06/23/2014 05:16 pm ET Updated Aug 23, 2014

The Metamodern Intervention (II)

{NB: Part I of this article can be found here. The below section is excerpted and reprinted with the permission of Aart Naaktgeboren, Catholic University of Utrecht, as well as Eeuw: Cultur in de Nederlanden in interdisciplinair perspectief. Internal citations omitted. Copyright 2012.}

While no more reducible to a series of compositional gestures than is the postmodern in literature, the metamodern affixes its paradigmatic approach to language and culture in such a way that its detritus nevertheless remains visible to casual readers as well as scholars. While dialogic exchange between divergent realities in the fifth dimension typifies the metamodern conceptually, superficially the boundaries of this exchange, however temporary, necessarily make their appearance on the page. One imagines development of compositional gestures native to the cultural paradigm of metamodernism to be in its infancy, given the recency of Vermeulen and van den Akker's synthesis of prior uses of the term "metamodern" and the subsequent reemergence of discussions of its contours on the Continent and elsewhere. Still, what may be termed early trendlines are visible, and while a robust cataloging of these visible phenomena is the project of another day, by way of embodying the metamodern more than this consideration has thus far done, a more circumspect and minute account of the paradigm is useful.

Among the as yet small body of prose and verse identified as metamodern by the Dutch academy, or, less commonly, self-identified as such by its authors, certain gestures recur, the ambition of which we have already discussed, and the sometimes unpredictable effects of which are considered in more detail below. These gestures include, not exhaustively, the misappropriation of dissolved, partial, or entire texts to an author other than their "real" one; the unannounced commingling of found and original language, and, thus, what has been termed "uncreative" writing with the creative; the "remixing" of existing texts by literary artists in a way that both binds the author to the four-dimensional reality of another while providing a visible if yet uncomfortable space for a subjugated form of original authorship to emerge; the elision of tone entirely, rendering indiscernible if not the subject position than at least the corresponding ideology of an author; the achievement of textual immanence not through consideration of the word-as-such but, rather, realities-as-such, for instance where text operates as self-referential, meta-textual performative speech (in an elementary and uninteresting usage, were the first sentence of a short story to be simply, "First sentence."); the pastiche or tightly constrained realignment of texts written by authors still living, the better to ventriloquize and position dialogically various extant realities, rather than shaping those already terminated into identifiably single-author, four-dimensional tracts; reappropriation, without alteration, of partial or entire texts in a fashion, for instance through imaginative titling or other author-individuated framing devices, that repurposes these texts as discretely self-expressive or politically committed; a logorrhea of earnest declaration, the accumulation of which beyond all convention produces a gradual degeneration of affect and semantics; improbable affects, such as unmitigated enthusiasm, whose sincerity is rendered inscrutable as and when they are applied to content presumptively beyond reproach as truthful or earnest; texts whose titles so clearly and stridently contradict any ensuing content as to make close reading of the whole near or entirely fruitless; fully immersive authorial personas so unwavering and of such endurance it becomes impossible to discern author from persona; faithful transcripts of individuated real-time data-streams, often captured in virtual environments, whose affect, tone, and ambition necessarily wend through disparate stages in a simulacrum of an Internet browser with multiple tabs open simultaneously; prose or poetry of persona in which the identity of the persona remains deliberately and even ominously ambiguous or inconsistent; many intersections of the languages of information and art distantly related to the above but not mentioned here; and many other gestures whose superficial effect on the receptive reader is a generative confusion promulgated by several attendant metamodern oscillations.

This last observation, concerning reader response, bears additional scrutiny. If the place of "pleasure" in reading has been compromised by decades of deconstructive literary criticism and, in emerging avant-gardes on the Continent and in America, by literary movements whose first principles are explicit in deprivileging the act of reading, the metamodern in literature not only resituates reading as both permissible and instructive but, too, radically revises its conventional processes. Pleasure, for instance, is returned to its ancient seat, yet with an element of the Kantian sublime -- the awesome ambiguous -- that commingles this pleasure, in an appropriately oscillatory metamodern mode, with fear, confusion, and sometimes even anger. The metamodern text pulls in and pushes away simultaneously, often disorienting readers even as it implicitly beckons them to engage with its language in much the same tactile way that, in many instances, it itself has previously engaged with other text(s). As metamodern compositional techniques are readily reproducible by laypersons and, increasingly, stand themselves as viable reading technologies, even the culture of call-and-response metamodern literature promotes is itself oscillatory.

As many of the technical compositional gestures native to metamodernism upend not just scholarly expectations but also literary conventions and forms -- such as the ready acknowledgment of intellectual property and the maintenance of basic formal gestures associated with individual literary genres (for instance, the line in poetry) -- we may forecast, in these early days of the metamodern intervention, a throughline in which reader reception trends more towards fear, confusion, and anger than pleasure. Because, in a clear departure from previous literary avant-gardes, metamodern literature is oriented as much towards effect as composition and towards formal ambivalence as formal commitment, it requires an engaged and perhaps even literary readership more often than its foundational prescriptions would seem to suggest. That is, pleasure is often found in the familiar, rendering metamodernism's interest in producing an oscillation between transient pleasure and perpetual confusion deeply problematic -- for how can the unfamiliar produce pleasure, particularly when readers' emotional receptors are otherwise engaged by new permutations of consternation? While metamodern literature, born as it is of the "emerging realities" of the Internet Age and the meta- and pataphysics for which the Age has since become known, is more likely than most contemporary literatures to use and reproduce reader-friendly textual environments such as those found on popular social media platforms, one observes that the metamodernists may have wagered too heavily on this nexus with existing pleasure centers. Even social media sites have their conventions, after all, however evolving or illusory or foolhardy, and an author contravenes these only at his or her considerable and unenviable risk.

We must note, too, the absence of any institutional framework supporting the present metamodern intervention in contemporary literature and the post-postmodernity debate. We hear much talk of metamodernism here in Utrecht and elsewhere in the nation, but much less in neighboring countries and even less than that across the Atlantic or from Asian nations other than Japan. Where may we locate publishers of metamodern literature or organized coteries of metamodern authors? To date the metamodern intervention is only visible to contemporary literary studies scholarship by its fruits -- the works themselves -- which unnerves those scholars of a historicist bent whose inclination is ever towards individual and collective biography, direct causation, and linear narrative. Metamodernism is as yet a paradigm without a narrative, as even those younger scholars exploring metamodernism in the Dutch academy have not yet agreed upon who is to be properly credited with the term as we presently understand it: Zavarzadeh? Those who revised and gave practical application to his proposals in the 1990s? The two Dutchmen, Vermeulen and van den Akker? While a scholar familiar with all of these stages in the evolution of metamodern philosophy might well argue for us to speak of this evolution as an always-emerging dialogue rife with interventions but no coinages or radical breaks, this has not commonly been the way with scholarship addressing contemporary fiction and poetry. The metamodern compositional modality almost certainly requires novel forms of critical intervention as well, in much the way the postmodern paradigm birthed deconstruction as a reading technology. Still, we cannot help but ascribe to such amorphous and divergent historical realities as those of metamodernism's birth all the contradictory qualities of metamodernism itself, and find therein at least some momentary satisfaction.

{NB: The article continues for four pages beyond this point; the above is only an excerpt of the whole.}