Metamodernism is a proposed set of developments in philosophy, aesthetics, and culture which emerge from and react to postmodernism. One definition characterizes metamodernism as mediations between aspects of both modernism and postmodernism. Another similar term is post-postmodernism.
History of the term
The term metamodernist appeared as early as 1975, when Mas'ud Zavarzadeh isolatedly used it to describe a cluster of aesthetics or attitudes which had been emerging in American literary narratives since the mid-1950s.
In 2002, Andre Furlani, analyzing the literary works of Guy Davenport, defined metamodernism as an aesthetic that is "after yet by means of modernism…. a departure as well as a perpetuation." The relationship between metamodernism and modernism was seen as going "far beyond homage, toward a reengagement with modernist method in order to address subject matter well outside the range or interest of the modernists themselves."
In 2007, Alexandra Dumitrescu described metamodernism as partly a concurrence with, partly an emergence from, and partly a reaction to, postmodernism, "champion[ing] the idea that only in their interconnection and continuous revision lie the possibility of grasping the nature of contemporary cultural and literary phenomena."
Vermeulen and van den Akker
In 2010, cultural theorists Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker proposed metamodernism as an intervention in the post-postmodernism debate. In their essay Notes on Metamodernism, they asserted that the 2000s were characterized by the return of typically modern positions that did not forfeit the postmodern mindsets of the 1980s and 1990s, resembling a "neo-romanticism" represented especially in the work of young visual artists. According to them, the metamodern sensibility "can be conceived of as a kind of informed naivety, a pragmatic idealism", characteristic of cultural responses to recent global events such as climate change, the financial crisis, political instability, and the digital revolution. They asserted that “the postmodern culture of relativism, irony, and pastiche" is over, having been replaced by a post-ideological condition that stresses engagement, affect, and storytelling.
The prefix "meta-" referred not to a reflective stance or repeated rumination, but to Plato's metaxy, which denotes a movement between opposite poles as well as beyond them. Vermeulen and van den Akker described metamodernism as a "structure of feeling" that oscillates between modernism and postmodernism like "a pendulum swinging between…innumerable poles". According to Kim Levin, writing in ARTnews, this oscillation "must embrace doubt, as well as hope and melancholy, sincerity and irony, affect and apathy, the personal and the political, and technology and techne." For the metamodern generation, according to Vermeulen, "grand narratives are as necessary as they are problematic, hope is not simply something to distrust, love not necessarily something to be ridiculed."
Vermeulen asserts that "metamodernism is not so much a philosophy—which implies a closed ontology—as it is an attempt at a vernacular, or…a sort of open source document, that might contextualise and explain what is going on around us, in political economy as much as in the arts." The return of a Romantic sensibility has been posited as a key characteristic of metamodernism, observed by Vermeulen and van den Akker in the architecture of Herzog & de Meuron, and the work of artists such as Bas Jan Ader, Peter Doig, Olafur Eliasson, Kaye Donachie, Charles Avery, and Ragnar Kjartansson.
The Metamodernist Manifesto
In 2011, Luke Turner published The Metamodernist Manifesto as "an exercise in simultaneously defining and embodying the metamodern spirit," describing it as "a romantic reaction to our crisis-ridden moment." The manifesto recognized "oscillation to be the natural order of the world," and called for an end to "the inertia resulting from a century of modernist ideological naivety and the cynical insincerity of its antonymous bastard child." Instead, Turner proposed metamodernism as "the mercurial condition between and beyond irony and sincerity, naivety and knowingness, relativism and truth, optimism and doubt, in pursuit of a plurality of disparate and elusive horizons," and concluded with a call to "go forth and oscillate!"
In 2014, the manifesto became the impetus for LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner's collaborative art practice, after Shia LaBeouf reached out to Turner after encountering the text, with the trio embarking on a series of metamodern performance projects exploring connection, empathy, and community across digital and physical platforms.
At the "Rethinking the Human in Technology-Driven Architecture" conference in 2011, architectural theorist Stylianos Giamarelos explored "The Essential Tension within the Metamodern Condition" through a juxtaposition and philosophical contextualisation of the work of Zaha Hadid & Patrick Schumacher, Kas Oosterhuis & Ilona Lenard, and MVRDV.
