painting reads as a kind of updated “La Liberté guidant le people”, its red-haired rebel as potent a symbol as Delacroix’s own heroine. For all these artists, symbol and the rigors of traditional craft become strategies of aesthetic rebuke and rebellion against postmodern kitsch and commodity, offering in their stead a demonstration of metamodern neo-Romanticism.

One direction, then, that metamodern art is taking in its fraught desire for sense and depth is a willful assumption of constraints to counter postmodernism’s total emancipation from transcendent paradigms. These artistic constraints, like the myths they tell, are admittedly as artificial as they are useful. Indeed, if postmodernism was characterized by “contrived depthlessness” as Fredric Jameson asserts (13) perhaps metamodernism reflects a contrived depth.

 

REFERENCES

(1) Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage, 1974), 181.
(2) Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi, Theory and History of Literature, Vol. 10 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), xxiv.
(3) In a recent conversation with philosopher John Hare, I was told the dichotomy comes to the fore as early as Patristic theology. The basic paradigm, in any event, can be traced from medieval scholasticism, through Kant, Hegel, and beyond.
(4) Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, The Body, In Theory: Histories of Cultural Materialism, trans. Sheila Faria Glaser (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995).
(5) David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change (Cambridge: Blackwell, 1989), 10.
(6) Ibid., 44
(7) Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Post-Contemporary Interventions (Durham: Duke University Press, 1991), 12.
(8) Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker, “Notes on Metamodernism,” Journal of Aesthetics and Culture 2, 2010.
(9) Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker, “Metamodernism: A Brief Introduction”, 2015, http://www.metamodernism.com/2015/01/12/metamodernism-a-brief-introduction/.
(10) Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker, “What Is Metamodernism?”, Notes on Metamodernism, 2010, http://www.metamodernism.com/2010/07/15/what-is-metamodernism/.
(11) Ibid.
(12) Brandon Kralik, “The Post Contemporary Paradigm,” 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brandon-kralik/the-post-contemporary-par_b_5731594.html
(13) As quoted in David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change (Cambridge: Blackwell, 1989), 58.

Images

Second image: Balloon Dog Sculpture by Ian Young on Flickr, Creative Commons
Third image: Pieta by Martin Wittfooth, 2011
Fourth image: The Roses Never Bloomed So Red by Adam Miller, 2013
Fifth image: Rise by Billy Norrby, 2012

]]>
http://www.metamodernism.com/2015/10/21/reconstruction-metamodern-transcendence-and-the-return-of-myth/feed/ 6
Locked Up: Siri Hustvedt’s ‘The Blazing World’ http://www.metamodernism.com/2015/09/07/locked-up-siri-hustvedts-the-blazing-world/ http://www.metamodernism.com/2015/09/07/locked-up-siri-hustvedts-the-blazing-world/#comments Mon, 07 Sep 2015 15:05:23 +0000 http://www.metamodernism.com/?p=8909 locked-up

Siri Hustvedt’s latest work The Blazing World (2014) is a complex and multi-layered novel that deals with the notion of authorship in the art world. The novel shows an intricate play with the concept of authorship and highlights in particular a form of authorship that is rather restrictive. The fictional author/creator constructs an aesthetic experience into which she throws her art visitors who have to struggle to be let out of it, being transformed in the process. This goes against a postmodern understanding of authorship that prefers rather weak and questionable authors who are almost absent from the text. The reader has also a distinct role in postmodern novels: he/she is invited and inspired to take part in the process of making meaning out of a text. In the case of Hustvedt’s novel, however, the fictional author (here, an artist) is a prison guard—watching carefully over how the art visitors react to her art work. The art visitor—analogous to a reader in this relationship—just follows her demands, has to follow them in fact, in order to be able to conclude the experience. The artist named Harriet Burden (who calls herself Harry) does not only scam her audience by showing her work through three personas, she imprisons them into her scams by her art works. These are forceful and lock her audience into aesthetic experiences. In the following, I will explore these locked rooms that Harry creates and how they change the perception of the visitors.

Harriet Burden’s ProjectMaskings

Harry’s inner life is concerned with one thing: how can she be seen and recognized as the artist she is? Frustrated by her earlier unsuccessful attempts, she sets up an elaborate conceptual piece, which she titles Maskings. She “engage[s] three men to act as fronts for her own creative work” (Hustvedt 1). These three men are very different in character and social positions, ranging from a completely unknown artist to an art superstar. The reactions that these ‘masks’ produce are different every time. It is these reactions that Harry is interested in. How does the world perceive her work when presented through three different masks? And what does this say about her work and about her audience?

“My time has come, and whatever they say […] is not the point. HOW THEY SEE is all that matters, and they will not see me. Until I step forward” (ibid., 291). Anton Tish, Harry’s first mask, is a young unknown who is catapulted into instant fame by Harry’s input, even though it seems painfully evident that he lacks the intellectual capabilities for the art installation that he presents as his own. However, the art world is infatuated by his ‘fresh’ voice, not suspecting that the sixty year old Harry has produced Tish’s art. Her first mask, thus, seems to confirm all the underlying implications of Harry’s project—it is the role and glamour of the (male) artist that is recognized first, the art piece itself is only secondary. Art becomes memorable first (and maybe only) by looking at its creator and a young man as an artist seems more adequate to the fictional art critics than the elderly Harry. However, Harry does not solely want to shame the art world about their lack of interest in women’s art, she wants to unveil more: “it was meant not only to expose the antifemale bias of the art world, but to uncover the complex workings of human perception and how unconscious ideas about gender, race, and celebrity influence a viewer’s understanding of a given work of art” (ibid., 1). This becomes evident as her project continues. Harry explores other conventions of perceiving, too, namely those expectations that go along with gender roles and the reactions of an audience towards ‘celebrities.’

Her second mask is a man who has become a friend to her, Phileas Q. Eldrige, an African-American homosexual man, who belongs, by his own account, to two minorities. Eldridge is probably the most collaborative and willing artist in Harry’s project, since he completely understands why he is used: “It was true they didn’t want Harry the artist. […] She was old news, if she had ever been news at all. She was Felix Lord’s widow” (ibid., 134). Even more, Eldridge clearly recognizes his own role in this game, saying that “from behind my nearsighted, mulatto, queer self she [Harry] was able to tell a truth” (ibid., 121). He is also able to grasp Harry’s fascination with masks from a personal stand-point, since he has experienced struggles with social masks and identity throughout his life, triggered by his problems with his homophobic father and the concurrent realization of his homosexuality. In contrast to Anton Tish, however, the collaboration between Harry and Eldridge is almost completely ignored by the art world. Taking on the ‘mask’ Eldridge does not help in making Harry’s art more visible to the world. Even though Eldridge is an ambitious and singular artist, his art works are in general neglected by the critics. Belonging to two minorities at once, he remains unnoticed. Excluded from the inner circle of the art world, he is too invisible himself to help Harry in being recognized. This has only little to do with the quality of the artwork itself. In fact, Harry creates a very similar art piece for her next mask, this time she uses the art superstar called ‘Rune.’ ‘His’ installation, however, is received extremely well and made into the event of the season. Thus, the celebrity trumps the unknown, even though their artworks are extremely similar (as I will discuss later on). It seems that the framing of the artist can make an audience take a closer look which has been conveyed provocatively by Marcel Duchamp almost a hundred years ago with his well-known Fountain (1917). This piece of art played with the fact that the framing of a work of art informs our view of it. It seems that Harry tries out different frames with her art project and the frame that Rune provides makes the art she produces extremely visible. Eldridge reflects on Rune’s role in Harry’s game of art and summarizes pointedly: “In many ways, Rune was a perfect third candidate for Harry. He arrived with ready-made aura, that mysterious quality that infects our eyes so we can’t tell what we’re looking at anymore. Is the emperor naked or am I a fool?” (ibid., 139).

The two art pieces that Harry creates for Rune and Eldridge—and that I haven’t yet described—are interesting to me not only because they reveal that there is a bias when it comes to established artists vs. unknown artists. What is relevant for this discussion is the way both these art pieces function, because I argue that they introduce a new way of perception that Harry puts forward. This perception accomplishes two things—it forces the audience into an uncomfortable position and it also allows the audience to connect to Harry’s own position in life (even though they are unaware of it at that point); she feels restricted, limited and even suffocated by her identity as a sixty year old woman. She has neither youth nor beauty to be considered interesting, and unfortunately her identity has already been decided upon by her environment: she is the wife of a famous man, nothing more. All her efforts have, thus, been reduced to this position, to be the partner of someone, having no value of her own. The fact that she is associated with her husband, a known art collector, only works against her, since she is not considered a ‘real’ artist, more seen as a bored, wise-cracking housewife who is trying to spend her time. All this, nullifies her value as an artist and her need to be one. She yearns for a way to be heard, but her voice is stifled by the condescending critics. Her audience will be similarly suffocated and pressured through Harry’s installations. In the following I wish to explore these two artworks, because they unveil the main idea of Harry’s understanding of art and, more importantly, what it is supposed to do with its viewer.

Locked Rooms

Eldridge’s art piece The Suffocation Rooms consists of a series of rooms:

It was her [Harry’s] idea that the viewer should shrink each time he or she opened a door and entered a new room. The rooms were nearly identical […] At the beginning of the journey, the furniture fit your median-size adult […] but with each consecutive room, the table and chairs, the cups and plates and bowls and spoons, the writing on the wall-paper grew that much larger, so that by the time you hit the seventh room, the scale of the furniture had turned you into a toddler (ibid., 130-131).

While going through the rooms the viewer is subjected to them. The rooms age, become hotter and, as the quote above describes, the rooms’ furniture grows, and to the person going through the rooms it seems as if he or she is getting smaller. Thus, when the art visitors come out of the rooms, sweaty, hot and subjectively smaller, they have experienced a transformation that they had no control over, once they had entered the installation. They have been subjected to a view Harry/Eldridge have forced on them—to see the world around them getting bigger. This experience is reminiscent of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) in which Alice enters a magic world by drinking in turns two potions that make her either smaller or bigger until she is the right size to continue her journey. Likewise, the art visitor goes through a seemingly physical transformation when he/she is spit out of the rooms, back into reality. Raoul Eshelman describes similar occurrences in his work and summarizes this as a pattern that he calls “escaping from a frame” (Eshelman 15). Eshelman writes that the frame comes across like a “task that a monotheist God places before people trapped in the world of His making” (ibid., 15). In this case it is Harry who is the god and who sets the frame, yet, she is invisible, hiding behind a human proxy. She makes her audience suffocate—they get hot and diminish—which can be seen as putting her audience into her own seat, since she describes her own position in life and in the art world as elderly female artist as a “trap” and “suffocation” (cf. Hustvedt 234). Thus, The Suffocation Rooms are not supposed to be magical in the way that Alice’s wonderland is; they are more oppressive and even creepy and horrifying.

The horrifying aspect of this experience is displayed through a box that exists in each room and which does not change its size; instead, a body slowly climbs out of it as the rooms progress, indicating a possible danger arriving in slow motion. Combined with the feeling of getting smaller this must have a disturbing effect on the visitor. Its meaning and the fact that it remains unchanged is unexplained and provides an interesting contrast to the ‘shrinking’ art visitor who is entrapped more and more in his/her surroundings while this figure slowly crawls out of hers. Yet, one art critic mentioned in the book diminishes the meaning of the figure by providing an interpretation that only works when using Eldridge’s biography—which, because it is Harry’s work of art, cannot be very convincing, but rather shows how the artist’s biography limits the interpretation of his work. The critic writes: “The box (perhaps a little to obviously) is also ‘the closet.’ Eldridge came out in 1995 and has been exploring gay and racial identities in his work ever since” (Hustvedt 210). With this statement the whole ambiguity and the feel of horror dissipates, and it also reduces the horror to a “coming out of the closet” story.

The work of art that Harry creates with Rune, titled Beneath, is similarly claustrophobic. They have built a labyrinth the visitor of the exhibition has to walk through. Eldridge who visits the exhibition shares his impressions:

The maze was claustrophobic and disorienting, as mazes should be, and after a few wrong turns I felt that dreamy, hallucinatory, life-really-is-awfully-strange atmosphere asserting itself before I knew why I was feeling it. Slowly, I understood that the corridors of the maze were not of uniform size. Their widths grew narrower and then wider. The walls lengthened and shrank, too, but always gradually, gradually, never abruptly (261).

Again, Harry creates a dreamlike atmosphere with a twist of terror. Eldridge often seems to encounter the same pictures on the wall, but realizes that every version is slightly different and might lead him to either a new passage or to a dead end. He recognizes that he has to search for the clues the maze gives to him in order to find his way out. From this moment on he is forced to observe everything more carefully and to look closely at the details so he can find out if he has passed this object once before or not. Eldridge concludes that Harry has finally found a way to make people look at her work: “Harry had cleverly designed an art object that forced people to pay attention to it because if they didn’t, they’d never get out of the blasted thing” (ibid., 262). It is pure desperation and need that makes the visitors pay attention; they simply have to if they want to exit the maze.

The figure of the labyrinth is an interesting one, since it is often associated with postmodern concerns. A labyrinth is disorienting and might be even tricky and misleading, which are characteristics that connect to postmodernism’s playfulness and its desire to baffle. Gerhard Hoffman describes how a simple traditional quest turns into a sort of labyrinth in postmodern fiction:

The quest’s directedness towards a goal, whose attainment would assure identity or at least certainty for the seeker, turns into a regressus in infinitum. All the findings of the search start new forking paths, are boxes within boxes within boxes, etc. (Hoffmann 151).

In postmodern fiction, the path to truth is constantly diverted and whoever follows it can never really arrive. Thus, the postmodern labyrinth as a concept is never-ending; even when one observes the details of the labyrinth closely it is simply not composed with an exit. (A recent example that not only uses the labyrinth conceptually but as a setting is Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves (2000) whose labyrinth defies all laws of physics; the rooms/passageways are larger or smaller than they realistically can be and the natural space-time continuum is suspended.) Harry’s maze is the exact opposite, since here the clues left by Harry lead definitely to the exit. What differentiates the postmodern maze from Harry’s is the fact that Harry functions like a God who is leaving clues to find one’s way out. (One could also argue that Harry leaves traces so the viewer can find its way to her, the secret artist behind all this. There are some passages in the book that would certainly allow for this argument.) Further, she forces the visitors to look for these clues and she creates for them a path through the maze, firmly leading them.

Not only is the labyrinth post-postmodern, since it references postmodern principles and patterns but goes beyond them, Harry’s whole project—her particular usage of three artists—clearly leaves the well-trodden postmodern path. Harry, well-acquired with postmodern ideas, acknowledges that she and her art cannot be perceived without any limitations—there will always be some kind of frame that puts her art in perspective. However, she manages to determine the frames by choosing the artists (and thus the frames) that present her art. Thus, she engages with these frames in a deliberate way and tries to employ them to her advantage. She steers the reaction of her audience, calculating how they will react to the frames and what kind of art to choose for each frame. What makes this approach post-postmodern is what I have pointed out about her artworks: they are forceful and they don’t allow the viewer to go exploring on their own, instead the path of each journey is clearly set out. In this way, the creator Harry makes the viewers see what she wants them to see; she forces a perspective onto them. This is also the argument made by Eshelman who describes how contemporary post-postmodern literature (or ‘performative’ literature as he terms it) engages with readers in a new way, forcing them to react in a premeditated way, instead of consciously choosing their way. One example that Eshelman uses to make this argument is Yann Martel’s Life of Pi (2001) in which the reader is presented with two stories, one extremely powerful but fantastic, the other realistic but banal and cruel. At the end of the novel readers have to decide between these two stories. Their decision, Eshelman argues, is informed by a strong identification with the main character that makes the belief in his outrageous story somewhat necessary. Harry’s project works in a similar way. Her works of art are finally accepted and given the attention they deserve, because she presents them through artists that the art world can accept as ‘valid’ artists.

However, in the end, it seems, Harry has locked her audience too tightly into her traps and they seem unwilling to leave them. Involving Rune is supposed to be the highlight of Harry’s art project. Presenting Beneath was meant to be the climax of Maskings, a “grand phallic finale” (260), proving to every art critic that her art is as good as Rune’s and even better. However, Harry does not account for Rune’s ego. Rune decides to give Harry only minimal credit for Beneath, assuming her work as his own. The audience, dazzled and hypnotized by the artwork, believes him. They don’t want to be let out the locked room by Harry, they want to remain inside what they think is Rune’s work of art and his aura. However, this can be seen as a success, Harry has invented a world that her audience does not want to be freed from—they desire to remain locked inside.

 


Works Cited

Eshelman, Raoul: Performatism or the End of Postmodernism. The Davies Group Publishers, Aurora, Colorado, 2008.

Hoffmann, Gerhard: “Waste and Meaning, the Labyrinth and the Void in Modern and Postmodern Fiction,” in: Hoffmann, Gerhard und Alfred Hornung (Eds.): Ethics and Aesthetics. The Moral Turn of Postmodernism, 115-193.

Hustvedt, Siri: The Blazing World, Sceptre 2014.

Image adapted from Maze by zetazone on Flickr, Creative Commons BY-NC 2.0.

]]>
http://www.metamodernism.com/2015/09/07/locked-up-siri-hustvedts-the-blazing-world/feed/ 0
The ‘Dead Girl’ Aesthetic & Ballet Online http://www.metamodernism.com/2015/08/21/the-dead-girl-aesthetic-ballet-online/ http://www.metamodernism.com/2015/08/21/the-dead-girl-aesthetic-ballet-online/#comments Fri, 21 Aug 2015 13:49:29 +0000 http://www.metamodernism.com/?p=8886 fersiniThe popularity of ballet on the internet is one that often (but not always) relies on the idea of ballet as a static aesthetic rather than as a performance. And to be more specific, as a distinctly ‘feminine’ aesthetic. As both a writer about ballet and a researcher working within the fields of Adaptation and gender studies, I tend to look at how certain ways of thinking from one area I work in inform the other. Adaptation studies is essentially the study of how certain works are adapted into different media, in different times and cultures, and why. In the past few years, I’ve increasingly felt that the internet sharpens how and why certain narratives, images and ideas are adapted, and how that reflects and shapes our culture. One of the trends that has struck me, perhaps due to my natural inclination towards ballet, is the aestheticisation of ballet as a static imagery that is ideologically bound up with what I call the ‘dead girl’ aesthetic.

