The Metamodernist Manifesto: After Postmodernism (Part IV)

08/27/2014 02:35 pm 14:35:11 | Updated Oct 27, 2014

{Below is Part IV of the second in a series of articles exploring a sphere of thought within metamodernism known as "transcendent metamodernism." Other spheres of thought within metamodernism include The New Sincerity, metamodern dada, "oscillatory" metamodernism, and a neo-Marxist metamodernism invested in discussions of how late capitalism produced the end of postmodernism's hegemony. These other spheres are dealt with tangentially here. For the paragraphs preceding those below, please see the first, second, and third parts of this article and the first article in the series.}

"The Metamodern Intervention" -- an essay whose earnest intent and misattributed authorship is discussed here -- discusses metamodern manifestations in literature, of which it says the following:

Among the as yet small body of prose and verse identified as metamodern by, 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.

The notion that many of the above practices produce morally, intellectually, and emotionally non-absorptive texts with zero degree of encoded self-interpretation -- therefore, offering free reign for their audience's syntheses and commitments, once any transient sensation of sublimity has expired -- is of grave concern to many. Modernist and postmodernist scholars and creatives unwilling to concede philosophical turf to the nation's newest and now hegemonic cultural paradigm have been at the front of the line in terming metamodernism either destructive or derivative -- a common first reaction to any emerging tendency in literature.

Postmodernist scholars like Jennifer Ashton have publicly challenged the political utility -- and the openness to commitment -- of metamodernism as a literary philosophy. At issue in Ashton's discussion of metamodernism is the distinction between deduction and induction. If postmodern literary theory (for instance, Ashton's neo-Marxism) begins with the ideological setpiece of the scourge of late capitalism and the always-already degraded condition of "truth" -- forcing the postmodernist to deduce political commitments from a series of collapsing, ever-winnowing options -- the metamodernist begins with the experience of transient sublimity and abiding interdimensionality that dialogues between discrete realities permit, then asks herself to inductively generate political commitments on the basis of this unimaginably expansive foundation.

To the postmodernist Ashton, metamodernism's largely inductive process of commitment provides civic actors with too much leash to choose their own preferences. The unchallenged assumption here, a familiar one to those who've spent much time reading academic articles, is that humans with a multitude of options -- and a multitude of media within which to engage the generatively recombinative functions of data-processing -- invariably choose unwisely. Yet to the metamodernist philosopher or artist, this sort of instinctive cynicism toward human ingenuity is morally, pragmatically, and even philosophically a non-starter. Given humans' opportunities, post-postmodernism, to choose not merely from all the options a single phenomenological reality presents, but the infinitude of interexistential dialogues metamodernist thought encourages, the presumption in metamodernism -- a suitably optimistic one, given the philosophy's deliberate turn away from decades of poststructuralist cynicism -- is that more ambitious, dexterous, and transformative forms of commitment will emerge under the sign of metamodernism than ever did in the era of hegemonic postmodernism.

Certainly, and to put it plainly, the state of effective political commitment among literary artists could not get any worse than it has been under the hegemony of postmodernism, an observation that might lead even a layperson to ask of Ashton, "What's the risk in forging a new path?" The global environment is not only decaying but just a few short years from the tipping point; what has more than 70 years of hegemonic postmodernism done to turn the tide of this ecological disaster, other than fragment communal commitments into ever smaller and smaller parcels, and then ask us all to wait until late capitalism degrades into anarchy? Metamodernism seeks to harness the rising tide of data we all swim through in the Internet Age, with the aim of reconstituting that data into new forms of self-understanding and civic commitment. That postmodernists confuse its underlying optimism with a latent penchant for anarchy says much more about postmodernism than it does about its paradigmatic successor, metamodernism.

{Part V, the final portion of this entry in the "Metamodernist Manifesto" series, is forthcoming shortly. When published it will be available at this link.}

A graduate of Harvard Law School and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Seth Abramson is the author of three collections of poetry, most recently Thievery (University of Akron Press, 2013), winner of the 2012 Akron Poetry Prize. Author of the Indiewire column "Metamericana," he is also Series Co-Editor for Best American Experimental Writing, whose first edition will be published by Omnidawn in 2014, and whose subsequent editions will be published by Wesleyan University Press.


Shia Labeouf