The 2013 issue of the American Book Review was dedicated to metamodernism and included a series of essays identifying authors such as Roberto Bolaño, Dave Eggers, Jonathan Franzen, Haruki Murakami, Zadie Smith, and David Foster Wallace as metamodernists. In a 2014 article in PMLA, literary scholars David James and Urmila Seshagiri argued that "metamodernist writing incorporates and adapts, reactivates and complicates the aesthetic prerogatives of an earlier cultural moment", in discussing twenty-first century writers such as Tom McCarthy.
Professor Stephen Knudsen, writing in ArtPulse, noted that metamodernism "allows the possibility of staying sympathetic to the poststructuralist deconstruction of subjectivity and the self—Lyotard’s teasing of everything into intertextual fragments—and yet it still encourages genuine protagonists and creators and the recouping of some of modernism’s virtues."
In 2017, Vermeulen and van den Akker, with Allison Gibbons, published Metamodernism: Historicity, Affect and Depth After Postmodernism, an edited collection of essays exploring the notion of metamodernism across a variety of fields in the arts and culture. Individual chapters cover metamodernism in areas such as film, literary fiction, crafts, television, photography and politics. Contributors include the three editors, James McDowell, Josh Toth, Jöog Heiser, Sjoerd van Tuinen, Lee Konstantinou, Nicole Timmer, Gry C. Rustad, Kuy Hanno Schwind, Irmtraud Huber, Wolfgang Funk, Sam Browse, Raoul Eshelman, and James Elkins. In the introductory chapter, van den Akker and Vermeulen update and consolidate their original 2010 proposal, while addressing the divergent usages of the term “metamodernism” by other thinkers.
In a 2017 essay on metamodernism in literary fiction, Fabio Vittorini stated that since the late 1980s, memetic strategies of the modern have been combined with the meta-literary strategies of the postmodern, performing "a pendulum-like motion between the naive and/or fanatic idealism of the former and the skeptical and/or apathetic pragmatism of the latter."
Linda C. Ceriello has proposed a theorization of metamodernism for the field of religious studies. Beginning in 2013, Ceriello has applied metamodern theory historiologically to connect the contemporary phenomenon of secular spirituality to the emergence of a metamodern episteme. Her analysis of contemporary religious/spiritual movements and ontologies posits a shift consonant with the metamodern cultural sensibilities identified by scholars such as Vermeulen and van den Akker that has given rise to a distinct metamodern soteriology. She proposes that the reflexivity and construction of liminal spaces specific to metamodern epistemic shift (as distinct from postmodernism) be considered analogous to the mystical encounter itself, mirroring contemporary individuals’ felt experiences: "of being in-between, and of being both secular and spiritual.”
Ceriello’s work with Greg Dember on popular cultural products such as Joss Whedon’s seminal television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer and on Whedon and Goddard’s 2012 film The Cabin in the Woods proposed an epistemic taxonomy of the monstrous/paranormal to distinguish the character of metamodern monsters from those which could be read as postmodern, modern or pre-modern. Dember, furthermore, proposes "the protection of interiority” as a central element for all metamodern cultural artifacts.
The AHRC Metamodernism Research Network began hosting symposiums on the topic of metamodernism in 2018. There have been four events held, three symposia and a conference. The symposia focus on literary studies. The range of topics was broadened for the fourth event, a conference that included presentations on metamodernism in music, visual art and theater. Audio recordings of the papers are available on the website.
- January 2018: 1st Symposium. Manchester Metropolitan University, UK
- May 2018: 2nd Symposium. Keele University, UK
- September 2018: 3rd Symposium. University of Oslo, Norway
- July 2019: Nijmegen Conference. Radboud University, The Netherlands
In November 2011, the Museum of Arts and Design in New York acknowledged the influence of Vermeulen and van den Akker when it staged an exhibition entitled No More Modern: Notes on Metamodernism, featuring the work of Pilvi Takala, Guido van der Werve, Benjamin Martin, and Mariechen Danz.