Of course, not all online imagery associated with ballet (or with ballerinas) is a manifestation of our culture’s fixation with submissive, passive, dead-like images of women. You only have to look at some of the blogs featuring the sheer athleticism of dancers’ bodies to know that. However, a large number of this imagery is fixated with more passive representations, which poses interesting questions. But first, what is this ‘dead girl’ aesthetic?

Although in the wider media it is generally preferably to stir up a certain level of panic or concern about the ‘newness’ of internet trends, it often seems like the online world manifests, extends, expands and reworks historical trends. The ‘dead girl’ aesthetic, for example, is not something that was invented by teenage girls on tumblr; and the fact that it is popular with teenage girls on tumblr is not an excuse to be derisive or dismissive of it. In fact, I’ve had to revaluate my own initially dismissive attitudes and actually see what was going on when I began to research this aesthetic world of tumblr blogs. It is a complex, fascinating and intelligent world. What I often see reworked and adapted on blogs is a nineteenth-century literary and artistic aesthetic.

Looking at these blogs and the kind of images of women they both collect and create takes me back to the poetic vampirism of women’s bodies and minds as seductively beautiful art. To me, this is best exemplified by a short story called ‘Ligeia’ by Edgar Allan Poe. A known ‘killer’ of women in his poems and short stories, Poe also had a complex relationship with their aestheticisation – while his women were killed off into beauty, gothic terror, Romantic illusion (or should we say, delusion) and flights of fancy, they also often arose to haunt him and his readers. There is one passage from ‘Ligeia’ that I frequently re-read while thinking of the ‘dead girl’ aesthetic online. Here, the unnamed narrator of the story tells us of Ligeia’s capacities:

the acquisitions of Ligeia were gigantic, were astounding; […] I was sufficiently aware of her infinite supremacy to resign myself, with a child-like confidence, to her guidance through the chaotic world of metaphysical investigation at which I was most busily occupied during the earlier years of our marriage. With how vast a triumph – with how vivid a delight – with how much of all that is ethereal in hope did I feel, as she bent over me in studies but little sought – but less known, – that delicious vista by slow degrees expanding before me, down whose long, gorgeous, and all untrodden path, I might at length pass onward to the goal of a wisdom too divinely precious not to be forbidden![1]

Joel Salzberg summarises the narrator’s representation of Ligeia when he writes that ‘As is so often the case, Poe’s quester after the sublime tends to look upon woman as the vessel of the transcendental’.[2] Such a passage reveals what J. Gerald Kennedy calls the inability to ‘value’ and represent ‘a woman not as “Truth, Beauty, Poetry,” but simply, humanly, as herself.’[3] By being the entity through which the narrator may walk on the ‘untrodden path’ of transcendent and universal ‘truths’, Ligeia is denied that personal, subjective identity that allows one to wield a pen and authority as an individual creative mind; and such is the position of the muse who can personify all things because she is a ‘self-less’ empty space upon which the artist can create personifications and see his existential desires reflected. Notice how Ligeia’s personification of and guidance toward transcendent knowledge and ‘wisdom’ does not create an interiority for herself but rather feeds and constructs the interiority and identity of the narrator. The more he describes her mind the more he moves away from her who he is describing; the narrative is all to do with him, with building for himself a deeply subjective and personal identity that ‘feels’ with an intensity and perception that characterises the poet in William Wordsworth’s words as one who is ‘endued with more lively sensibility, more enthusiasm […] and a more comprehensive soul, than are supposed to be common among mankind’.[4] As is often the case with nineteenth-century literature, we are presented with the poeticisation of woman into a muse to service the identity, depth and interiority of her man.

When I look at stunningly beautiful images of sylph-like muses online, many of whom are ballerinas whose own interiority is blanketed by the general category of transcendental beauty and grace, I feel as if a collective and anonymous audience, not unlike Poe’s narrator in ‘Ligeia’, is invited to take part in the feeding off of a woman’s body. Many times, these images make me feel deeply, they move me, they are beautiful, but there is also something inherently ‘deadening’ about them because I am being moved, I am being compelled to demonstrate my own creativity and depth, through static and submissive images of women as muses, goddesses, objets d’art.

But then another emotion comes into play, because it seems unfair to neatly summarise these images, and the way they are collected and displayed online, as a one-track ideology. It is also incredibly condescending to assume that all bloggers are doing the same thing, or that the creators of new ‘dead girl’ images online are simply regurgitating the images of the past unthinkingly without adapting them. A prime example is the work of photographer Chiara Fersini. I have to admit that I am personally drawn to her photography and first came across it when I started blogging myself. While in many ways it echoes the idea of women as ‘self-less’ muses, idealised goddesses and objets d’art, it also simultaneously adapts and questions it. There is a latent ‘knowingness’ to these images that makes you question the idea that all imagery of women in this vein is essentially submissive, passive, or stereotypical. Whether I would call this a mood, a tone, a clever use of colour and symbols, or something else, I confess to not knowing at this early stage in my research. But I feel it’s there.

Fersini’s imagery has proven popular online and I’ve seen it featured countless times on blogs. Each time another (typically, young, female) blogger collects and displays her photography, they are also, in a way, adapting the ‘dead girl’ aesthetic. And these girls often know what they’re doing. The best analogy I can come up with to exemplify what I mean by that is to quote you a critical interpretation of Sofia Coppola’s own ‘dead girl’ aesthetic in her film adaptation of The Virgin Suicides:

Femininity has been understood and presented through a set of binaries in western culture. Such binaries often evolve around two (almost opposing) imageries of femininity including Madonna/Whore, Rapunzel/Medusa and Ophelia/Girl Power. The former of each of these dichotomous paradigms embody purity, innocence and docility while the latter types symbolize a sexually mature, dangerous side of femininity. Rather than placing the girls on either side of two extreme poles of femininity, I would argue strongly that The Virgin Suicides [film] fuses and merges the antithetical poles of fragile and assertive girlish femininity.[5]

Widely criticised for her own ‘girly’ aesthetic, Coppola’s films in fact throw in our face that which our culture dismisses (teenage girls, femininity, ‘girlishness’), and in doing so, compel us to interrogate why. Similarly, while there are blogs that unthinkingly echo the submission of girls and women into beautiful consumable imagery of poetic ‘death’, there are blogs that collect, reinvent and adapt it to make all binaries seem silly. Analysing what the online world does with the ‘dead girl’ aesthetic, and how it adapts and shapes it for contemporary culture, is not a process of picking a side, but realising that what goes on is a case of both/and. This is the starting point for what I see happening to ballet as an aesthetic and an ideology online.

The internet has adapted that sweetly pink imagery of ballet that used to adorn little girls’ bedrooms in the form of a pair of pink ballet shoes in a picture frame and the pretty ballerina in her frothy musical jewellery box. What we have instead is an adaptation of that traditional ‘girlishness’ coupled with the latent interrogation of what women’s bodies represent in art, as found in Fersini’s photography. Perhaps my own ideas will change in a few years, when I’ve devoted more time to this topic. But at this stage, it poses a series of questions that I’m dancing around: what is lost and what is gained for the art form of ballet when it is viewed through this creative lens? Is the idea of ballet as a distinct style of online imagery, claimed and reclaimed by young girls, antithetical to its practice as performance?

I don’t have any answers, but only a small example. It is a clip of Suzanne Farrell dancing with Jorge Donn in Maurice Béjart’s adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. Juliet is a favourite ‘dead girl’ of the internet, whose body is widely aestheticised and collected. To think of her in movement is almost a rebellion against this aestheticisation. The same is also true for Suzanne Farrell herself, the famous muse of choreographer George Balanchine whose identity tends to be submerged into his, as if she is his creation rather than a skilled artist in her own right. She is, fittingly, widely circulated on the internet through static imagery that, while conveys the physical beauty of this ‘muse’, fails to demonstrate what makes her enthralling as a performer.

So, back to this clip of her, the muse, dancing the role of the ultimate teenage ‘dead girl’. It is beautiful, at least in my humble opinion. And not because I like the choreography (because I don’t), or even the narrative of Shakespeare’s play itself, but because of the opportunity of seeing Farrell in action. Her fluidity, her inability to ‘pose’ (notice how her hands or fingers move even when her legs don’t), and the sharp lines of her long body, which at times, create angles as few dancers can, are unbelievably beautiful to me. She is vital. I can feel the compulsion to speak about her in general poetic terms when I watch her as Juliet, and yet what stops me from doing so is that her body shows me that this poetry is the product of a very specific body exerting its individual performance on stage. Can the online images of her that I consume, and that others consume, really convey this? Can their generality be mediated by the individuality of her performance? Or will she be lost to an aesthetic, like Juliet, like many other women; will she be remembered as a muse rather than as an artist? Like I said, I have no answers, not yet.

 


[1] Edgar Allan Poe, ‘Ligeia’, in The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe (London: Penguin, 1982), p. 657.

[2] Joel Salzberg, ‘The Gothic Hero in Transcendental Quest: Poe’s “Ligeia” and James’ “The Beast in the Jungle”’, ESQ, 67 (1972), 109.

[3] J. Gerald Kennedy, ‘Poe, “Ligeia,” and the Problem of Dying Women’, in New Essays on Poe’s Major Tales, ed. Kenneth Silverman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), p. 127.

[4] William Wordsworth, ‘Preface’, in Lyrical Ballads, ed. Michael Mason (London and New York: Longman, 1992), p. 71.

[5] Masafumi Monden, ‘Contemplating in a dream-like room: The Virgin Suicides and the aesthetic imagination of girlhood’, Film, Fashion & Consumption, 2.2 (2013), 145.

Image: Sleeping Beauty gave up! by Chiara Fersini. © All rights reserved. Used here with permission.

]]>
http://www.metamodernism.com/2015/08/21/the-dead-girl-aesthetic-ballet-online/feed/ 0
Resonances and Reverberations http://www.metamodernism.com/2015/06/09/resonances-and-reverberations/ http://www.metamodernism.com/2015/06/09/resonances-and-reverberations/#comments Tue, 09 Jun 2015 12:23:19 +0000 http://www.metamodernism.com/?p=8865 2nd-floor-12

This conversation took place in the studio of artist Rebecca Partridge in advance of her exhibition Notations at Kunstverein Springhornhof and has been published as part of the exhibition catalogue earlier this year. Partridge suggested that it might resonate with themes that are regularly discussed and may be of interest to readers of, and researchers on, our platform. We agreed.

Partridge and Verwoert here discuss their mutual interests interests in the dynamic relation between environmental qualities, perceptions and states, taking tours and detours through neuroscience, vibrant matter, minimalism and embarrassment, curiosity and uncertainty, leading to the question of the vivid yet unverifiable… is it there or isn’t it? [note from the editors] 

 

JV: So, what are we looking at?

RP: What are we looking at… It’s quite hard say because the work has emerged slowly over fifteen years or so. Something that is at the heart of what I’m doing is synaesthesia. I have grapheme- colour, sound –colour synaesthesia and a heightened perception of certain geometric percepts. I used to have repetitive dreams of vast white spaces. Shapes would appear, three triangles for example, and slowly start moving about rhythmically, it was all very calm at first but then they would speed up and spin into a black vortex. At this point I’d panic, it was quite sinister. There were variations but always on these basic structures. However, I don’t seek to illustrate the particularities of such dreams. I’m much more looking at the condition of synaesthesia as a general model. Neuroscience interests me a lot, particularly the psychedelic and mystical element to it.

JV: And what does neuroscience say about synaesthesia?

RP: Basically, synaesthesia occurs when the stimulation of one sensory modality triggers a response in another modality. You hear a sound and see a colour. Such relationships can remain stable over time or arise in many different constellations. Earlier the condition had been dismissed as merely subjective, but now many neuroscientists are returning to it, although they don’t know its full significance yet. What they do say, is that synaesthesia may be the foundation of metaphor. Vilayanur S. Ramachadran (one of the leading researchers in the field) gives the so-called ‘booba kiki’ example: You have two shapes, one round, one spiky. Which is which?

JV: Well, the spiky one is kiki?

RP: Yes. This is the metaphorical dimension they are talking about. The theory is that, in the earliest stages of us developing in the womb, all our neural networks are interconnected. Within three months they start to separate. Synaesthesia occurs when some of the networks have not separated, in a way it’s a case of arrested development. Yet, on some level all of us are synaesthetic, we have a bodily knowledge of what these cross overs and metaphorical correlates are. Everybody experiences them. Do you know about Heinrich Kluver? He was a child psychologist working in the 60’s. He noticed that in small children there was a common occurrence of geometric repetitive dreams. Correlating these findings with research into mescal hallucinations, he built a visual alphabet of geometric forms which he called ‘form constants’. Apart from Synaesthesia, these forms also appear in other states of altered perception, migraine headache, epilepsy: grids lattices and vortex patterns. I like the idea that early modernist utopian geometry wasn’t not so far out after all… but actually came from the body. The abstract paintings I was doing before had a relationship to this sense of an inner visual grammar, then a big shift came a few years ago when I thought: What happens when I put the inside outside..? That’s the very long way of coming to this painting… of a tree!

JV: If we find the mental images on the inside, what is the outside?

RP: Nature for me is simply the outside, its external. With these images, it probably happens twice a year, if I’m lucky, that there is a moment of recognition, or resonance, when something I experience in a bodily way, I then also experience outside.

JV: That’s a good way to think because in that sense we are not talking about the representation but the resonance of nature.

RP: Yes, so this image has not really got anything to do with painting a tree accurately.

JV: It’s about finding what triggers the resonance. The painting is the medium of that resonance …

03_LLA_WB07_839x705-808x980

RP: Exactly. It is literally a mirroring inside the image. In her book Vibrant Matter , Jane Bennett, a ‘new materialist’ thinker, writes about how matter has energy. She also wrote a great essay about hoarders. She said if we (falsely) bracket off any notions of psychopathology, and assume that hoarders are exquisitely sensitive to something that is actually in the object, we can perhaps reveal what is happening in object relationships. We could say the same about synesthetes: that they have a heightened sensitivity to a network of relations that we all experience on some level. That’s somewhat how I look at what I’m doing.

JV: So, when I approach the constellation you build between the tree paintings, the sea paintings, the dark paintings on wood and the geometric objects, yeah really like a set of stimuli, I feel that together they configure a horizon of experience, of qualities and states, that you want me to enter…

RP: For a long time, when I was making the abstract works, working on paintings felt like spinning into a vortex. But now out of this vortex a network is emerging, a network of modalities that cross over: grapheme/ sound/ time/ spacial perception/ the calendar system/ colour it goes on… I have thought about this in terms of polarities (real/ abstract, 2d/3d, night/day, body/landscape inside/outside etc) but I like ‘qualities and states’. Out of that network anything can emerge which is really exciting because it allows the work to keep expanding in intuitive ways.

JV: It makes sense. So in that sense we are not looking at works that represent things in the traditional sense but which render something tangible that reverberates. Yet, while they operate like stimuli in the overall constellation of the work, they are also very painterly paintings, carefully built up in layers, layers and layers.

RP: I think of them now as compass points, generating resonances between things, and I’m like a conductor. So it’s really important to me that there is an intimacy with the works. Not only with the paintings, also with these spheres. I sit and make them. Somehow they are also comedy characters…

JV: Yes, it’s tangible that the works are charged with a different kind of feeling than, say, Bob Morris’s perceptual experiments in minimalism. I am very suspicious of Morris, he is telling me he wants to test my senses and that there is some higher phenomenological truth to be gained from it. When actually, the only thing he does is manipulate the conditions for seeing work in a gallery space, so as to make things more effective. He gives me the experience of having an experience in a white cube by looking at white cubes. A game of zeros. Very economical. My father studied art in the 60s and when I recently asked him about Morris, he just said one sentence: ‘The minimalists wanted the space’. Period. It’s like,‘yep, that’s pretty much it’. With Morris there’s a military logic to organizing a perceptual field by staking it out, with a few territorial markers. There’s no surplus. Nothing exceeds the functional logic of manipulating perception. It makes his work incredibly unembarrasing, because there is nothing to be embarrassed of.

RP: Where as this work could easily be embarrassing!

JV: Yeah, you address basic phenomena of perceptions, but in doing so you deal with experiences that modern rationality disavows as unverifiable. You go beyond the positivist rationale of ‘what you see is what you get’: cubes in a cube. Although the works may be stimuli, their making makes them more than just triggers.

RP: Yes. It’s this attitude of really getting to know every part of the thing that you are making. Because that’s how the resonance starts kicking off itself, how it starts to circulate, it feeds back to me what I put in. Time matters. The tree paintings come out of a really long term project. The tree is in Spain. I am repainting it every three years. This is the second one. I went back to Spain and re-photographed the tree. Ideally I’ll live in to my 80’s, and in time there will be like fifteen of them!

 JV: Yes, you get this sense of experiencing one’s own experiences resonating, bouncing back from the surface of the work. Also with the landscape paintings. There is something strangely tidal about them.

RP: In them I’m thinking about synthesising different rhythms, in a simple way, like night and day, real, yet abstract, black and white, the rhythm of the sea. They are called Notes on the Sea because I want to evoke a relation to musical notation and sound. I understand this form of rhythmicality as being deeply rooted in the body. So in that sense I’m putting the inside on the outside.

