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08/29/2014 04:37 pm ET Updated Oct 29, 2014

The Metamodernist Manifesto: After Postmodernism (Part V)

{Below is the fifth and final part 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, third, and fourth parts of this article and the first article in the series.}

All of the above may be distinguished from current literary practices informed by "late postmodernism." "Late" here denotes that the late twentieth century's iteration of the postmodern inclination is now non-hegemonic culturally and artistically; it has reached a state of exhaustion (and self-exhaustion) from which it cannot and will not recover, even as its detritus still finds its way to an ever smaller audience. The first principles of late postmodernism will surely recur in the next paradigmatic cycle in which postmodernism is hegemonic, but as that recurrence must first be preceded by periods of metamodernist and then paramodernist ("new modernist") hegemony, all living critics and artists will be dead by the time this happens.

If the current literary avant-garde informed by late postmodernism, "Conceptualism," is largely circumscribed by the enactment of a series of compositional gestures -- for instance, unedited bulk appropriation and parodic plagiarism (that is, the unedited use of others' materials, but with concurrent or subsequent attribution) -- metamodernist literary artwork cannot, in contrast, be delimited by the hundreds of compositional gestures used to mediate it. This is why a self-described "post-avant" poet (that is, a late postmodernist) may well read a work influenced by metamodernism and see in it only certain poststructuralist compositional gestures; this reader forgets that, unlike Conceptualism, metamodernism is a cultural paradigm, a structure of feeling, and a system of logic. Whereas discrete movements, like Conceptualism, are often defined by a short roster of self-avowed practitioners who erect their own literary practices, literary magazines, literary institutions, in-house lit-crit allies, and cadres of professionalized ringleaders, paradigmatic shifts such as the one from late postmodernism to early metamodernism are accompanied by shifts in philosophy and popular culture as well as compositional techniques and centers of cultural capital. This is why we can and must distinguish between Conceptualism as a flag-carrying enterprise and metamodernism as an actionable philosophy that incorporates elements of the two (likewise historically recurring) cultural paradigms that preceded it.

Where Language poetry was once interested in non-absorptive (that is, semiotically immanent but philosophically transcendent) texts, the interest of "post-Language" poetry has been merely to reify the fact that in the Internet Age we are all always-already drowning in the act of absorption. It's a throwing up of the hands that can be cursorily performed but not believed in paradigmatically, let alone lived in. It is not, in other words, an abiding philosophical claim, but rather a repeated -- aesthetic and thoroughly institutionalized -- gesture.

Yet there is some value to the idea that the Internet Age overwhelms us with data, even if it in no sense overthrows our capacity to be creative or bespeaks the "end of history," as the Conceptualists submit. To the extent we might speak of the metamodern condition as one of recurring Kantian sublimity, this does not suggest we've returned to the New Ageists' sense of "transcendence" as a permanent condition one voluntarily seeks out and then inhabits. Instead, the Internet Age simply buffets us with so many fleeting moments of metamodern sublimity that we live in a heightened state of awareness of the sublime. This is not (or is not necessarily) a degrading, degraded, or even affectively disconcerting condition; in fact, non-absorptive sublimity being a capable function of any and all data we encounter online might seem to many like a more thrilling, generatively challenging, and pragmatically enterprising condition in which to reside than one in which all things are seen through the lens of deconstruction, decomposition, and decay.

This, then, is the emotional component of the metamodern: besides its intellectual and moral firmity, it offers, too, the possibility of a reconstitutive contentedness (which is not equatable to complacency, except among the most devout cynics) that provides data-users with a firmer foundation for political and emotional commitment than did postmodernism. While we cannot yet forecast a generation of generally happy and thoroughly civic creatives -- individuals calmly enough situated in the face of contemporary culture that they can act in furtherance of big causes and bigger ideas well outside their social milieus -- the death of real-time, effective political commitment that accompanied postmodernism in art and critical thought was not a coincidence, either. While neither artists nor critics exactly choose their predisposition or disposition, and certainly don't choose the historical epoch in which they live, it becomes increasingly difficult to imagine an intellectual or cultural sphere in which the postmodern exceeds the metamodern in either mimetic rigor or emotional and moral amplitude.

{NB: Subsequent essays on metamodernism by this author can be found here.}

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.