In March 2012, Galerie Tanja Wagner in Berlin curated Discussing Metamodernism in collaboration with Vermeulen and van den Akker, billed as the first exhibition in Europe to be staged around the concept of metamodernism. The show featured the work of Ulf Aminde, Yael Bartana, Monica Bonvicini, Mariechen Danz, Annabel Daou, Paula Doepfner, Olafur Eliasson, Mona Hatoum, Andy Holden, Sejla Kameric, Ragnar Kjartansson, Kris Lemsalu, Issa Sant, David Thorpe, Angelika J. Trojnarski, Luke Turner, and Nastja Säde Rönkkö.
In 2013 Andy Holden staged the exhibition ‘Maximum Irony! Maximum Sincerity 1999-2003: Towards a Unified Theory of M!MS’. The exhibition examined the manifesto he had written in 2003 that called for art to be simultaneously ironic and sincere. The exhibition told the history of the writing of the manifesto and subsequently M!MS it now often cited as a precursor to Metamodernism as a ‘structure of feeling’.
In his formulation of the "quirky" cinematic sensibility, film scholar James MacDowell described the works of Wes Anderson, Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze, Miranda July, and Charlie Kaufman as building upon the "New Sincerity", and embodying the metamodern structure of feeling in their balancing of "ironic detachment with sincere engagement".
In his fourth novel, More Deaths than One, published in 2014, the New Zealand writer and singer-songwriter Gary Jeshel Forrester examined metamodernism by way of a search for the Central Illinois roots of David Foster Wallace during a picaresque journey to America. In More Deaths than One, Forrester wrote that "[m]etamodernist theory proposes to fill the postmodernist void with a rough synthesis of the two predecessors from the twentieth century [modernism and post-modernism]. In the new paradigm, metaphysics, epistemology, and ontology all have their places, but the overriding concern is with yet another division of philosophy – ethics. It's okay to search for values and meaning, even as we continue to be skeptical."
In May 2014, country music artist Sturgill Simpson told CMT that his album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music had been inspired in part by an essay by Seth Abramson, who writes about metamodernism on his Huffington Post blog. Simpson stated that "Abramson homes in on the way everybody is obsessed with nostalgia, even though technology is moving faster than ever." According to J.T. Welsch, "Abramson sees the 'meta-' prefix as a means to transcend the burden of modernism and postmodernism's allegedly polarised intellectual heritage."
In 2017, Daniel Görtz and Emil Friis, writing under the pen name Hanzi Freinacht published The Listening Society in which they construe metamodernism as an active intellectual, social, and political movement emerging to meet crises that potentially arise from globalization. In September 2018, Görtz conducted a TEDx talk in Berlin outlining the development of "value memes" (influenced by the work of Clare W. Graves and Don Beck) claiming that the metamodern value meme constitutes the highest form yet.
Brent Cooper of The Abs-Tract Organization focuses on sociological meta-theory, specifically abstraction as a cognitive process and social process of complexification, which he relates to an emerging metamodernism. Cooper wrote a longform review and analysis of Vermeulen, van den Akker, and Gibbons' 2017 book Metamodernism: Historicity, Affect, and Depth after Postmodernism, jokingly dubbing their body of thought "The Dutch School" of metamodernism, as his way of differentiating cultural, literary, and other academic theories of metamodernism from those that utilize the concept as a social/political activist intervention. Cooper's article The Abstraction of Benjamin Bratton attempts to identify Bratton as an implicit metamodern thinker, whose work highlights the intersection of abstract processes and the "accidental" creation of a global governance matrix which he calls "The Stack".
In 2018, metamodern theory culture manifested in podcasts such as Emerge, by Daniel Thorson, featuring thinkers using and developing metamodernism such as Hanzi Freinacht, Bonnitta Roy, Ronan Harrington, James Surwillo, and Zak Stein. Zak Stein also appeared on Future Fossils with Michael Garfield discussing his background in Integral Theory and how that leads into a new metamodern metaphysics. On November 16, 2018, the topic of political metamodernism was broached on Revolutionary Left Radio hosted by Breht Ó Séaghdha, interviewing Austin Hayden Smidt, where they discuss the paradigmatic backdrops of modernity and postmodernity, and the need for leftist reform and unification which they suggest political metamodernism could guide. Douglas Lain of Zero Books has also explored the topic of political metamodernism on his podcast with Luke Turner.