JV: Yeah, true, it’s a funny sense of connecting to something. Adorno tries to address it in his Aesthetic Theory. He argues that imitation of nature can carry art beyond the modern regime of representation into a zone of mimetic relationality, in which mimesis, really mimicking, becomes a form of ‘collusion with nature’, as he calls it. In mimesis, you collude with the thing, you become its partner, share its condition, as you ‘linger with it’, he says, in the process of taking it in. Taking the canvas, sketchpad or camera out there would be a way of literally translating that into a modern practice. But that’s not the only way, no? Caspar David Friendrich apparently never travelled. He got sketch books from travelling artists and collaged his nature scenes together from sketches of the Alps or Norwegian wilderness and so on. He did this picture of himself painting in a studio with only a tiny window under the roof. He seems to be in a state of summoning the spirits of nature in the studio space. In a sense you do something similar, you do take your camera out, but then the main thing is to make the sea come in, you are generating something very ocean-like, in the studio…

RP: Again I think it goes back to not actually having that much to do with sea! I was brought up near the Yorkshire Moors and sometimes when I was out walking a fog would descend which leaves you completely disorientated. It also plays with your spacial perception, blurring the boundaries… so there is something that intrigues me about creating a space that’s boundless or formless… hmm bringing the sea into the studio…

JV: Something ocean-like, the fog… so what reverberates in the mimetic experience is not so much a literal rendering of a seaside or moor scenario, but a bass line of the experience touched on here in the studio… how would you describe that experience?

RP: This is the stuff that is hard to articulate. It’s a calm, something grounded and expansive at the same time. Let me show you two films. The first one, Silence and Change is partner to the tree painting, The second, Wave (I) is light on the water in a particular place, where at a certain time of day, the contrast is so strong, that things really look black and white, it’s the language both of external and internal landscape. I originally painted it but it didn’t do anything so I realised it had to move… Now the film really activates the other works, the ceramics, like little characters… that really is the inside on the outside.

JV: So what renders the mimetic nature of the experience tangible is what the different works do together in space, isn’t it? How would you describe this experience?

RP: Ideally, there is a resonance. They activate each other so that something comes alive. If I were to mention another artist, whose work does that, it would be Tomma Abts. When you look at her paintings they are alive! That is what I’m trying to do. But for me it happens between works and how they relate to each other and it’s very difficult for that to happen. When I make the work, and get the feeling of generating that energy — and it’s hard to say whether I’m generating it or it’s coming from the work or whatever is happening — its quite transformative.

JV: Transformative in the sense of?

RP: In the sense that you are kind of clearing something, its a kind of clear out…

JV: I like the expression. There is a moment of clearing in the work. Heidegger talks about a clearing in the wood as a place where you feel how things open up and come into being. But in the case of your work, this notion has little to do with a sense of order or balance restored, no? The relation you build between the objects and paintings is precisely not characterized by symmetry nor order. In this sense you avoid what makes some new age stuff so hateful, that it is about dispelling conflict, aligning forces, re-instating cosmo-fascistic order. That death-drive towards symmetry and order is absent in your work. Instead, there is kind of a crooked factor. A clearing that does not give you a sense of order…

RP: Yes, exactly.

JV: … but a sense of relations. Relations established across a divide or by the recognisable difference of the media. That the sculpture is not a painting and the painting is not a sculpture. The geometrical shape is not a solid ball.

RP: That is something that I have been thinking a lot about, how to navigate around a gestalt idea without getting drawn into this reductive sense of order. It’s tricky. Well, I’m convinced that works related to experiments with perceptual experiences get an unnecessarily hard time: ‘Its hippy. It’s new age.’ This kind of dismissal. Actually there is still a lot to draw out. Which is what I’m trying to tackle without being clichéd. It’s such a tight rope.

JV: I have to say I like work that actually goes to places where the risk of embarrassment, as we were saying, still exists. I rather mistrust people who play the radical and go to the limits of perception, but who, at all times, make sure they stay on the safe side, within the parameters of accepted rational. What I hate about the ‘speculative realist’ thinkers and their ‘object-oriented ontology’ is that they talk about the secret life of things in, but with a pronouncedly scientific tone, that is, in an outright denial of how close their theories are to animist thinking. Anthropology doesn’t help that much either, as long as it treats animism as just another cultural phenomenon, to be studied and interpreted in this or that way. When the vital question may be: What does it mean today to experience things in that key? And if and how that would even be possible from a modern perspective? I like Michael Taussig because he faces up to these questions. You said for you art is about works becoming animated. What’s key to thoughts about animation, is that they put quality at the centre of thinking, rather than quantity. It’s the crucial difference between modern science and alchemy. Science quantifies. Alchemy qualifies. It understands the world in terms of relations between elementary qualities, between the wet, dry, hot and cold. Even when it comes to measurements, alchemical recipies, like for cooking up paints, apparently didn’t specify the actual quantity of, say, spoons of pigments you should put into the mix. They say ‘seven spoons’ because the number exemplifies a particular quality, in numerological terms. So people knew how to take recipies with a grain of salt. I find it fascinating to think that understanding matter in terms of resonances and reverberations could actually make us address the horizon of existential experience in qualitative terms, that is, in terms of how qualities like the hot, the cold, the wet and the dry clash or resonate in particular ways.

RP: Well that would be my proposal, that is exactly what it is. That is the framework. Thinking about animism is not how I arrived where I am, but from my understanding of it being relational, then yes, animism could potentially be considered as an approach to the network I’m trying to describe, as an outward expression of the relationality and qualities of synaesthesia. In the beginning, I was reading about alchemy and mystical practices, but at the time there seemed to be no room for it within a critical discourse. To engage with Neurology was to find a way of talking about what I was doing. I don’t think science is any threat to it being mystical in any way. I love this piece by Susan Hiller, that she made last year, ‘Channels’. She discusses the brain being like a tv set receiving and filtering information. Actually a lot of neuroscientists entertain this idea, many of them are really open. Science doesn’t detract from simultaneously thinking in another way. The questions just get bigger, don’t they?

JV: The questions just get bigger. What I love about Susan Hiller though, is that she has a way of returning science to the point of the unverifiable. She shows how so many scientific theories that present themselves with the authority of the irrefutable actually pick the point of departure for their investigations in precisely those experiences that resist criteria of verifiability. Hiller, for instance, writes about how Freud so insistently seeks to give psychoanalysis the authority of a proper science because he is dealing with phenomena traditionally associated with madness and using techniques like hypnosis or suggestion associated with witchcraft. So if we don’t look at the scientific in terms of its authority claims but in terms of what called the questions that just get bigger, where does that get us?

RP: In the end it may lead us back to philosophy. In my research, I came across the neuroscientist Michael Persinger. He invented what he called ‘The God Helmet’. The helmet generates relatively weak magnetic stimuli, directed at the front temporal lobes. Reports from people wearing the helmet in tests ranged from ‘no effect’ (Richard Dawkins said he felt nothing, he wouldn’t would, he) to full blown mystical experiences of feeling interconnected with everything. The majority at least recounted sensing another presence in the room. The argument is that it’s all in the mind. But still I found it really exciting. As Susan Hiller suggests, if the magnetic impulses open up a receptor, when you watch the television, the film may not only be made in the TV. This creates a huge opening to questions we can be asking.

JV: Like?

RP: Well my question has always been: Is it there or isn’t it? Are there energies moving between things or are they simply empathetic responses? That is the metaphysical question.

Both: And we will never be able to answer it.

RP: Maybe most importantly it reminds us that we just dont know. It puts us in a position of curiosity and uncertainty.

JV: In writing about Susan Hiller I ended up calling the phenomena she is dealing with experiences of the vivid yet unverifiable. The agony of not knowing, I think, is so well captured in that line from the lyrics of Iron Maiden’s Number of the Beast ‘Can I be sure that what I saw last night was real and not just fantasy?’ That is question the vivid yet unverifiable poses. In her pieces, in a sense, Hiller works towards establishing this condition as a truth criterion in its own right. It is an intrinsic characteristic of the experiences she points to (including that of watching, or rather, receiving images and messages from the TV) that they are made in the key of the vivid yet unverifiable. It lies in the nature of these experiences (art, love, religion, sensing other people’s feelings, revelations of truths…) that they might as well be true or in your head. That condition defines there reality. So, taking these matters seriously, is, as you said, a tight rope walk. What’s the risk?

Installation5

 

RP: What’s the risk? Well, it’s not so mush a philosophical as a practical risk, you risk not being taken seriously or being embarrassed. A certain sincerity concerning these matters is still considered naive.

JV: The risk is to be not taken seriously. So what are we arguing for? For the validity of letting the uncertain be what it is? Is it even the right question? Are we arguing for anything?

RP: Yes of course we are arguing for something. I’m arguing an intelligence of the body, I’m arguing for, I guess, the possibility to talk about something transformative or clearing, about a love which is intelligent, for an optimism, a curiosity and openness to uncertainty…

JV: One the one hand such bodily intelligence, as a faculty, would be almost timeless. On the other hand, historically, it points to a knowledge that has either been violently suppressed, in the horrors of the witch hunts at the dawn of modernity, or appropriated, fetishized and exploited for all the wrong reasons by modern cults.

RP: Well its difficult to talk about these matters because the twentieth century really screwed up the concepts that existed for doing so. Somehow we have to reconstruct a language out of the rubble.

JV: Including concepts that would allow us to talk about nature in a non-essentialist manner. When we speak about your work and describe what comes to pass between its different parts as resonating with a relation to nature, what notion of nature are we dealing with?

RP: Well it’s what we were talking about in the beginning, isn’t it? I would usually hesitate to use the word ‘nature’. I am not talking about nature in the conventional sense, nor am I making any grand claims about the nature of things. For me to explore particular experiences and relations through making works is a matter of curiosity. Bringing the sea into the studio is a simple act of bringing what is outside (outside of ourselves, external) close… It’s a way of rendering an externality which, without being abstract in the traditional sense, defies cultural readings. The sea, or the fog, or the tree, is simply an outside, an other. If we understand mimesis as a way to enter into an embodied relation with the other, and we go along with the notion of nature as outside, then you could say that, by bringing nature into the studio, I blur the boundaries between the inside and the outside. The inner sense of bodily rhythmicality is externalised in the work. At the very same time, the work brings the external and distant close. Exploring this boundary is like moving along an edge… I suppose this is why going to this edge feels expansive, like a form of clearing. It somehow describes the work to say that what comes to pass between these different objects is an exchange which makes them feel animated. Like in a natural environment. So it feels like I’m evoking something, or trying to, that is alive.

 

Images: ‘Notations’ exhibition views, courtesy Rebecca Partridge. Film: ‘Wave I’, courtesy Rebecca Partridge.

]]>
http://www.metamodernism.com/2015/06/09/resonances-and-reverberations/feed/ 0
A Closeness Always Faint http://www.metamodernism.com/2015/06/05/a-closeness-always-faint/ http://www.metamodernism.com/2015/06/05/a-closeness-always-faint/#comments Fri, 05 Jun 2015 13:02:51 +0000 http://www.metamodernism.com/?p=8848 womaninthemoon1

From a perspective traditional to cybernetics and information theory, the necessary condition that foregrounds any act of mediation is separation. To communicate, it is presupposed that the entity that transmits information is discrete from the entity that receives it. By initiating the act of communication, the entities involved consent to collapse, as Eugene Thacker calls it, the “prior state of disconnection” that articulates their separation.[1] Thus it is that as I write this essay I am myself, Elliott Mickleburgh. The year is 2015 and I am 24 years old in the Gregorian calendar. I wrote this essay sitting in libraries and hotel lobbies in New York City, where I live, although some of the research was done back in Chicago. Perhaps you are much older than me, living somewhere else. Or maybe you’re also in your mid-twenties in New York but you were born in 2063. We probably have differing familial and cultural heritages that to varying degrees have conditioned our basic worldview. It’s likely though that we share some common interest in media studies, philosophy, art, and metamodernism.

This brief autobiographical tangent is intended to demonstrate how the separation present at the outset of communication can be variably registered. The variable of separation this essay is invested in is one that can subsist outside of human thinking but is nonetheless almost impossible to remove from cognition. This difference is space. The contortion of space via communication is indeed strange. As we communicate, space appears to the mind as having been mitigated by a field of telepresence. Truthfully though, the physical space between communicants is more or less static, creating a discrepancy between one’s technologically influenced perception of reality and reality as it is in itself. For example, when I speak to my friends in Chicago on the phone, I feel the physical distance between us shortened but in reality there is still around 1000 miles between us.

How does one confront this bizarre discrepancy between the thought of telepresence and the actual existence of space, a discrepancy always at the heart of mediation? There’s no single answer to this. Rather, each historical epoch seems to concoct unique solutions. Modernism, for instance, adored the capacity of telepresence to reshape space artificially. The acts of exploring and territorializing were paramount to modernity’s forward drive of progress. Yet such acts of physical movement were always complicit with an equal and opposite depletion of energy and resources. Luckily, the field of electronic mediation developing at the outset of the 20th century seemed to promise supremely efficient mechanical systems not just of communication but also of motion itself. To communicate then was to maximize an economy of movement: one could traverse the globe in a realm of images with a reduced cost of actual energy. Media objects like the photographic image or the radio broadcast provided a beneficial paradox of modern speed without exertion, dynamism without exhaustion.

The postmodern era was more skeptical of the distortion of space via mediation. The outward-bound transmissions of modernity had established a network of data careening across the globe at imperceptible speeds. For the postmodern communicant, mediation was no longer an act of crossing lengths of space to metaphorically arrive somewhere. Now the mediating subject was always already plugged in to a network of information that turned here into everywhere instantly. To conceptualize a space as a single unit of territory with discrete boundaries differentiating it from other spaces while simultaneously perceiving that same space to be equal to the set that contains all mediated spaces is a logical contradiction. That kind of dismantling of truth could set any communicant into a paranoid frenzy. Don DeLillo describes something like this in a rather cynically comedic passage in his novel White Noise in which the protagonist Jack Gladney and his son Heinrich argue over whether the weather is better perceived by the body or the media:

“Just because it’s on the radio doesn’t mean we have to suspend belief in the evidence of our senses.”

“Our senses? Our senses are wrong a lot more often than they’re right. This has been proved in the laboratory. Don’t you know about all those theorems that say nothing is what it seems? There’s no past, present, or future outside our own mind. The so-called laws of motion are a big hoax.”[2]

Of course, these are only rough sketches of how epochs have approached the paradoxes of mediation and space. While the process of mediation will always contort spatial relationships, every medium will perform this contortion with some degree of variation. As such, epochal ideas will always resolve the paradoxes of mediation on the basis of a specific medium. What the above sketches do describe fairly well, however, is how modernism and postmodernism react to the paradox of mediated space as it is found in the medium of the moving image. By the moving image, I refer broadly to any process that animates or sequences still images across a surface, accompanied by sounds or silence. The technological means of the moving image have evolved tremendously since even the end of the 19th century. The manner in which this broad category of media describes or warps space has changed vastly as it moved from the photographic experiments of Eadweard Muybridge to digital cinema’s hyperreal DLP hardware and steady increase of standardized frame rates.

The question we might ask at this point is how will metamodernism react to the ever-changing strangeness of mediating space in the moving image? This writing offers a possible answer to that query. We begin by looking at the sorts of moving image apparatuses available during the eras of modernism and postmodernism respectively. Through analyzing these devices abstractly and then in their application in two pieces of cinema, we will come to a more thorough understanding of how mediated and actual space were confronted by technology and artistic conventions in the two epochs. From there we may plot the contours of a metamodern oscillation and find that shape’s expression in a contemporary video artwork.

Let us begin this investigation with the moment at which the moving image fused with the cultural logic of modernism in cinema. We could conceive of the filmic medium in the early 20th century as a fluctuation between abundances and deficits of information. Walter Benjamin once declared that photographic machines like the motion picture camera had the capacity to arrest reality and reveal unseen dimensions of nature to the faculties of human thinking. Techniques such as slow motion and tightly focused close-ups reveal those moments that remain unresolved by purely biological vision. As a medium dealing in what Benjamin called the “optical unconscious”, cinema at this time provided technologically enhanced and highly detailed observations of reality.[3]

But while modern cinematic media had the capacity to reveal what was previously masked by the limitations of human seeing, there were likewise qualities of these media that created scarcities in information. Since innovations like optical sound and analog color processing were still in their infancy at this time, many motion pictures remained silent and were shot and projected in the monochromatic palette of black and white film. To borrow an idea from Marshall McLuhan, we might consider these qualities as ones that register the modern cinematic medium to a particularly “cool” temperature. The desaturated and mute images of many modernist films stimulate the senses in low definition, prompting the viewer to imagine the information technologically excluded.[4]

And so the modern cinematic medium seems to vacillate between providing a satiation of data and an accompanying shortage of the same. The spectator gorges on novel information from the optical unconscious and then projects a mental image based on that new data back into parts of the moving image that are lacking in definition. In Fritz Lang’s magnificent sci-fi piece Woman in the Moon (1929), this technological aspect of modernist cinema becomes salient in the narrative structure and cinematography of the motion picture.

While ostensibly a love story, the real intrigue of Woman in the Moon lies in its narrative of intrepidity expressed through space travel. The altruistic explorer Helius (Willy Fritsch) collaborates with the unorthodox scientist Professor Mannfeldt (Klaus Pohl) to chart a voyage to the moon. While still on Earth, their efforts are challenged by a group of greedy entrepreneurs working with the spy Walter Turner (Fritz Rasp). Overcoming the obstacles posed by these villains takes place entirely on Earth before any manned spacecraft has even launched and actually occupies much of the first half of the film. It is the differences in Lang’s depiction of the moon in the first and second acts of the film that largely embodies the optical unconscious and cool temperature of modern moving images.

While the film’s narrative is still taking place on Earth, the antagonists hold a screening in their offices of stolen footage from an unmanned rocket that Helius had sent to the moon for surveying purposes. This exploratory rocket, the H32, is shown to have been equipped with teleobjective lenses and camera equipment automated by clockwork. The images of the moon’s surface recorded by the H32 are immobile photographs initially. They become increasingly more animated and detailed with the use of close-ups as the rocket draws closer to the surface. “The eye of the objective sees what no man’s eye has ever seen: the opposite side of the moon,” reads an expository title card during this scene. Areas of the lunar surface that are invisible to the human sensorium grounded on Earth are revealed via this camera that operates autonomously from human thinking. The H32 becomes Lang’s metaphor for the optical unconscious revealed by the apparatuses of cinema.

