THE BLOG

Post-Postmodernism: Where Does it End?

05/28/2015 10:29 am ET | Updated May 27, 2016

Literary critics say that art in 20th century is divided into two more or less distinct literary movements: modernism and postmodernism. Now, you can debate until your pen runs dry whether or not "modernism" or "postmodernism" are legitimate literary trends and could debate whether or not "literary movements" even exist at all--that they are simply what marketers and so-called literary critics use to easily and quickly classify huge groups of books--in other words, a gross display of laziness, pretension, and willful ignorance. That's not what I'm going to discuss in this post. The opinion of this particular blogger is that literary movements are more or less real: events on a global, national, or local scale are inescapable, and artists simply react to shared events in a more or less predictable way, albeit in their own unique manner.

So let's operate under the assumption that postmodernism and modernism are real movements and not a load of Dickensian word-filler. There's a lot of debate of what postmodernism actually is. Taken literally, it means "after modernism." Postmodernism is a reaction to modernism: a skepticism towards modernist beliefs in empiricism, technology, human progress, and metanarratives. It's no secret that all literary movements are simply reactions to the previous one--severe swings to the opposite end of the spectrum. So, with a name like "postmodernism," what could possibly follow something that already touts itself as after something else? Post-postmodernism? That's an echolalic mouthful. The question has been on everyone's mind. And when I say "everyone," I mean "bored English majors," like me.

As recently as 2010, literary critics have come up with a few possible terms to define this weird, ambiguous state art is in. In this post, I will focus on one of those terms: metamodernism. The "meta-" in metamodernism doesn't come from "meta-" as in "metaphysics," meaning referring to itself, but "meta-" as in Plato's ideas of metaxy. Plato conceived of metaxy as a state of being in between two opposing views while at the same time moving beyond them. So what does that mean? Metamodernism is the literary movement that is defined by being in a constant state of flux between modernist and postmodernist ideals. This essentially means holding both states of hopelessness and hope, sincerity and irony, knowingness and naivete, deconstruction and reconstruction in one's head and then producing something out that liminal, fluctuating space. It's all about being in a state where you know you're on the edge, but could be saved. You just don't know. Critics say that metamodernism bloomed out of a reaction to climate change--the idea that we are destroying our planet, that we are doing this to ourselves, and the idea that maybe this is a good thing. Humans are essentially a bad influence on this planet. So we're simultaneously rooting for our demise but at the same time, want to live. This is the state of flux metamodernism puts us in. With this kind of mindset, how do you think you would act? What kind of art would you produce?