The Blog

The Metamodernist Manifesto: After Postmodernism (Part I)

When we speak of modernism and postmodernism, and for that matter when we speak of metamodernism, what we mean by "movement" is a series of ideas in philosophy that are a) the subject of scholarly study and discussion, and b) can serve as actionable intelligence for various artists' creative practices.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

{Below is Part I of the second in a series of articles exploring the basic principles of a sphere of thought within metamodernism, "transcendent metamodernism." Other spheres of thought under the general heading of this cultural paradigm include The New Sincerity, "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. The first entry in the series can be found at this link.}

Among the most actively edited and hotly disputed articles on Wikipedia are those on philosophical concepts, in large part because there exists a "WikiProject" group whose sole function -- some might say "hobby" -- is to edit such articles. When one reads the first two sentences of the Wikipedia articles on "modernism" and "postmodernism," one encounters the word "movement" almost immediately, suggesting that even years of warring edits have left this particular term intact as to these two twentieth century cultural paradigms. Modernism, Wikipedia tells us in the first four words of its description on Wikipedia, is a "philosophical movement"; postmodernism, per Wikipedia's first four words on the topic, is a "late-20th-century movement." Of course, when we say "movement" here we don't mean it in the same sense we do when we speak of the "the suffragette movement" or "the temperance movement," both of which were constituted by a series of discrete political commitments.

When we speak of modernism and postmodernism, and for that matter when we speak of metamodernism, what we mean by "movement" is a series of ideas in philosophy that are a) the subject of scholarly study and discussion, and b) can serve as actionable intelligence for various artists' creative practices. This is why, despite the existence of discrete Wikipedia pages for both "modernism" and "postmodernism," there are also Wikipedia pages for "modernity" and "postmodernity" in which the word "movement" scarcely appears -- except to refer back to the articles on "modernism" and "postmodernism." In other words, no less an authority on subjective reality than Wikipedia tells us that philosophies are differentially deployed by critics and creatives.

The notion that philosophical ideas are utilized by scholars and artists alike, albeit non-simultaneously, is literary critic Matthew Arnold's, from his 1865 essay "The Function of Criticism at the Present Time." Arnold describes a process of intertextuality (between critical and creative texts) that alternately produces historical epochs dominated by ideas and ones dominated by artwork. That these epochs alternate, according to Arnold, is attributable to the fact that artists are inspired by the ideas put into the "current of thought" by critics, and vice versa, in an alternating historical pattern.

The notion that critics and artists are merely "using" ideas "from the current" in a transient way means something important: that individual creative (and, for that matter, critical) works may manifest or mediate the ideas of a given philosophy without that leading to their authors being denominated adherents to that philosophy. So authoring a text, say, that mediates and therefore offers a manifestation of "metamodernism" does not make one a "metamodernist" nor even, necessarily, does having a discrete oeuvre broadly classifiable as "metamodern" in its dominant features.

However, given that both scholars and -- in the most insular art communities -- artists themselves are often speaking into subcommunities comprising largely artists, shorthands will sometimes be used. A critic or poet may find herself writing or saying, because she is not at that moment speaking or writing into a scholarly community, that "this artist is postmodern," or "this artist is metamodern," by which she means merely that "the bulk of this artist's oeuvre exhibits discernible mediations of postmodern [or metamodern] philosophy." Or, one may say "this work is metamodern," by which one simply means that "this work exhibits discernible mediations of metamodern philosophy that are among its dominant features." By no means should use of this shorthand suggest to anyone that either scholars or artists typically think of "metamodernism" as a flag an individual artist or group of artists may carry, rally behind, or advance, though of course one can't control the public enthusiasm of artists for the philosophies they treat as actionable (and therefore hold dear). Sometimes, that is, artists do wave flags, and they print upon those flags whichever words they choose -- scholars' sensibilities be damned.

In saying, above, that artists in the most "insular art communities" -- that is, the most culturally marginalized arts communities, like the American poetry community -- are often speaking "into" subcommunities comprising largely artists, we mean that critical and creative roles are increasingly juxtaposed in American art. In the "Program Era" in the United States (that is, an historical context in which creative writing undergraduate and graduate programs are the fastest-growing sector in higher education) the temporally concurrent juxtaposition of critical and creative energies has been routinized both inside and outside academia. While those who detest creative writing as an academic discipline may contest this, claiming that only in bohemian avant-garde literary communities are critical and creative energies intertwined, the answer to this charge is simple enough: what in the world is the "workshop" model of poetry-writing and poetry study if not a pedagogical juxtaposition of critical and creative energies? While juxtaposing these energies is not the same thing as intelligently or courageously juxtaposing them, the broader point regarding their universal juxtaposition still stands. To the extent the most insular literary arts have been universally rather than merely academically institutionalized, it is in this way: all functions of the artists in these communities (including authorship, editorship, publicity, marketing, and synthesis) are so intertwined that to deem any single subcultural sector of, say, the American poetry community non-institutionalized is to speak counter-historically.

All of this is to say that the most immediate byproduct of an artform's cultural marginalization is its production of a subcommunity of artists too small to carry its own discrete "critic class." Not only does this mean that most if not all artists in that community must ultimately serve double-duty as both artists and critics -- some as publisher-artists, some as editor-artists, some as critic-artists, some as hype-men and artists, some as artists who decide who ought or ought not be impaneled in a reading series or at a conference -- but also that Matthew Arnold's model of alternating periods of critical and creative dominance is no longer operational. We are now in a period of great critical-creative energies, and the hyphenation of the term "critical-creative" is here a deliberate and culturally important election.

{Part II of this entry in the 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.