Of course, several characters in Woman in the Moon inevitably do venture forth into outer space and onto the surface of the moon. But Lang’s image of the moon is quite different during this part of the film, seen no longer through a camera but through the eyes of people. During the landing sequence we see craters on the lunar surface dizzyingly streak past the portholes of the rocket, appearing and disappearing far too fast to register. Once the rocket does catastrophically land, the voyagers emerge into a landscape that is cropped by Curt Courant’s cinematography and populated with mountainous terrain that obscures the topology of the area. As Professor Manfeldt embarks on an expedition to find water, Lang rarely reveals majestic or intricate images of the lunar landscape. Instead we see closely framed shots of figures moving across spaces with no horizon, the body often concealed by outcroppings of rock, steam from geysers, and even the boundaries of the frame. Once Manfeldt and Turner venture into a cavern, the lighting dramatically shifts into a high contrast range that renders all but faces and slivers of stone completely invisible.

womaninthemoon2

womaninthemoon3

The fluctuation between these two forms of seeing in Woman in the Moon, a fluctuation bred from the technological conditions of the moving image at the time, reified key points of the modernist ethos. The spectator of this film first sees the moon through an instrument of scientific progress, our conceptualization of that astral body expanding as we absorb images transmitted back to Earth from the optical unconscious. Later, we inductively refer back to these images when human eyes explore the territory of the moon. We then project an idealized vision of the moon back into Lang’s cinematic images. The medium of Lang’s sci-fi adventure, far from being an inconsequential carrier of content, enforces modernity’s fondness for idealism, reason, and techno-scientific progress.

It is the difference between impeccable resolution and confounding irresolution that refined the medium of modern cinema into an exercise of active visioning. The mind differentiates between things that are seen and not seen, navigating the gap with the faculties of reason and producing knowledge of things in the process. In writing of theater specifically and epistemology more broadly, Aristotle once noted that the understanding of something is formed through comparing a likeness of that thing to the thing as it exists outside of aesthetics.[5] In other words, knowledge is created through an observation and analysis of the difference between the real and its image. In the moving image, technical developments eventually eliminated this measure of difference, transforming the act of viewing into an engagement in passive immersion and ushering in an era of postmodern cinema.

As the 20th century progressed, the temperature of moving image media steadily increased. Previously rarified systems like optical sound and color processing transitioned from being infrequently implemented tools to workhorses. Film theorists like Gene Youngblood prescribed even further upheaval of apparatuses, calling for the severance of moving images from their predicate media of theater and literature and proposing a new “synaesthetic cinema” able to “function as a conditioning force to unite us with the living present.”[6] Youngblood’s appeal was answered; within years, IMAX, chroma keying, CGI animation, increased use of stereoscopic projection, and so many other media additionally enhanced cinematic works. The level of information within moving images pushed farther into a state of perpetual high definition.

The moving image around this point became eerily reminiscent of the pure simulacrum. The measures of difference that accentuated modern cinema melted away as the temperature of the medium continued to heat up. The distinction between the poles of reality and its representation, between hi-def and lo-def images, and most notably between the spectator and the image itself all faded away. The viewer of postmodern cinema becomes immersed in a data saturated film that erases “distinct terms and oppositions, including that of the medium and of the real.”[7] And without these in between spaces, these areas of distinction, the faculties of reason do not produce knowledge. Quite to the contrary, the spectator is absorbed into the depths of postmodern paranoia.

There is perhaps no better film to illustrate this than another masterpiece of sci-fi, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982). Far from the optimism for movement and technology embraced in Lang’s film, Blade Runner is a tale of technological hubris. In the myopic future of 2019, the fields of biomechanical engineering and artificial intelligence have created a being indistinguishable from humans: the Nexus 6 replicant. The film’s narrative centers around four replicants who have escaped back to Earth and are subsequently hunted through the ravaged landscape of 21st century Los Angeles by the retired peacekeeper Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford). The special effects shots of this decrepit urban terrain, created through shooting models designed by Douglas Trumbull with high-resolution 65mm film stock, articulate the restricted spaces of postmodern cinema that emerge when once distinct oppositions collapse into one another.

bladerunner1

The film opens with a slow aerial scanning of an industrial landscape shrouded in fog. The composition is largely symmetrical and the distribution of architecture throughout the shot is regular. But as Deckard advances through his task of hunting down the renegade androids, the city becomes exceedingly claustrophobic. The special effects sequences depicting future Los Angeles vertically descend into a mess of multilingual neon signs, enormous LCD advertisements, and the loud yet monotonous sounds of crosswalks and zeppelins. The camera itself also becomes increasingly static and tilts backwards, creating intense distortions in perspective. These compositions make us feel the weight of all the information coursing through the metropolis bearing down on us. As Deckard begins his final pursuit of Pris (Daryl Hannah) and Roy (Rutger Hauer) through the interior of an abandoned building, he looks up to see a zeppelin previously shown advertising expatriation to the ambiguous off-world colonies mentioned but never depicted throughout the film. The aircraft is partially masked by pieces of the building that resemble prison bars. The camera is tilted so far back it seems as if the apparatus is lying supine. In this shot, a vague promise of movement is tauntingly presented as our view of space is entombed within a disintegrating and over-mediated environment.

bladerunner2

As we have seen, the communication of space and the thinking of this communication are staged distinctly by the moving images of modernism and postmodernism. The former ideology championed the capacity of these media to reveal and obscure simultaneously. The difference between images filled with and bereft of information created a qualitative gap to be traversed, the mind creating and utilizing concepts in so doing. The latter ideology preferred an unchanging state of high definition in the moving image. No measure of difference existed to create knowledge and movement. The “moving” image of postmodernism simply locked the spectator into a condition of stasis with increasing quantities of information binding representation, reality, and human reasoning closer together.

bladerunner3

A moving image that is metamodern in this sense, is one that oscillates between the poles of movement and stasis, between states of difference and simulation. We can find just such a metamodern oscillation within a contemporary work of video art: Geoffrey Farmer’s Look in my face; my name is Might-have-been; I am also called No-more, Too-late, Farewell (2013). While not explicitly a work of cinema, the initial experience of Farmer’s video installation is not entirely dissimilar to being inside a movie theater. Upon walking into a darkened room in the New York gallery Casey Kaplan where the work was recently exhibited, one finds a large screen upon which the piece is projected. Halfway across the room is a bench and surrounding speakers. The visual component of Farmer’s work consists of a non-repeating slideshow of still photographic images. The subject matter of these pictures varies intensely. Photos of soldiers, glaciers, ballerinas, boats, flags, corpses, and countless other people and objects flicker across the screen. Some of these images are in color, others in black and white. Some feel cropped or zoomed in upon with patterns of pixels and halftones scattered across the screen while others are pristinely sharp. The audio component of the piece is similarly broad in its content. For example, one might sequentially hear shattering glass, the catch of a match on a cigarette, gunshots, and wrapping paper being torn, all mixed at varying volumes and occasionally muffled by static.

Further accentuating the breadth of this work is the montage that sequences individual samples of image and sound, drawing numerous relationships between the visual and sonic components of the piece. This montage is algorithmically driven, some unseen lines of code generating randomness that constantly shifts the speed, transitions, and synchronicity of the samples. Images flash by in a succession too rapid for the mind to grasp while other moments in the work will hold a single photograph suspended on the screen for an agonizingly long period of time. Dissolves bleed images in and out of one another but smash cuts are just as common. Both of these editing techniques are executed by the algorithm with and without an interspersing video slug of a black screen. All the while, the audio in the work moves forward with varying degrees of synchronicity. At times we may hear the chime of an elevator sound as an image of a door appears while other moments yield combinations like an air horn blaring seconds into the projection of a photo depicting a horse.

farmer_caseykaplan

What we are essentially confronted by in Look in my face; my name is Might-have-been; I am also called No-more, Too-late, Farewell is a stream of subject matter that is at odds with the montage that arranges it. The samples of image and sound initially seem to be indifferent to one another in so much as that no idea or organized set of ideas can filter the content into meaningful subsets. The montage meanwhile seems replete with difference: no two outcomes of the algorithm are alike. Already we can see a kind of metamodern oscillation emerging as Farmer’s video swings from the stagnant indifference of postmodernism to the dynamic difference of modernism. This oscillation only gets more nuanced the longer one sits with the work. After awhile, one begins to recognize a vague theme in the samples. Almost all of the images and sounds in the work seem to come from a source that’s just been freshly historicized, something firmly within thinkable time but just beyond the horizon of the present moment. Suddenly we have the foundation of a concept that can either contain or displace content, a level of difference that serves as an engine for epistemological motion. The montage undergoes a similar shift. We eventually realize that every seemingly variable piece of editing is actually just an iteration of the algorithm that guides the montage as a whole. Every untimely fade to black, every moment of synchronicity, is the outcome of one idea expressed computationally in some invisible script. There is no edit in this piece that is outside of that idea, we see. All these gestures of montage are different but ultimately indifferent in that they are repetitions of only one concept.

So just what kind of experience of space do we have when in communication with this metamodern moving image? That is to say, what kind of movement do we feel when the difference and indifference between things is highly malleable, always fluctuating? In Farmer’s piece at least, there are times when difference seems to win out and we feel a propulsive kick moving us towards the telepresence of some image or sound. And then there are the moments when we become acutely aware of the immediate space of the gallery, those moments when the artwork becomes so indifferent as to cease communicating. We feel the exuberant motion of modernism and the crippling stasis of postmodernism skittishly bounce us around real and imagined spaces, never traveling in great forward leaps but not staying put for long either.

Actually, we feel the separation between ourselves and another move back and forth like this in another kind of communication: romance. It’s particularly like a relationship that’s hiccupping through its first interactions. When two are initially drawn towards one another, they glide from encounter to encounter. Each phone call, text message, coffee and ice cream, each date is the catalyst for the next. But all the while on the train ride home, each one fantasizes of a future spent with the other. Depthy is the manner of such a connection.[8] I invoke this sentimental analogy to stage a final remark. Quite simply, communication with the metamodern is neither efficient nor futile. Like love, such an engagement is flirtatious. We slowly come closer to a fulfillment of desire that is thankfully always out of reach, making the movement there all the sweeter.

 


[1] Thacker, Eugene. “Dark Media.” In Excommunication: Three Inquiries in Media and Mediation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013. pg. 89.

[2] DeLillo, Don. White Noise. London: Picador, 1986. p. 26.

[3] Benjamin, Walter. “Little History of Photography.” In Selected Writings Volume 2: 1927-1934, ed. Michael W. Jennings, Howard Eiland, Gary Smith, trans. Rodney Livingstone. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999. pg. 512.

[4] McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964.

[5] Aristotle. Poetics, trans. S.H. Butcher. New York: Hill and Wang, 1961.

[6] Youngblood, Gene. Expanded Cinema. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1970. pg. 82.

[7] Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and Simulation, trans. Sheila Faria Glaser. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994. pg. 83.

[8] Vermeulen, Timotheus. “The New Depthiness.” e-flux, 2015.

]]>
http://www.metamodernism.com/2015/06/05/a-closeness-always-faint/feed/ 0
Misunderstandings and clarifications http://www.metamodernism.com/2015/06/03/misunderstandings-and-clarifications/ http://www.metamodernism.com/2015/06/03/misunderstandings-and-clarifications/#comments Wed, 03 Jun 2015 13:21:22 +0000 http://www.metamodernism.com/?p=8811 daou-research

It has been five years since our essay-cum-opening statement ‘Notes on Metamodernism’ was published in the Journal of aesthetics and culture, about six and a half years since it was written, and sevenish years since it was conceived late at night in a student dorm room in London, discussing, not entirely sober, the financial crisis, the rise of populism and New Romanticism with our dear friend Niels van Poecke. We’ve since finished our studies. We both left the UK, though for different countries – which means that we today collaborate via Skype, if we manage at all. We also started our academic careers, learning the ropes of teaching and marking, and focusing on the research projects that fulfill the requirements of today’s …ahum… ‘interesting’ academic ranking systems (by ‘interesting’ we mean, of course, neoliberal, cost-effective with ‘cost’ a denominator of monetary value and ‘effective’ a byword for market-competition). In between, in fits and starts, we maintained this website alongside others like Nadine Feßler, Alison Gibbons, Hila Shachar and Luke Turner, hoping to provide a platform for others to develop their own, often rather different understandings of the present structure of feeling.

Perhaps as a result of all these developments, we have not yet developed the notion of metamodernism as much as we would have liked. Sure, we have written one or two rarely read follow up articles for academic anthologies and journals, trying to develop further our conceptions of History and Utopia. We organised symposia and meetings and attended conferences where we toned our ideas in discussions with scholars that inspired us, even if, or rather especially when their theses were diametrically opposed to ours – we learned a lot from talking and listening to the likes of Rosi Braidotti, Francis Fukuyama, Laura Marx, Walter Benn Michaels, Jennifer Ashton, Nina Power, Christian Moraru, Raoul Eshelman, Camille de Toledo, and Michel Bauwens. But we have yet to write an extensive, detailed in-depth account of the metamodern structure of feeling as we see it, tracing the links between socio-economic changes and cultural tendencies, expanding on, updating or perhaps even discarding notions such as “structure of feeling”, “metaxy”, “as if” and “both-neither”: a book. As it happens, we have recently picked up our pens and set ourselves some deadlines to finally finish this book. We have no idea whether anyone is actually keen to read it, but we plan (or hope…) to write it nonetheless. A quick browse on Amazon suggests that this is how many authors approach their writing nowadays anyways.

The reason for sharing all this with you, we guess, is that over the past few years there have been some misinterpretations about what we may have intended in those first notes on metamodernism. A number of the initial 6.000 words have been taken out of context or even misrepresented to suggest we said things that we most certainly did not say. To be sure, we do not have a problem with people criticizing our argument – indeed, we ourselves see how flawed it is, how misguided in some of its assessments and incomplete (and perhaps too hasty) in its theorization; nor, obviously, do we mind people using our essay as an explicit stub or implicit inspiration to develop their own, undoubtedly much more advanced theses. We also understand that once your words are jotted down, they are no longer yours, that they can be picked up by others. But it is important to us that our research is criticized or praised for what it does actually conclude, not for what it does not. We have therefore decided to, ahead of this eternally delayed book project, address some of these issues. Many if not all of these claims have been made elsewhere by us already, in writing or on record, but we wish to restate them here in one place so as to prevent new misunderstandings.

Metamodernism, as we see, it is not a philosophy. In the same vein, it is not a movement, a programme, an aesthetic register, a visual strategy, or a literary technique or trope. To say that something is a philosophy is to suggest that it is a system of thought. This implies that it is closed, that it has boundaries. It also implies that there is a logic to it. To say that something is a movement, or indeed a programme, suggests that there is a politics to it, a belief as to how our environment should be organised. To propose any one “–ism” as an aesthetic – register, strategy or trope – is to suggest that it is a figure that can be pinned down and picked up from a text or painting and inserted elsewhere. The notion of metamodernism we have proposed is neither of these. It is not a system of thought, nor is it a movement or a trope. For us, it is a structure of feeling.

When we say that metamodernism is a structure of feeling, we intend to say, very much like Fredric Jameson and, later, David Harvey when they describe postmodernism, that it is a sensibility that is widespread enough to be called structural (or as the cultural historian Ben Cranfield recently paraphrased it in a brilliant talk about the “emergent” in art at UCL, a “feeling that structures” (2015, unpublished conference paper), yet that cannot be reduced to one particular strategy. For Jameson, for instance, postmodernism was the structure of feeling of endings – the end of History, the end of “ideology”, the end of the social, the end of art; one that was expressed in many different forms: pastiche, eclecticism, the nostalgia film, photorealism and so on. For us, metamodernism is a structure of feeling associated with the increasingly widespread sentiment that each of these debates are kickstarted, not as project perhaps as much as a projection, the premise on which new projects may be endeavoured. This structure of feeling, however, too, finds its expression in many different formal languages that have been described in detail by others: the new sincerity, quirky, freak folk, New Romanticism, new materialism, speculative realism, to name just a few. In any case, the 2000s are the defining period for the shift from postmodernism to metamodernism to occur (just as the sixties were the defining transitional period for the shift from modernism to postmodernism).

In describing metamodernism in this way, we explicitly do not say it is something we should aspire to or distance ourselves from. We do not wish to make such claims. Personally, one of us may like certain developments in the arts, whilst the other hates particular political movements. But it is entirely beside the point. Metamodernism is neither a movement, nor a manifesto. This is not to say that we do not appreciate all those who have explored the metamodern sensibility in alternative ways. We just want to make clear that these projects are not necessarily related. If you feel inspired by metamodernism as a programme, if you understand metamodernism as a way of life you wish to embrace or an aesthetics you want to adopt, we therefore need to disappoint you and should direct you to the many other accounts out there that provide just that (either under the label of metamodernism or another label).

For us metamodernism does not propose any kind of vision or utopian goal. It may describe the prevalence of such a goal in contemporary culture, but it certainly does not prescribe it. Indeed, as cultural theorists, our aim is to be descriptive rather than prescriptive (which doesn’t preclude a critical reception of contemporary developments, to be sure), and our use of the term is born of our attempts to articulate developments in aesthetics, culture, politics and economics that we consider can no longer be understood simply, i.e. exclusively, in terms of the postmodern. Ultimately, therefore, metamodernism is a term used, by us, to periodize the contemporary and think the present historically.

It is sometimes suggested that we coined the term metamodernism. If only! Indeed, nothing is further from the truth. As we have stipulated on many occasions, in writing as well as during lectures, and as a quick google browse confirms, we have certainly not been the first to use the term metamodernism. Not even the second, or third, or fourth. We wonder whether we are even in the top ten. Just as postmodernism was around in many different guises long before Jencks used it to describe developments in architecture, or Hassan and Hutcheon to describe literary tropes, or Lyotard to describe changes in philosophy, or Jameson to describe a structure of feeling associated with the sense of an end, the term metamodern has been around for quite some time. It has popped up everywhere from mathematics and physics, to Eastern spirituality, economics, and literary theory, and, we assume, its usage elsewhere, in different fields and contexts, will continue in years to come. As Seth Abramson has noted over at his blog at Huffington Post, the term was already used in the seventies by the scholar Mas’ud Zavarzadeh to describe a tendency in literature expressed above all by the metafictional novel and the nonfiction novel to “move beyond the interpretive modernist novel in which the fictionist interpreted the human condition within the framework of a comprehensive private metaphysics, towards a metamodern narrative with zero degree of interpretation”(1975: 69), one that refuses to “reduce the puzzling multiplicity of the contemporary experience into a monolithic fictive construct” (83). Though we think Zavarzadeh’s essay excellent, it evidently discusses developments within what is today generally considered (a variant of) postmodernism rather than another modernism existing alongside it. Indeed, the author’s emphasis on black humour and parody (78), a loss of faith in the “single interpretation of reality” and the abandonment of depth-models (81), as well as his insistence on authors like Robbe-Grillet, Barth, Barthelme, and Wolfe reminds us more of Jameson and Hassan than of the speculative realists.

In the studies of other literary theorists like Andre Furlani and Alexandra Dumitrescu, we would argue, metamodernism is used to signal another modernism, though here, too, we feel it is not necessarily the modernism we see emerging presently. What is interesting here, is that the adjective ‘meta’ in metamodernism is used in both instances less to indicate, as in Zavarzadeh, a rumination upon, than a situation between. In Furlani’s thorough, evocative study Postmodernism and After: Guy Davenport, he discusses the oeuvre of writer Guy Davenport in terms of complementarity and “contrasts absorbed into harmony” that aspire to transcend the postmodern disorder (2007: 158). Similarly, Dumitrescu interestingly describes metamodernism as a “budding cultural paradigm” – one with a long history but accelerated as a result of developments in science – that is characterized by holism, connectionism and integration. In both cases, we are very sympathetic to a number of the initial observations – such as for instance Dumitrescu’s spot-on reading of Blake’s poem “The Song of Experience’ as “loop-like movement that isolates the nook of dogmatism and establishes connections between patterns of thought that the priest would deem irreconcilable” (2007) – and appreciate some of the metaphors and models employed to put those observations into perspective – Furlani’s complementarity, Dumitrescu’s bootstrapping and revisionism. However, we do not necessarily, or indeed, at all, agree with the arguments they infer from these observations and models, nor with the relations of causality that are proposed.

To be sure, our disagreement is not a disagreement about the use of the term metamodernism. Each should be allowed to use the term however they feel like. Since we were late adopters, we increasingly feel we definitely have no say in this. Our dispute is about how we understand the present conjecture. This dispute comes down, we would suggest, to three, or maybe four, arguments. 1. Contrary to Furlani, we do not understand what we call metamodernism, i.e. the contemporary structure of feeling, in terms of the absorption of contrasts into wholes. Furlani may well be correct in arguing that Davenport’s work surpasses postmodernism in that it creates harmony – indeed, there is nothing to suggest otherwise – but we would argue that this harmony is not the dominant sensibility of present culture. Indeed, we would very much press the point that in its stead, the prevalent sentiment is one of irreconcilability; of the awareness that one position is irreconcilable with another in spite of one’s need to occupy them both at once – hence our emphasis in that first, flawed essay, on New Romanticism’s tragic desire.

Second, in line with this, we also disagree with Dumitrescu’s assertion that contemporary culture’s attitude’s to irreconcilability – one of the key tropes in postmodernism, to be sure – is integration, one that takes place through an appreciation of complementarity and interconnectedness. Our reaction to Dumitrescu’s claim is threefold, the first of which questions its premise, the latter two responding to the argumentation. Our problem with Dumitrescu’s premise is above all its reach. She does not convincingly show the prevalence of integrationism: the very small selection of novels, written across a very long period (over 200 years), seems to be more wishful thinking than anything else. We are equally unconvinced here by the cause for this “budding” paradigm shift: an early twentieth century discovery in physics, which marks the development from a hierarchical model of the world (“going down from complex to simple, from molecule to atom and further still until the building blocks that make up the physical reality are identified”), to a network model (“that aims to grasp the interrelations between various forms of matter organization”). On the one hand, we wonder whether advances in the realm of life sciences directly influence developments in social discourses. On the other hand, if they do, it seems these are exactly the kind of developments – non-hierarchical, relational modalities in thought – that Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze were mapping in the seventies.

Our response to Dumitrescu’s argument itself – the conceptualization of integration and of connectionism – depends on how it is read. If it is to be taken, as the first part of the essay suggests, as a holistic synthesis of opposites, we would respond as we responded to Furlani above. However, if it is to be understood in the manner the author suggests it should at the end of her essay, our response is another. At the end of her essay, Dumitrescu argues:

To use a metaphor employed by Jünger in Eumeswil: late modernity and postmodernism have revealed the inherent insularity of individuals, the intrinsic fragmentarism of any meaning one can find in an ocean of seeming meaninglessness. However, between these islands, between these fragments that should by their very broken nature be parts of something, there can be interconnections that make them all parts of a network or of several networks, connections that redeem the forgotten nature of these islands as places of meaning, wonder and delight. (Ibid)

If Dumitrescu’s argument is that contemporary culture’s attitude towards irreconcilable opposites is to interconnect them in the way a network is connected, is a captain on a ship sailing between the various islands of the archipelago, our response is that this is a spot-on description of the postmodern Lyotard proposed in The Differend (1983; translation 1988, especially pp. 130-145), which he indeed envisaged as an admiral, a “travelling judge” navigating islands, negotiating discourses. (That Dumitrescu’s captain constantly rebuilds his ship, modifying this then that, is an interesting addendum but also rather similar to Lyotard’s classification of postmodern architecture as an architecture of “minor modifications”.) As the Lyotard’s interpreter Lieven Boeve has perceptively argued: Lyotard’s focus lies with the “linkage” of a “heteregenuous plurality” of discourses (2014: 81-82), that is to say with the admiral as much as the sea. What Dumitrescu speaks about when she speaks about “interconnections”, it seems to us, she is talking about linkage; networks: the sea, the milieu. Indeed, her reference to Houellebecq, a postmodern author if there ever was one, suggests as much.

Our argument, by contrast – which to be sure we do not wish to suggest is a more accurate description of the phenomenon Dumitrescu refers to but instead a description of a rather different structure of feeling – would be that contemporary culture, as exemplified in Annabel Daou’s installation “Which Side are You on” (2013), imagines a scenario in which the ship sinks and the sailor, the judge, has to set sail for one island whilst understanding that each island has its value. For us metamodernism is this moment of radical doubt, of constantly, at times desperately, repositioning between the islands, finally choosing one. The terms we chose early on were, with a nod to our former mentor Jos de Mul’s description of Romanticism, oscillation and metaxy. Perhaps elasticism could be another way to describe it, in the sense that the captain is tied by an elastic to different islands and the further he stretches the band to one island, the more violently the pull, the swing, back to another will be – until it snaps, of course. The word on the street for this, we guess, is choice-paradox.

Most obviously, we do not, as we have already stated above, use the term metamodernism to put forth a programme, as Dumitrescu seems to suggest, a description of a paradigm masquerading the prescription of a paradise, in which “unmediated” “connections between individuals, the ability of humans to create emotional, social, and theoretical networks, and to relate across ontological levels, may prevent the race from falling into the abyss of meaninglessness” (2007). For us, metamodernism is a structure of feeling, a mood, if you will, an attitude “dependent”, as philosopher Noel Carroll (1976) has brilliantly put it, on the overall state of the organism, its level of energy, the level of resources at its disposal for coping with environmental challenges, and the degree of tension it finds itself in as a result of the ratio of its resources to its challenges”, a global, protracted sentiment pulling all “ambient detail into its orbit”, that relates to economic, political and perhaps above all ecological crises encouraging alternative modalities of thought, to the democratization of computer-technology that returns the possibility of the public sphere to collective consciousness as much as it enables unprecedented levels of surveillance, and to demographics, in particular the coming of age of generation Y or the millenials, desiring another life than the one set out for them by their parents.

The term metamodernism has been used with more and less success elsewhere as well, ranging from cultural theory in Brazil to philosophy in the low lands (the brilliant Henk Slager preceded us on our home turf!), a mindset in India and mathematics and network theory in the US. The term also has currency in economics. Most recently British literary scholars James and Seshagiri (2014) have interestingly proposed metamodernism to describe distinctly modern literary tropes in contemporary novels. In a sense, the existence of all these different and differing uses is to be expected when using such a generic prefix as meta-, which, as we have previously stated, conveys first and foremost a moment after or beyond another moment (in our particular case the moment after the postmodern moment of and within the development of western capitalist societies). It is, in fact, so generic, that in Greek the notion of postmodernism should be translated as metamodernism. Still, our usage of the prefix ‘meta-‘ is intended, too, to convey something rather more specific. We chose it in order to express an oscillatory dynamic that was, and still is, observable across the arts and in culture. For us, this dynamic should be seen as a reflection or a mediation of a social situation in which History—and its dialectics of praxis (i.e. labour vs. capital) and dialectics of reason (i.e. dominant ideas about institutions vs. the materiality of daily life)—kick-started after that relatively brief ‘pause’ of the dialectic at the End of History.

Therefore, the point we wish to make here, as we wrote in a note to our 2010 essay as well as on this website is that

Although we appear to be the first to use the term metamodernism to describe the current structure of feeling, we are not the first to use the term per se. It has been used with some frequency in literature studies in order to describe a post-modern alternative to postmodernism as presented in the works of authors as far apart as, amongst others, Blake and Guy Davenport. However, we would like to stress that our conception of metamodernism is by no means aligned to theirs, nor is it derived from them. It is in so far related to these notions that it too negotiates between the modern and the postmodern; but the function, structure, and nature of the negotiation we perceive are entirely our own and, as far as we can see, wholly unrelated to the previous perception.

The reason for our engagement here as well as these annotations is twofold: on the one hand, we want to gratefully acknowledge the history of the term, one that far precedes our use and will surely outlive it; on the other, and in relation to the above, we want to be sure to distinguish our project from many of these earlier practices employing it, especially, perhaps, those for whom ‘metamodernism’ intended a programme, in which literature or philosophy appeared to be read normatively, as a prescription for another modernism preferable to the postmodern outlook. To be sure, this is by no means to suggest that we disapprove of these prior arguments, that we want to challenge or discard their assertions – they may well be exceptionally useful in specific contexts, or even, we hope, our context; but rather that we did not conceive of metamodernism as we understand it in line with these conceptions, but rather through different theoretical frameworks (Kant’s as-if, Voegelin’s metaxy, de Mul’s and Schlegel’s oscillation) and in the tradition of other debates like Alan Kirby’s digimodernism (2009), Nicolas Bourriaud’s altermodernism (2009), Eshelman’s performatism (2000;2008) and Jorg Heiser’s romantic conceptualism (2007), as well as, more recently, Svetlana Boym and Christian Moraru’s inspiring research into off-modernism (2010) and cosmodernism (2010), respectively, and Jeffrey T. Nealon’s excellent study Post-Postmodernism or the cultural logic of just-in-time capitalism (2012). Our lineage here, we believe, is well-documented.

We have gathered that there seems to be some confusion around the relationship between metamodernism and New Romanticism. Our argument in the 2010 essay, where we explicated this relation, was not that metamodernism can be reduced to New Romanticism, nor that what is generally referred to as New Romanticism is exclusive to the metamodernist structure of feeling. What we were trying to convey by discussing metamodernism by way of New Romanticism, or New Romanticism in the context of metamodernism, was that the former, New Romanticism, was but one possible expression of the latter, metamodernism. In other words: a number of works recognized as New Romanticism exemplified the metamodern structure of feeling. All these years later, we have no difficulty in pointing out other developments observed by others that are stylistically very different from New Romanticism yet express the same structure of feeling: the return of History, not as project but as projection, a possibility: the Arab Spring, Syriza, the Indignados, Speculative realism, OOO, New Sincerity, New Normal, Quirky, Freak Folk, Post-Internet, and so on. We feel that this confusion, too, may well have been our mistake entirely, as we developed our discourse around metamodernism from earlier ideas about the return of Romanticism in culture in relation to societal developments; that is to say, we only began thinking about metamodernism as a structure of feeling because we started perceiving the returning sensibility of the Romantic. We hope to have set the record straight here.

In a very interesting essay entitled ‘Poetry and the Price of Milk’, published on NonSite.org, literary scholar Jennifer Ashton concludes with a remark on metamodernism that we both agree with but also want to nuance: “metamodernism, in this respect, is nothing if not capitalism’s fantasy of the market, one in which what we “like” can also masquerade as a politics.” (2013). In line with our contention that metamodernism is the description of a structure of feeling – and not, to state it again, a programme – we, too, would argue that it resonates with a particular moment in capitalism, namely global capitalism or what Anatole Kaletsky (2012) has called capitalism 4.0. Where we differ from Ashton is that we do not necessarily believe it always, inevitably, conforms to the interests of that capitalism; in postmodernism, too, after all, certain practices opposed the very model of capitalism to which they were related.

It is true that, thus far, we have theorised the metamodern structure of feeling in ‘western’ culture predominantly. The reason for this is not, evidently, that we feel that there isn’t anything of interest happening outside of Europe, the US and Australia. Indeed, it is obvious, both politically and in terms of arts production, that there is exceedingly much happening in countries like China, Brazil, Lebanon, Morocco, Congo, South Korea and Turkey. One might even say that the so-called crisis of the West is nothing less than a crisis of dominance, where the class bully suddenly realizes he has lost his allies and his victims no longer put up with his crap. What we speak about when we speak about (geo)political instability, after all, is that we, in the west, is the realization that we never so much appeased conflict as that we displaced it. Similarly, our current problem with capitalism is not that it shows its real face; our problem is that we, in the West, now see this face much clearer than during the postmodern years– like conflict, it was there all along, we just looked away. The reason for focusing on phenomena in Europe and the US is that the both of us are most familiar with those contexts. Assuming that these observations have currency outside of these contexts, we feel, would be arrogant at best and old-school hegemonic at worst. This is not to say that they definitely are of no help in countries like Lebanon and South Korea; just that we do not know whether they do, just as we do not know whether our observations in the arts make sense in the context of classical music, or public administration, or the natural sciences. Part of the plan putting together this website was to include voices from across various contexts and disciplines.

Ultimately, metamodernism for us, is a cultural logic, a certain dominant ideological patterning that leaves its traces across culture. Our attempt is to map, outline and analyse the outer ideological limits of what we can think and do in the 21st century. Whatever we may think of the developments we are describing – good or bad, positive or negative, or whatever – is not to the point as those are moral judgments that do not have a place in a cultural analysis, depending finally very much on your place on the political spectrum. Yet in the final instance all the developments that we are describing (from new sincerity to nationalist populism to whatever) are problematic – which is something else than good or bad, positive or negative – in the light of the massive problems we are facing in terms of inequality and climate change.

 


Image: Annabel Daou, Study for I’m doing research for my practice, chalk pencil on paper, 2013

]]>
http://www.metamodernism.com/2015/06/03/misunderstandings-and-clarifications/feed/ 3
Robert Peston In The Desert Of The Real http://www.metamodernism.com/2015/05/29/robert-peston-in-the-desert-of-the-real/ http://www.metamodernism.com/2015/05/29/robert-peston-in-the-desert-of-the-real/#comments Fri, 29 May 2015 11:53:34 +0000 http://www.metamodernism.com/?p=8757 800px-Sao_Paulo_Stock_Exchange

Robert Peston is a kind of modern broadcasting hero. The BBC’s Economics Editor is a popular, engaging and energetic figure who helps explain capitalism to the people of the UK. Sometimes though, he seems rather a worried man. He worries about the price of crude oil. He worries about the government deficit and the latest unemployment figures. He worries about the balance of trade. Robert – just like many of our politicians – worries about the latest GDP figures. He tends to spend a lot of time worrying about the latest Chinese export statistics.

These things are real. They matter. So that’s why Robert worries about them. They tell him – and he tells us – how modern capitalism is working. And we need capitalism to work because There Is No Alternative.

At least for several decades before the financial crisis, modern capitalism has been the only game in town, the dominant structure of production. Margaret Thatcher and later Slavoj Žižek taught us about TINA; traditional socialist parties across Europe have remodelled themselves to work within, rather than against, modern capitalism; Francis Fukuyama (1989) proclaimed the End of History in the form of western-style liberal capitalism; and Mark Fisher (2009) has described capitalist realism as our dominant ideology which now pervades all areas of society.

Yet since the financial crisis, it has also become clear to many of us – including even to Robert if he can dare to admit it – that our capitalist economy is in a sort of artificial suspended animation. How can it really be capitalism if it isn’t even real? When it’s become a sort of postmodern work of fiction?

Since the crash, the conjuring tricks of leverage and fractional reserve banking have been more widely revealed. The unprecedented and astonishing programme of trillion dollar quantitative easing and a barrage of other government interventions have woken us up to the economic world we inhabit where value is almost totally disconnected from the underlying material reality.

Indeed, Frederick Jameson (see, for instance, 1998) had observed even before the crash how Marx’s ‘fictitious capital’ had become entirely disconnected from the real economy. This isn’t just the view from relatively obscure circles of Marxist academia – ‘volatility guru’ Christopher Cole (2014) of Artemis Capital Management explains how:

Modern financial markets are a game of impossible objects. In a world where global central banks manipulate the cost of risk, the mechanics of price discovery have disengaged from reality… In the postmodern economy… our fiscal well-being is now prisoner to financial and monetary engineering of our own design. Central banking strategy does not hide this fact with the goal of creating the optional illusion of economic prosperity through artificially higher asset prices to stimulate the real economy. In doing so they are exposing us all to hyperreality or what Baudrillard called “the desert of real.”

So much it seems, then, of what we tend to think of as modern capitalism has actually become an “economy of pure sign functions.” John Lancaster (2008) dates this development as early as 1973 and the publication of the Black and Scholes formula, which helped price and thus catalyse the market for derivatives – now incredibly worth trillions of dollars and many times the value of global GDP. These derivatives make a mockery of the real.

In 2014, the Bank of England pulled the curtain back still further, publishing an explanation of how money is created, admitting that “Bank deposits make up the vast majority – 97% of the amount currently in circulation. And in the modern economy, those bank deposits are mostly created by commercial banks themselves.” So when the unit by which we measure the value of the economy is a unit which can be conjured from thin air by anyone with a banking licence, it seems we have entered this bewildering landscape of economic postmodernism where value is surface only and where the connections between signifier and signified have been utterly severed.

So derivatives are worth trillions of dollars, money is printed out of thin air by banks and by central banks, and implicit and explicit state subsidies are worth billions of pounds. We all know that GDP figures are no real reflection of the state of the economy. We all know the FTSE rises and falls in response to animal spirits and perceptions of perceptions of perceptions. Is any of this real Robert? Our economic indicators are now simulacra – disconnected from the practical economic mode of production. This is a make-believe, ersatz economy. There is no real economy. Take a look behind the curtain.

Perhaps more of us – beyond Jameson and the authors of Empire, Hardt and Negri (2000) – should have seen this coming. Because postmodernism as a structure of feeling has been so visible in a cultural context over the last few decades. So how, for so long, did so many of us miss its emergence in the economic sphere, when we know from Marx and others to consider the interdependence between ideology and material economic conditions; between the superstructure and the base? With postmodernism buzzing around the cultural superstructure, shouldn’t we have spotted how it also characterised much of the economic base? Indeed, now we have spotted it, this postmodern economy seems to be everywhere. Come on Robert, surely even you can see it?

Hugh Hendry, a fund manager, wrote in a recent letter to investors how there are “times when an investor has no choice but to behave as though he believes in things that don’t necessarily exist”, investing in assets that have no qualitative support. He used the analogy of the Matrix’s blue and red pills, now well understood in the financial services industry, to describe his investment strategy. For a lay reader naïve enough to believe that financial markets were still in some way still connected to the real, this is frightening stuff. Traders know the game will end in tears, but in the meantime, they still play. “Lord make financial returns correspond to real economic activity, but not yet!” Robert, surely you see this too? Stop worrying and learn to love the lie! At least while you can.

So does this mean the modern capitalist economy is dead? Why does Robert still regale us with the banality and reality of productivity gaps, unemployment rates and export ratios? Doesn’t our postmodern economy supersede this stuff?

No! Because even the traders know a day of reckoning will come one day. We do still somehow believe in GDP. We all still have to buy and consume things made in the real world. Oil still needs to be pumped out of the ground. Food needs to land on our tables. Postmodernism, both as a cultural structure of feeling and as an economic mode of production may have spread since the 1960s and begun to dominate. But it is not yet an undisputed champion. Try living off postmodern bread…

Since the crash, it has become clearer that we are oscillating between the modern and the postmodern, between capitalism and post-capitalism. Every time the hard truth of the real economy raises it head, we turn to post-modern tricks – more money creation, more contingent liabilities or more government guarantees. For a while, we float along in this fantasy land until Robert reminds us we have things to worry about – the real economy brings us down from our collective high. We realise that homeowners or Greeks can’t meet their debts, or that the Russian economy doesn’t actually produce very much. So again we turn to our box of tricks. You know this too, really, don’t you Robert?

So we oscillate between the real and the hyper-real. Between the modern and the postmodern. Between Robert’s technocratic world and a world of fantasy. Perhaps the postmodern economy has been with us since Black and Scholes and even since Tulipomania and the South Sea Bubble. It’s just that in the last few decades, the hyper-real economy has become so powerful and so the threat of a Return to the Real so significant. As we struggle to face up to its fictional and unstable nature, so we cling on to a sort of Zombie capitalism. In fact, we oscillate. Good morning Robert and welcome to the metamodern economy!

The metamodern economy? Metamodernism, as Luke Turner (2015) writes, is a “term that has gained traction in recent years as a means of articulating developments in contemporary culture… Whereas postmodernism was characterised by deconstruction, irony, pastiche, relativism, nihilism, and the rejection of grand narratives… the discourse surrounding metamodernism engages with the resurgence of sincerity, hope, romanticism, affect, and the potential for grand narratives and universal truths, whilst not forfeiting all that we’ve learnt from postmodernism.”

Robert’s – and so our – understanding of the economy is now in flux between ironic detachment and sincere engagement. We are naïve and yet knowing – we know GDP is both a nonsense and of absolute importance. Our economy is both real and unreal. It is no longer possible for Robert to return to “naïve modernist ideological positions” where he tells is that the latest export figures really matter. But neither can he ignore them. Robert can only adopt a kind of “informed naivety, a pragmatic idealism, a moderate fanaticism, oscillating between sincerity and irony, deconstruction and construction, apathy and affect, attempting to attain some sort of transcendent position, as if such a thing were within our grasp” (Turner, 2015). Robert learns to be both ironic and sincere in the same moment. Economics is both “coherent and preposterous”.

But this idea of metamodern economics is one which merely serves to describe the twin horns of our dilemma – it is “descriptive rather than prescriptive”. How to get beyond this metamodern dilemma? What comes next? Could there be a prescription? Any ideas Robert?

Perhaps a clue lies in the hidden patterns in the economy. Just as we were late to picking up the rise of the postmodern economy, maybe there’s something already out there in the material conditions of economic activity which might guide us out of the desert?

Maybe. While the ideological triumph of TINA insists we can now only inhabit capitalism, our economic system is actually comprised of a variety of modes of production. Below the postmodern fantasy which floats above us, in the real economy we sometimes compete and contest as capitalists, while sometimes the state commands and controls. Then sometimes we co-operate and collaborate in the social sphere. Some traditional and romantic modes of production are still with us. These modes ebb and flow.

A truly capitalist economy would be one in which the means of production and distribution and exchange are largely based on private or corporate ownership of capital, which has indeed come to the fore since the late 1970s in the United Kingdom. But since the financial crisis, in turns out that the public sector has made up between 42% and 47% of the economy as measured by our ludicrous and essential friend, GDP (on an expenditure basis).

Meanwhile, the voluntary sector sits at around 2-3%, co-operatives at another 2-3%, and the unrecorded shadow economy potentially dwarfs the lot. These are not formal capitalist modes of production and neither are they statist. The World Bank found that over the period ‘99 to ‘06/’07, the weighted average size of the shadow economy as a percentage of official GDP was 13.5% in high-income OECD countries. While according to David Bollier (2005), one study estimated that the value of unpaid work in Britain is equivalent to 77% of GDP but not included in official GDP figures. Sharon Astyk (2011) suggests that “the formal economy – the territory of professional and paid work, of tax statements and GDP—is only 1/4 of the world’s total economic activity.”

These figures suggest that there is no such thing as capitalism! Instead we have a mixed economy, of private, public, social and informal modes of production. The associative or social economy – increasingly observed in terms of the commons – plays a vastly understated part. Robert almost never mentions it.

There may still be some trading in this sphere, some exchange, but this is not the reductive and brutal rule of CAPITALism. Humans have traded since the dawn of man – but institutional CAPITALism is a more recent phenomenon, driven by institutional models which tend to focus more ruthlessly on exchange value and remove space for the softer, more subjective, social value which can play a greater role in the social, co-operative, voluntary and informal economies.

And there is something about this social economy which could help free us from the horns of our dilemma, something in its approach to value. In modern capitalism, value is objective and determined by the price mechanism. In the postmodern economy, value can sometimes be no more than marks on a page – book value – utterly disassociated from its surroundings, deferred and detached. Yet in the commons or the social economy, value is rather more subjective and negotiated. Not subject to the pure mechanics of a textbook exchange but more subject to behaviour, social context and trust.

So this commons approach to value is not modern. This is not an objective mode of production. This is interesting because it resonates with the idea of ‘subjective realism’, which offers us an escape route from our prisoner’s dilemma of modernism or postmodernism. Subjective realism consider the argument that there is no single truth because we all have our own and points out that these two perspectives are not mutually exclusive There is such a thing as reality – man cannot live on postmodern bread alone – but we also all experience it in our own way.

If the more philosophical argument does not convince, then the economics are impressive. In the UK, more people than ever before are starting up social enterprises. The number of co-operatives has increased by more than a quarter since 2009. There are three times more members of co-operatives than individual shareholders worldwide. Co-operatives and social enterprises are thriving across Europe and Asia. In the US, new social economy models are springing up in the post-capitalist cities of Detroit and Cleveland, built around collaborative principles and the pursuit of social value. The social economy as a percentage of GDP is growing, for what that’s worth. Peer-to-peer production is exploding, the sharing economy is spreading and the idea of the Commons has gone global.

Just as postmodern capitalism existed long before we noticed it, similarly commonism has always itself existed. Commonism is already itself a power. Commonists disdain to conceal their views and aims. It is high time that commonists should openly, in the face of the whole world, publish their views, their aims, their tendencies. “We carry out the task of reconstructing a subjective reality-based economy of the state, capital and the market. We are defined and determined by superstructure so need societal reconstruction.” Robert – come with us! Let us take you by the hand.

Top Image Courtesy Wikimedia.

 

REFERENCES

Astyk, S. (2011). ‘Imagining the Post-industrial economy’, see: www.scienceblogs.com/casaubonsbook/2011/11/10/what-does-a-largely-informal-e/

Bollier, D. (2005). ‘Unpaid Work as a Form of Social Wealth’, see: www.onthecommons.org/unpaid-work-form-social-wealth

Cole, C. (2014). ‘Volatility of an impossible object: Risk, Fear and Safety in Games of Perception’, see: www.artemiscm.com/research/volatility-of-an-impossible-object-risk-fear-and-safety-in-games-of-perception/

Fisher, M. (2009). Capitalist Realism:Is there no alternative?, Zero Books.

Fukuyama, F. (1989), ‘The End of History?’. The National Interest (Summer 1989), see: http://www.wesjones.com/eoh.htm

Hardt, M. & A. Negri (2000), Empire. Harvard University Press

Jameson, F. (1989), ‘The Brick and the Balloon: Architecture, Idealism and Land Speculation’. New Left Review, see: newleftreview.org/I/228/fredric-jameson-the-brick-and-the-balloon-architecture-idealism-and-land-speculation

Lancaster, J. ( 2008), ‘Melting into Air’. The New Yorker, see: www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/11/10/melting-into-air

Turner, L. (2015), ‘Metamodernism: A Brief Introduction’. Berfrois, see: www.berfrois.com/2015/01/everything-always-wanted-know-metamodernism/

 

]]>
http://www.metamodernism.com/2015/05/29/robert-peston-in-the-desert-of-the-real/feed/ 0
The Oscillating Zombie http://www.metamodernism.com/2015/05/07/the-oscillating-zombie/ http://www.metamodernism.com/2015/05/07/the-oscillating-zombie/#comments Thu, 07 May 2015 12:02:46 +0000 http://www.metamodernism.com/?p=8763 who-let-the-dead-out

The pop-culture zombie creates a compelling analytical framework for viewing the shifts and usurpations within competing cultural theories and artistic movements. The zombie process of life–death–rebirth suggests that even what dies will eventually come back to haunt us, and its rebirth inscribes a new way of understanding the previous life-death dynamic. For instance, in the zombie mythos, the person (or thing) who dies and is reborn as a zombie is not thought of as the original, but as a monstrous entity that bears only a passing resemblance. The same can be said of the way in which artistic and literary movements are born, gain critical life, become supplanted by a new, stronger movement, and then come back, in a revised form, to disturb the theoretical implications of that newer model. There are two theorists who set the precedent for this line of thinking: Christian Moraru, in his introduction to a special issue of Focus, writes that “postmodernism is not dead, but ‘deadish,’ as somebody might say about zombies” (3); and Linda Hutcheon, in her afterword to The Politics of Postmodernity, sounds the double death knell for postmodernism (this is, in fact, a second edition). That postmodernism has been born again, or for a second time in Hutcheon’s case, comments on the difficulty artistic movements have of fully breaking from the past: “for what we are talking about is an incomplete departure complete with extemporaneous returns” (Moraru 3). Historically, competing movements attempt to break from the earlier model to address some missing critical aporia—and what normally occurs is a seismic shift from one pole to the other. However, the metamodern paradigm attempts conciliation as it anticipates, even allows for, this return and argues that our cultural moment will not be able to completely surpass postmodernism, but only oscillate between modernism, postmodernism, and a speculated neoromaticism. Deadish theories like these find acceptance and value within the theoretical modeling of metamodernism.

I view the above cycle of the zombie as a way to conceptualize several theoretical issues within metamodernism. However, in this article, I focus only on the nature of metamodern subjectivity through the lens of the zombie, specifically the one explored within Manuel Gonzales’s short story, “All of Me” in his collection The Miniature Wife and Other Stories. The zombie has interesting implications for the ideas of subjectivity and in “All of Me” readers are confronted with a subject position that is uniquely metamodern. Taking a cue from the representations of zombies in past cultural and artistic texts, this conceptualization of the metamodern zombie illustrates how oscillating identities are the foundation of the metamodern subject, and Gonzales’s narrator illustrates these shifts along a human/zombie continuum.

This analysis takes as its primary theoretical focus the ideas presented in the conclusion of Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker’s “Notes on metamodernism,” specifically the ideas of utopic syntaxis, dystopic parataxis, and a-topic metaxis. While the authors comment that these terms are bound within the temporal and spatial ordering of modernism, postmodernism, and metamodernism, I believe they have interesting implications for explaining the nature of subjectivity in each specific movement, especially if evaluated through the modern, postmodern, and metamodern zombie. Before beginning my analysis of the ways in which the zombie has ramifications for metamodern subjectivity, we must first attempt a definition of the above terms. Simply, the concept of utopic syntaxis suggests a perfect hierarchy, dystopic parataxis a destroyed center, and a-topic metaxis a paradoxical middle ground, which the authors describe as, “a place (topos) that is no (a) place […] being simultaneously here, there, and nowhere,” a place that is “both—neither ordered and disordered.” (Vermeulen and van den Akker, “Notes”). Subjectivity, not only temporal and/or spatial, can be expressed in terms of the above definitions: the perfect hierarchy of utopic syntaxis implies the notion of the Cartesian dualism of mind and body, in which the mind holds the privileged position; the critical theories of postmodernism and poststructuralism destabilize the notion of subjectivity, creating a destroyed center of consciousness and identity, a dystopic parataxis; and metamodernism envisions identity as both a place of perfect hierarchy (at times) while also acknowledging the inescapable past of postmodernism (at times), creating a paradoxical middle ground between modernism and postmodernism where a subject’s oscillating performance of identity implies hierarchy and deconstruction concurrently.

Previous work on metamodern subjectivity by Simone Stirner does not focus on this framework in the conclusion to “Notes on metamodernism,” though she provides a useful model of metamodern subjectivity in her essay “Notes on the State of the Subject.” Her piece focuses partly on the way in which the artist Miranda July creates subjects “of the modern self [who are] stabilized despite a postmodern background.” Stirner bases her observations on several theorists, but her readings originate from Raoul Eschelman’s, Performatism, or The End of Postmodernism, where in Stirner’s applications, “a new kind of subject […] establishes itself in spite of disruptive forces in an act of belief.” These new subjects, according to Stirner, are reflective agents who perform identity in an attempt to define themselves within the new cultural model. She argues that July’s art “contains […] both a modern and postmodern subjectivity and thus exemplifies the space where an ingenious, metamodern subject can show itself.” It seems that this metamodern space postulated by Stirner is a performative one, a reflective space of ingenious showing.

In Gonzales’s “All of Me,” we have the metamodern zombie, the zombie expressed by an a-topic metaxis represented in a paradoxical middle ground between zombie and human. Exploring these concepts within the framework of the zombie mythos, we see the modern idea of the zombie as a reanimated “corpse” (first explored by the anthropologist Wade Davis) under the control of a bokor, a sorcerer, who uses the zombie as a slave. This zombie is seen throughout Haitian and voodoo tradition and in such films as White Zombie (1932) and Revolt of the Zombies (1936). Here we have a utopic syntaxis, a hierarchical system where the bokor controls the zombie through the supernatural effects and culturalization of voodoo. The zombie is shunned by his or her family and friends, who think of it as the living dead, and this structural belief stigmatizes the zombie in both his/ her culture and personal identity, as the bokor and society instills on the subject the new identity of a reanimated corpse.

The postmodern zombie popularized by Romero, however, is removed from the religious and magical setting, recontextualized and revealed as an unthinking reanimated corpse without a religious origin (or, in some cases, an origin altogether, what Seth M. Walker and I have termed “undead amnesia”). This conception of the zombie seems to fit within the framework of the dystopic parataxis, namely the zombie as the destroyed center of identity. Without brains and released from the power of the bokor, it lacks a locus of subjectivity—a space destroyed by the non-hierarchical place the zombie inhabits. It is outside of spiritual control and is, in essence, mindless. This zombie is illustrated in Night of the Living Dead (1968), Shaun of the Dead (2004), and the television show The Walking Dead.

One example of the shift from the modern/postmodern identity to metamodern subjectivity occurs in the first line of Gonzales’s text: “The zombie in me would like to make a few things clear. The zombie in me would like to make it clear that there is no zombie in me, per se. Would like to make it known that there is only me, in fact, and that all of me is zombie” (135). This passage illustrates a reflective, oscillating subject-position where human and zombie are at odds with how to accurately describe the new identity they are both, it seems, performing. The human wishes to describe the zombie condition against himself, while the zombie wishes to carve out subjective space in the human to define itself. However, all of him cannot be zombie in the above estimation, as if it were, the battle between identities would be irrelevant—there would be no need for him to identify one part as zombie and the other as not-zombie, as the other would not exist or not be able to be perceived. The zombie is approaching the issue as if it has already won its battle for identity, while the human is creating the internal monologue as if he can tell which parts of him are zombie and which parts of him are not-zombie. Both subjectivities have hope that they will in fact be responsible for this subject creation, when in actuality, there is no stable position for either to find, only an ingenious showing of each subject position to the other. They both are, in Vermeulen and van den Akker’s estimation, pursuing “a horizon that is forever receding” (“Notes”). Throughout the text, there is only movement from one position to the next as they both attempt to create a meaningful foundation for future action. There is only a shift between the various points between human and zombie. This metamodern space, in Vermeulen and van den Akker’s assessment, subjects pursue but never achieve. And Stirner’s insightful use of show suggests an incompletion, as well.

The humanity of the modern and postmodern zombie is both destroyed in the above example, though each by different means, and the controlling religious metaphor is removed in the postmodern and metamodern zombies, leaving a place where the controlling element of subjectivity is not a bokor but the zombified subject itself. The metamodern zombie oscillates between the zombie and the human, never quite becoming either/or, but occupying a both/neither space, an a-topic metaxis, at various times throughout Gonzales’s text. The modern zombie is always controlled by the bokor—even if the zombie gained control of its subjectivity it is hierarchically placed as a slave within voodoo faith. The postmodern zombie, in contrast, is never under control of an explanatory force, which leaves it a shambling brainless mass. The metamodern zombie realizes its plight and each subjectivity fights for its place within the subject—sometimes it positions itself as human and sometimes as zombie, but never fully either/or within that classificatory system.

The circularity of these positions also haunts the end of the text when the narrator begins to discuss his human desires in similar terms to the zombie’s desires from the text’s beginning: “These are the things I want […] But the zombie in me wants something else. The zombie in me wants to eat […] and as much as I try to deny it, there is no zombie in me, there is only me, and all of me is zombie” (Gonzales 157). His desire to feel human, to feel his skin “pliant and lifelike again” (157), is stalled by his other, zombie, subjectivity. Yet again, we have an oscillating subject position where the demarcation between the zombie/human remains unfulfilled. The zombie and the human both attempt to perform their respective roles, i.e., eat faces and feel human, where each ingeniously shows itself to the other, only to be frustrated that either cannot complete a full transformation. Freed from its religious context and its postmodern mindlessness (this zombie has a brain!), Gonzales’s zombie is in an endless dialogue with itself and in pursuit of the (unreachable) human or zombie totality.

Gonzales constructs this dialogue between an oscillating human/zombie subjectivity in several other inner monologues. And as before, this subjectivity is not one that shifts between binaries of human/zombie or zombie/human, but rather, it is a “pendulum swinging between […] innumerable poles” (Vermeulen and van den Akker, “Notes”). The narrator states that “the zombie’s voice in my head is near constant” (Gonzales 135), and it continually argues with him across a range of varying details. The zombie tells the narrator to break necks and bite faces, to create an undead horde of followers, to “go back to an evil we know and understand” (149). But it also argues with the narrator about his description or understanding of textual details: “For instance…Let’s not for instance” (138); “The point I’m trying to make here being this: I was in a fine mood when I left the house this morning. I was in a splendid mood this morning when I left my house” (146); and finally, “what I have now is an opportunity, what I have now is a chance” (151). As this zombie/human hybrid is capable of reflection, he finds that the other’s voice moves between various issues of both human and zombie concern. At times, the other points out trivial human banality: the difference between “fine” and “splendid” and the difference between “opportunity” and “choice”; at other times, the other points out issues of deadly seriousness: whether or not to give into murderous desires, to create an undead horde, or to wallow in evil intent.

The representative poles here are not completely human or completely zombie, but some liminal space where both subjectivities test their threshold of identity against the conception of the other, which mood, word, or action is more human or zombie, and how can he/it actively promote that identity. The poles are structured around a sentiment of what is human or zombie, and throughout the text it becomes what the other actively questions. It becomes, according to Vermeulen and van den Akker, “a sentiment […] that many are aware of, but which cannot easily, if at all, be pinned down” (“Utopia”). The competing zombie and human identities within the narrator are aware of each other, but each has an incredibly difficult time pinning down what exactly it means to be human or zombie. There are gradations of identity here but no stable totalizing system, only a space of a-topic metaxis. And even though both identities attempt what may be characterized as a search for stability, the way the text positions these actions comments on the understanding that this hope for stability is going to be ultimately futile—neither human or zombie can fully displace the other. They each perform as if they could, and this action leads to a Stirnerian showing of one to the other, a contradictory self-awareness based on a metamodern notion of subjectivity. 

The above analysis illustrates just one example of how subjects perform their subjectivity within the boundaries of metamodernism, particularly literature. Others, Shia LaBeouf, Joaquin Phoenix, and Reggie Watts specifically, attempt other models of subjectivity in art, film, and live performance. In Gonzales, the human subjectivity attempts to construct a peculiar hierarchy throughout the text—he wishes to control the zombie, but ultimately realizes it is futile—while the zombie deconstructs this subjectivity and replaces it with a new hybrid consciousness. If Moraru’s deadish conception is correct, it seems as if we, like the narrator, may never escape the event horizons of postmodernism, as much of our current culture is based on the foundations of this paradigm. Yet metamodernism seems to allow a path forward through their zombie-like rebirths: Gonzales’s illustration of the zombie, through the lens of metamodernism, offers a guide on how to live with the zombie in theory and culture. Whatever the undead aspects of our nature or our culture, those elements we cannot eliminate or pass over, metamodernism offers hope that they can be reintegrated and repurposed.


Works Cited

Gonzales, Manuel. The Miniature Wife and Other Stories. New York: Riverhead, 2013. Print.

Moraru, Christian. “Introduction to Focus: Thirteen Ways of Passing Postmodernism.” American Book Review 34.4 (2013): 3-4. Project MUSE. Web. 24 Apr. 2015.

Stirner, Simone. “Notes on the state of the subject.” Notes on Metamodernism. 2 Nov. 2011. Web. 30 Apr. 2015.

Vermeulen, Timotheus and Robin van den Akker. “Notes on Metamodernism.” Journal of Aesthetics & Culture 2 (2010): n. pag. Web. 30 Apr. 2015.

Vermeulen, Timotheus and Robin van den Akker. “Utopia, Sort of: A Case Study in Metamodernism.” Studia Neophilologica 1.87 (2015): n.pag. Web. 30 Apr. 2015.

Works Referenced

Davis, Wade. “The Pharmacology of Zombies.” Harpers.org. Harper’s Magazine, Apr. 1984. Web. 24 Apr. 2015.

LaBeouf, Shia. The Campaign Book Twitter Page. Twitter.com. Twitter, Feb. 2012. Web. 24 Apr. 2015.

Phoenix, Joaquin, Perf. I’m Still Here. Perf. Phoenix, Antony Langdon, and Carey

Perloff. They Are Going to Kill Us Productions, 2010. Film.

Walker, Seth M., and Zachary Hyde. “Undead Amnesia: Apocalyptic Discontinuity within the Zombie Mythos.” Academia.edu. Academia, 27 March, 2015. Web. 24 Apr. 2015.

Watts, Reggie. “Beats that defy boxes.” Ted.com. TED Conferences, LLC, Feb. 2012. Web. 24 Apr. 2015.

]]>
http://www.metamodernism.com/2015/05/07/the-oscillating-zombie/feed/ 0
The Role of the (Graphic) Designer… http://www.metamodernism.com/2015/04/16/the-role-of-the-graphic-designer/ http://www.metamodernism.com/2015/04/16/the-role-of-the-graphic-designer/#comments Thu, 16 Apr 2015 15:09:43 +0000 http://www.metamodernism.com/?p=8730 Arcademi_Isabel_Seiffert_13

The role that the designer plays in society has, for many years, been relatively fixed – a client passes information to a ‘professional creative’ who then formats the given content for a specific audience using their specific toolkit; be it a chair, a website or a book. However, around the turn of the millennium something changed, and ever since we have seen a continuous shifting in the way that many designers approach their work, a shift away from this earlier model. The social engagement that a crisis-ridden, metamodern society evokes has stimulated certain designers (and non-designers) to search for solutions to problems that are not being commissioned by the old clients and, crucially, through methods that are not traditionally labelled as ‘design’ approaches. The issue remains as to how we approach and define this change in order to move forward with it and the field of design as a whole.


In the preface to the first edition of his monolithic chronicle of graphic design, Philip B. Meggs writes that the “immediacy and ephemeral nature of graphic design, combined with its link with the social, political and economic life of its culture, enables it to more closely express the Zeitgeist of an epoch than many other forms of human expression.” It can indeed be said that the primary search of graphic designers has largely been that for visual forms which can convey concepts, store knowledge and clarify information for the present and future society. [1] This, then, explains why we find artefacts such as the scrolls of ancient Egypt in Meggs’s historical retrospective of the discipline. Graphic design has, over its formalisation as a practice, assumed its heritage in such technological revolutions as the invention of Papyrus, the creation of the alphabet, and Gutenberg’s printer, precisely because what we have now defined as the field’s primary endeavour was achieved through the use of these tools and machines.

Given the position of this article on a webzine dedicated to the subject, it would seem misplaced to provide any description of what metamodernism is in itself; however, I will say that we have seen, in the broadest sense, the principle and distinguishing act of metamodern (contemporary) man as that of engagement and reconstruction as opposed to the construction (see modernism) and deconstruction (see postmodernism) of frameworks past. [2] To give an analogy, if modernism was the absolute belief in the building of Babel, and postmodernism was the realisation that it cannot be built, metamodernism can be thought of as the engagement in building it with the knowledge that it is a flawed or unachievable task.

This renewed engagement has, I believe, fundamentally changed the societal role of the contemporary designer from Meggs’s description, and can be seen most evidently in the proliferation of a new type of project that has started to emerge across the field under the guise of the ‘design fiction’. This new venture has materialised, at least in part, through an increased movement towards de-specialisation and authorship (i.e. non-commissioned work) within the field, a development that has ultimately lead to an extension and acceptance of the idea of the ‘professional amateur’ as a legitimate occupation. If we take such an example from one young graphic designer, newly graduated from Zurich, we can see many aspects of the metamodern ‘structure of feeling’ coalesce into a new stream of work under these terms.

Arcademi_Isabel_Seiffert_14

Isabel Seiffert, in her own words, “works on commissioned and self initiated projects in the field of printed matter and the digital world.” A key piece in her portfolio, completed for her Master thesis, is titled Governance. Democracy. Delete. This project “attempts to contextualize the flurry of one-liner political debate about the new digital future” through a 600 page ‘Twitter compendium’ that is accompanied by chants, declarations, a flag, a website and various short films (including one that acts as a ‘Public Briefing’ on the issue delivered by a cat). [3]

The search for solutions and ‘new meaning’ in Seiffert’s work falls precisely within the lines of the metamodern framework in both it’s aims and it’s means; the ‘metaxy’ of the work, it’s oscillation between deconstruction and reconstruction, the proverbial pendulum swinging between humour and sincerity, realism and idealism is clear. The recognition and construction of a narrative, the antithesis of postmodern thought as we have seen, is as integral as the self effacing rhetoric used in it’s description. The admittance of the work as an “attempt”, so common a sight that it can go unnoticed, reflects this awareness of the flawed nature of the task but the willingness to try it anyway. The so-called ‘new seriousness’ which we have seen develop over the last decade allows for the construction of this completely new kind of project; this acknowledged vulnerability in the concept, the output and the creator is disregarded as unhelpful or unproductive in favour of what is an admittedly semi-serious offering of analyses and solutions.

dc1_copy

What is being described here is not only exemplary of how the metamodern structure of feeling has affected work in this field, but is also, in perhaps a more loose sense, an example of the creation of a ‘design fiction’. Dunne & Raby provided a useful explanation of this term as part of their project, the United Micro Kingdoms – in their words:

Design fictions are a mix of science, design and fiction. The term describes an emerging area of design that uses storytelling as an experimental device to question the world around us. Using a combination of concepts, objects and visuals, design fictions are propositions for how things could be done differently. Depending on the viewer’s perspective, these fictions can be understood as anything from a cautionary tale to a Utopian ideal. […] In conceiving the United Micro Kingdoms, Dunne & Raby have reinterpreted the car and associated transport systems, offering multiple perspectives on a fictional England. Situated between reality and fiction the exhibition speculates about potential scenarios and challenges our perceived notions about the way that products, services and systems are made and used. [4]

The consistency of this description with the metamodern framework is entirely unambiguous, it is the role of the designer who creates this type of work that is perhaps more worthy of exploration. To put it simply – is the designer who creates this work still a designer? The end results of both the UMK project and Governance. Democracy. Delete. are, indeed, visual – however, it is not the visual aspect that defines the essence of the endeavour; Meggs’s description only fits half of the task.

The key skill here is not the designers’ competence in line drawing, nor the strengths of their aesthetic style, which will eventually come to deliver the visual outcome; but rather lies in their ability and their curiosity to search and interpret information in any context in order to make something of it, something new. When this skill is taken from the situation of a commission and is instead placed under the terms of a ‘self-initiated’ project, the role of the designer can be seen to change from that of a specialised practitioner, to that of a professional amateur (or to use the appropriate jargon, an ‘autonomous multidisciplinary creative’). This is not to say that such a professional is immediately amateurish in their design approach, but rather in the ‘extra-curricular’ activities that they become increasingly involved in, such as data collection and data analysis.

It has been a common sight over the last few decades to see large agencies, labelled as ‘Multidisciplinary’ and ‘Interdisciplinary’ (that is to say there are lots of specialised professionals working together under one roof). [5] However, through the new form of work described above, we can see that this multidisciplinary approach is, to some degree, slowly distilling in to the singular, autonomous practices that are becoming more and more common today. This new wave of designer has, to use Ruskin’s terms, successfully combined the ‘workman’ and the ‘thinker’. [6] An evolution which takes the discipline far beyond the primary search for ‘visual forms’ that has typified the field’s aim and its self assumed history for centuries past.

The word dilettantes derives from the latin “delectare, to delight” and is defined as “a dabbler in an art or a field of knowledge”, in these terms it can be thought of as somewhat synonymic with our phrase, the ‘professional amateur’. [7] Goethe, a 19th century polymath in his own right, allegedly emphasised the importance of this role in saying that “dilettantes greatly promoted the causes of science and technology because they knew how to combine play with seriousness.” [8]

The key to this ‘Dilettante’ frame of mind is the unmitigated curiosity, engagement and enthusiasm, spanning across a range of subject areas, that fuels their daily thoughts and activities. They are committed to this engagement not in order to pursue a professional career, or to receive recognition of any kind, but are instead bound by an inherent pleasure in the engagement itself. The dilettante does not pursue their interests for commercial gain and neither does the work mentioned here. This renewed unification of craft and curiosity denies the misplaced status that wealth has come to assume, that status as the workers exclusive source of pleasure; Seiffert’s book is indeed for sale but it is primarily an academic investigation, not a retail project.

Arcademi_Isabel_Seiffert_07

This ‘dilettante’ mindset can therefore be seen, through the work shown and the application of a metamodern framework, to be in some way, embodied in the contemporary, autonomous graphic designer. This attitude combined with the function of the designer as something of an unwitting documentarist, a role that is, as Meggs has shown, deeply rooted in the profession, begins to mould the designers function in to not only expressing the Zeitgeist as it has always done, but also typifying and even leading it as well.

In 2010 the esteemed commercial/autonomous, designer/artist, Martí Guixé proclaimed that “the ‘ex-designers’ are THE designers of our time.” In an interview for designboom he reasoned that “Designers provide solutions before they are asked for it”, and this is perhaps the most succinct expression of the point that I am trying to convey. [9] The social engagement that a crisis-ridden, metamodern society evokes has stimulated certain designers (and non-designers) to search for design solutions to problems that are not being commissioned by institutions and, crucially, through methods that are not traditionally labelled as ‘design’ approaches (such as the ‘design fictions’). However, before we rush to conclusions, we should remind ourselves that this shift is not in any way true across the entire sphere of any aspect of design. There still remain those who sit comfortably in the consumer-capitalist frame of reference, the passive functionaries of the mass/multi-media ‘machine’ and indeed, there will always be a demand and a need for designers of this creed.

It may therefore be more helpful to re-identify the engaged, professional amateur/designer under a new terminology (as Guixé has already done with this notion of the ‘ex-designer’) and, with this renewed identity, assume an alternate history – not one of alphabets, inks and ‘styles’ as Meggs did, but instead (or perhaps more usefully, in addition), one of polymaths, activists, theorists and dilettantes. To briefly assert my own view along with this conclusion, I believe that designers should feel empowered by this developing situation and should not feel afraid of creating a new terminology that proliferates this change. We should exploit our position in a profession which has inherent ties with all professions not only to express and record the zeitgeist, but to contribute to it outside of the ‘role of the documenter’ which has for so long held this ever-evolving craft a prisoner.

 


IMAGES (from top):

Isabel Seiffert, Governance. Democracy. Delete. (2013) [images 1 & 2]
Dunne & Raby, United Micro Kingdoms (2012/13)
Isabel Seiffert, Not The End Of Print (2014)

 

REFERENCES

[1]: Philip B. Meggs, Meggs’ History of Graphic Design (2006): ix

[2]: This method of categorisation through principle ‘acts’ comes from Richard Sennett’s notion that adulthood and identity “comes to be defined as a set of acts that a person can perform rather than a set of attributes.” | Richard Sennett, The Uses of Disorder (1970): 99

[3]: Isabel Seiffert, (2014): http://isabel-seiffert.net/

[4]: Dune & Raby, (2014): http://www.unitedmicrokingdoms.org/exhibition/

[5]: For an exemplary case see Pentagrams description of their working method. | Pentagram, (2014): http://www.pentagram.com/work/#/all/all/newest/

[6]: “[…]We are always in these days endeavouring to separate the two; we want one man to be always thinking, and another to be always working, and we call one a gentleman, and the other an operative; whereas the workman ought often to be thinking, and the thinker often to be working, and both should be gentlemen, in the best sense.” | John Ruskin, The Nature of the Gothic, (1853): 24

[7]: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. (2014): dilettante

[8]: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in Anton Zijderveld, The Abstract Society (1970): 164

[9]: Martí Guixé, (2010): http://www.designboom.com/interviews/marti-guixe-interview/

]]>
http://www.metamodernism.com/2015/04/16/the-role-of-the-graphic-designer/feed/ 2
Oscillating Towards the Sublime http://www.metamodernism.com/2015/04/02/oscillating-towards-the-sublime-2/ http://www.metamodernism.com/2015/04/02/oscillating-towards-the-sublime-2/#comments Thu, 02 Apr 2015 14:11:02 +0000 http://www.metamodernism.com/?p=8698 CRANE_WIFE

Postmodernism is dead, but its successor has not yet been crowned. Attributes of that successor have, however, begun to be elucidated. Among them is the idea that, after the scepticism of postmodernism, interest is re-emerging in the inexplicable, the unspeakable, in the things that cannot be encompassed rationally. Florian Niedlich calls this development a ‘religious turn’; Wolfgang Funk calls it ‘the return of the supernatural’.[1] While there are clear differences between these two approaches, I believe they stem from the same source: the questioning of the Enlightenment idea that it is possible to have “confidence in the absolute and indisputable command of enlightened human understanding to analyse and account for each and every phenomenon it encounters.”[2]

Instead of deciding between a religious or supernatural turn, for now I will simply examine how three supposedly irrational elements of contemporary fiction interrelate. The first two have been seen before: the mode of the fantastic, and an attempt to access the sublime. The third, however, is something new, something which belongs to the 21st century, which many people are calling metamodernism. I will show how these three aspects work together and mutually affirm one another, and how their combined effect is one which can best be described as the creation of a space for the sacred in secular literary culture.

Fantastic folklore in the novel

Retelling folk and fairy tales is not a new phenomenon in literature. The 1980s in particular saw a flourishing of postmodern re-tellings of fairy tales. Stephen Benson called this era the ‘fairy tale generation’, where authors such as Angela Carter, Margaret Atwood, Robert Coover, A. S. Byatt, and Salman Rushdie began to gain recognition.[3] These writers took folk and fairy tales[4] and used them to, in Carter’s famous phrase, ‘demythologise’ the ideologies they had come to represent, especially regarding traditional norms and roles associated with gender and sexuality.[5] These novels and stories, including Carter’s own ‘The Bloody Chamber’ (1979) as well as Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children (1981), were postmodern, often metafictional, giving voice to the marginalised and turning traditional tales on their conventional heads. In addition, they were almost exclusively magical realist. According to Chanady’s definition, a magical realist text is one in which ‘the supernatural is not presented as problematic.’[6] Events occur which are impossible under the auspices of rationalist thought, and neither the characters nor the narrator remark on their impossibility.[7] This type of writing did not disappear with the 1980s; it is alive and well today in work by that same ‘fairy-tale generation’ as well as younger writers like Helen Oyeyemi.

At the same time, other strategies for retelling folk tales are appearing. In novels as disparate as The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (2012) and Orkney by Amy Sackville (2013), folklore is used to a completely different effect. These novels problematise the supernatural elements of the folklore they engage with to the extent that the characters and often the reader are unsure whether the magic described in the novel is real, or if it is all in the mind of the first-person narrator or focalising character. This is the mode of the fantastic, where the supernatural is troubling and problematic. Tzvetan Todorov described the effect as “the hesitation felt by somebody who only knows the laws of nature, faced with an apparently supernatural event.”[8] A fantastic text exists on the boundary between what Todorov called the ‘uncanny’, where the laws of physics apply and the apparently supernatural event is caused by hallucinations, dreams, or trickery, and the ‘marvellous’, in which magic exists in an unproblematic way akin to magical realism.[9] In contrast with postmodern texts and their ‘demythologising’ project, the hesitation felt by the reader of (and some characters within) a contemporary fantastic text creates a feeling of the sublime, in order – as I will show later – to introduce an element of the sacred.

Sublimity and metamodernism: two oscillations

The sublime was defined by Kant in the 18th century as a short-lived feeling of terror and delight, of pleasurable pain. A sublime feeling is provoked by something vast or infinite, like the sight of a mountain or the view of a distant thunderstorm. He described it as a “momentary checking of the vital powers”, a temporary pause which gives way to a revelation of the power of reason. Neil Hertz later emphasises the stoppage inherent in Kant’s ‘checking’ and describes it as a ‘blockage’, which is again followed by a turning back into the self.[10] For both, this movement is an oscillation from the self to something greater and back to a renewed understanding of self. It moves in a similar manner to the metamodern pendulum described by Vermeulen and Akker: “a pendulum swinging between 2, 3, 5, 10, innumerable poles” – moving forward.[11] As well as this forward motion, the pendulum also has two distinct sides to its swing: “each time the metamodern enthusiasm swings toward fanaticism, gravity pulls it back toward irony; the moment its irony sways toward apathy, gravity pulls it back toward enthusiasm.”[12] This metamodern movement between two mutually exclusive ideas works in much the same way as Todorov’s fantastic, where the same movement is enacted between different opposing concepts, the uncanny and the marvellous.

The Crane Wife

Before I unpack the implications of these structural similarities further, it would be useful to look at an example. Patrick Ness’s novel The Crane Wife (2013) contains two stories. The empirical, mimetic plot of this novel follows a middle-aged man, George, who rescues a crane in his back garden, then falls in love with a beautiful but mysterious woman called Kumiko. Set in contrast to this is a supernatural story taken from folklore (a mixture of Japanese folk tale and legend), which follows a tempestuous relationship between a crane and a volcano. The book tells this tale in numbered paragraphs, displays it in a different font from the rest of the novel, and tells of it in the present tense; these paragraphs alternate – vacillate – with the main plot. The two stories seem to overlap: Kumiko is described as being both a mimetic, character – real within the story world – and the supernatural crane wife of the title.

One of the best examples of the oscillation in Kumiko’s reality occurs near the end of the book. George enters Kumiko’s flat, a hitherto forbidden space. Once George is inside, both font and tense change to that of the folk tale. When George sees Kumiko, “she is not Kumiko at all, she is a great white bird, pulling out a feather” from her chest.[13] This scene is at a higher rhetorical level than the surrounding passage, and its emotions are pitched higher, at the level of the sublime: George feels “a sorrow so deep and ancient that it nearly rocks him off his feet.”[14] The way George encounters beauty is similar to what Raoul Eshelman describes as ‘Kant with a club’, or persuasion through aesthetics: if something is beautiful enough the recipient will be drawn to it in defiance of its impossibility.[15] Despite this, several empiricist explanations are given for what George saw: he “feel[s] a crippling headrush” as he enters the room, and immediately after the scene he wakes up, as if what he has seen were just a dream. Kumiko herself gives no credence to the supernatural possibility. Her body is “[s]mooth, of course. And featherless.” She tells him he has a fever, and: ‘She looked confused. “I don’t know what you saw.”’[16] The character’s scepticism actually bolsters the sense of the sublime.

Farah Mendelsohn describes how: “[a character’s] scepticism provides an outlet for ours; it siphons it off, and leaves behind belief.”[17] The reader already wants the supernatural explanation to be true; now they are, as it were, ‘allowed’ to believe in it. This use of the supernatural against a backdrop of mimesis and scepticism aligns perfectly with Roger Caillois’s description of the fantastic: “in the fantastic, the solidity of the real world is assumed so that it can be all the more effectively destroyed.”[18] Both the ‘reality’ and the supernatural versions of the story assume and require the other, while being incompatible with its core assumptions.

The movement of the pendulum does not just encompass the uncanny and the marvellous, however; it also moves towards the sublime. In the following passage from the beginning of the novel, George encounters the crane:

The two of them could have been standing in a dream – though the cold that shifted through his shoes and bit at his fingers suggested otherwise, and the quotidian leaking of a stray drop, despite his best efforts, onto the crotch of his underwear-less trousers told him definitively this was real life, with all its disappointments.

But if it wasn’t a dream, it was one of those special corners of what’s real, one of those moments, only a handful of which he could recall throughout his lifetime, where the world dwindled down to almost no one, where it seemed to pause just for him, so he could, for a moment, be seized into life.[19]

This passage contains the supernatural possibility of a real crane on the grass, as well as an alternative rationalist explanation, but it is the movement of the passage between these two possibilities which is of particular interest. The passage starts with Todorov’s uncanny – perhaps this isn’t real, and George is simply dreaming. Then, the mimetic description moves the story into the realm of the marvellous: the supernatural event is really happening. The next move is another swing of the pendulum, but not simply back towards consensus reality.[20] Rather, following the forward motion described by Vermeulen and Akker, the second paragraph encompasses both previous possibilities in what can clearly be seen as sublimity. The world “seemed to pause just for him” – that is Hertz’s blockage, Kant’s “checking of the vital powers” – “so he could, for a moment, be seized into life”. The fantastic nature of the passage, and the metamodern structure of the way the supernatural and rationalist possibilities relate to each other moves the text towards the sublime.

Conclusions: enchantment versus the sacred

What I am suggesting here is a structural similarity which explains the co-presence, in a variety of recent novels, of three historically disparate concepts. The sublime has a history stretching from antiquity to the present; metamodernism was first described in 2010. The fantastic in literature is usually dated from the 18th century, and remains alive and well in the 21st. However in The Crane Wife all three concepts are combined. The movement of the fantastic, between the real world of the text and a folkloric supernatural, functions in the same way as the metamodern movement between irony and enthusiasm. This metamodern balancing act allows for the creation of a sublime which is kept in check by the constant motion between its two extremes, unbelievably Romantic and utterly empty.

Beyond this structural similarity is a conceptual one. The fantastic carves out a space for the supernatural in an otherwise mimetic text; metamodernism allows for a naive sincerity against a backdrop of irony-infused postmodernism; and the sublime exists as a momentary irruption of awe and wonder in an otherwise unremarkable setting. All of these contain the idea of specialness, of setting aside. There are many contemporary cultural theorists and critics who would call this ‘enchantment’, or ‘re-enchantment’. Joshua Landy, Michael Saler, and Jane Bennett, to name just three, have written about this turn in contemporary life and art, and Richard Jenkins has defined it at follows: “Enchantment conjures up, and is rooted in, understandings and experiences of the world in which there is more to life than the material, the visible, or the explainable.”[21] While close to the impression created by the fantastic, and certainly akin to the sublime, this positive description fails to encompass the uncertainty of the fantastic and the constant in-betweenness of metamodernism.

A closer look at the meaning of the term shows further inadequacies. The OED defines ‘enchantment’ both as the use of magic or sorcery and as the ‘(delusive) appearance of beauty’.[22] This element of delusion, of falsity, make the term inadequate. Instead, The Crane Wife and other folklore-inflected novels are creating a serious space for the sublime, through the fantastic. It is this which makes ‘sacralising’ a more apt term. I do not mean to associate it in any way with organised religion – while that is the word’s main use, there are alternative definitions. The OED defines something sacred as: “dedicated, set apart, exclusively appropriated to some person or some special purpose,” and “regarded with or entitled to respect or reverence similar to that which attaches to holy things.”[23] This understanding of the term ‘sacred’ has a much stronger resonance with The Crane Wife than the term ‘enchantment.’ Its author, Patrick Ness, described and constructed a “special corner of what’s real,” a sacred moment set apart from, but anchored in, the ordinary world.

These ideas are evident in contemporary criticism, even those that deal with enchantment: Landy and Saler claim in The Re-Enchantment of the World that “there must be a way of carving out, within the fully profane world, a set of spaces which somehow possess the allure of the sacred.”[24] These spaces are literary. The contemporary fiction which creates them is built on folkloric narratives and furnished in the fantastic mode. The effect of inhabiting them is a sense of sublimity.

 

 


[1] Niedlich, Florian, ‘Finding the Right Kind of Attention: Dystopia and Transcendence in John Burnside’s Glister’ and Wolfgang Funk, ‘Ghosts of Postmodernity: Spectral Epistemology and Haunting in Hilary Mantel’s Fludd and Beyond Black’, both in Siân Adiseshiah and Rupert Hildyard, eds., Twenty-First Century Fiction: What Happens Now (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).

[2] Funk, in Adiseshiah and Hildyard, eds., p. 149.

[3] Benson, Stephen, ‘Fiction and the Contemporaneity of the Fairy Tale’ in Benson, ed., Contemporary Fiction and the Fairy Tale (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2008) p. 2.

[4] I will follow the general but accurate definition of folklore given by Jan Harold Brunvand: ‘the whole traditional complex of thought, content, and process which ultimately can never be fixed or recorded in its entirety.’ Quoted in Harris, Jason Marc, Folklore and the Fantastic in Nineteenth-Century British Fiction (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 2008) p. vii.

[5] See Carter, Angela, ‘Notes from the Front Line‘, in Shaking a Leg: Journalism and Writings ed. by Jenny Uglow (London: Chatto and Windus, 1997), p. 38.

[6] Chanady, Amaryll, Magial Realism and the Fantastic (London: Garland Publishing, 1985) p. 23.

[7] While some later commentators such as Wendy B. Faris include elements of the fantastic in their definition of magical realism, for simplicity’s sake I will retain Chanady’s distinction.

[8] Todorov, Tzvetan, Introduction à la littérature fantastique (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1970) p. 29. All translations are my own.

[9] While there has been a great deal of intense and nuanced critical debate in the decades following publication of Todorov’s theory, for the purposes of this essay I will confine myself to the approximation described above, with the important caveat that, along with Rosemary Jackson and many others, I see the fantastic as a mode, not a genre.

[10] Hertz, Neil, ‘The Notion of Blockage in the Literature of the Sublime’ in The End of the Line : Essays on Psychoanalysis and the Sublime (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985).

[11] Vermeulen, Timotheus, and Robin van den Akker, ‘Notes on Metamodernism’, Journal of Aesthetics & Culture, 2 (2010) p. 6.

[12] Vermeulen and Akker, p.6.

[13] Ness, p. 234.

[14] Ness, p. 234.

[15] See Eshelman, Raoul, Performatism, Or, the End of Postmodernism (Aurora, CO: Davies Group, 2009).

[16] Ness, pp. 233–5.

[17] Mendelsohn, Farah, Rhetorics of Fantasy. (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2013) p.220.

[18] ‘Le fantastique suppose la solidité du monde réel, mais pour mieux la ravager.’ Caillois, Roger, ‘De la féeie à la science-fiction,’ in Caillois, ed., Anthologie du fantastique (Paris : Gallimard, 1966) p.10.

[19] Ness, p. 11.

[20] The phrase ‘consensus reality’ comes from Hume, Kathryn, Fantasy and Mimesis: Responses to Reality in Western Literature (London: Methuen, 1984).

[21] Jenkins, Richard, ‘Disenchantment, enchantment and re-enchantment: Max Weber at the millennium.’ Max Weber Studies 1.1 (2000): 11-32, p.29.

[22] “Enchantment, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2014. Web. Accessed 3 November 2014.

[23] “Sacred, adj. and n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2014. Web. 3 November 2014.

[24] Landy, Joshua, and Michael Saler, eds., The Re-Enchantment of the World: Secular Magic in a Rational Age (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009) p. 2.

Works Cited

Adiseshiah, Siân, and Rupert Hildyard, eds., Twenty-First Century Fiction: What Happens Now (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013)

Benson, Stephen, ‘Fiction and the Contemporaneity of the Fairy Tale’ in Benson, ed., Contemporary Fiction and the Fairy Tale (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2008)

Caillois, Roger, ‘De la féeie à la science-fiction,’ in Caillois, ed., Anthologie du fantastique (Paris : Gallimard, 1966)

Carter, Angela, ‘Notes from the Front Line‘, in Shaking a Leg: Journalism and Writings ed. by Jenny Uglow (London: Chatto and Windus, 1997)

Chanady, Amaryll, Magical Realism and the Fantastic (London: Garland Publishing, 1985)

Eshelman, Raoul, Performatism, Or, the End of Postmodernism (Aurora, CO: Davies Group, 2009)

Harris, Jason Marc, Folklore and the Fantastic in Nineteenth-Century British Fiction (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 2008)

Hertz, Neil, ‘The Notion of Blockage in the Literature of the Sublime’ in The End of the Line: Essays on Psychoanalysis and the Sublime (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985)

Hume, Kathryn, Fantasy and Mimesis: Responses to Reality in Western Literature (London: Methuen, 1984)

Ivey, Eowyn, The Snow Child (London: Headline Review, 2012)

Jenkins, Richard, ‘Disenchantment, enchantment and re-enchantment: Max Weber at the millennium.’ Max Weber Studies 1.1 (2000): 11-32

Kant Immanuel, ‘Critique of Aesthetic Judgement’, 2004, <http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/k/kant/immanuel/k16j/> [accessed 7 November 2014].

Landy, Joshua, and Michael Saler, eds., The Re-Enchantment of the World: Secular Magic in a Rational Age (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009)

Mendelsohn, Farah, Rhetorics of Fantasy (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2013)

Ness, Patrick, The Crane Wife (Edinburgh: Canongate, 2013)

OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2014. Web. Accessed 3 November 2014.

Todorov, Tzvetan, Introduction à la littérature fantastique (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1970)

Vermeulen, Timotheus, and Robin van den Akker, ‘Notes on Metamodernism’, Journal of Aesthetics & Culture, 2 (2010)

Image: poster for The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness

]]>
http://www.metamodernism.com/2015/04/02/oscillating-towards-the-sublime-2/feed/ 1