What Is Metamodernism?

What Is Metamodernism?
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<p>Sturgill Simpson, <em>Metamodern Sounds in Country Music</em> (2014). Watch the video for the Grammy-nominated first track <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LWx6csgGkg4" target="_blank" role="link" rel="nofollow" class=" js-entry-link cet-external-link" data-vars-item-name="here" data-vars-item-type="text" data-vars-unit-name="586e7075e4b0a5e600a788cd" data-vars-unit-type="buzz_body" data-vars-target-content-id="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LWx6csgGkg4" data-vars-target-content-type="url" data-vars-type="web_external_link" data-vars-subunit-name="article_body" data-vars-subunit-type="component" data-vars-position-in-subunit="0">here</a>.</p>

Sturgill Simpson, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music (2014). Watch the video for the Grammy-nominated first track here.

Metamodernism, a term first coined in 1975 by Mas’ud Zavarzadeh, has been in the news a lot lately.

It’s a word academics periodically used throughout the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, but it’s only lately become the sort of thing regularly discussed on popular websites like 4chan, Reddit, and Twitter. It even pops up with some frequency on major media; in the past year we’ve seen the words “metamodernism” or “metamodernist” appear in places like GQ, The Atlantic, The Guardian, The London Evening Standard, The Sydney Morning Herald, and (repeatedly) right here on The Huffington Post. Beyond individual articles, the number of celebrated artists who are popularly termed “metamodernists” is fast increasing: the current list includes folks like Shia LaBeouf, Reggie Watts, Hannah Diamond, James Franco, Donald Glover, Lana Del Rey, and Wes Anderson.

If you look up the word “metamodern” instead of “metamodernism” or “metamodernist,” you’ll find it, well, everywhere. For instance, Sturgill Simpson’s genre-bending 2014 LP Metamodern Sounds in Country Music is one of the most critically acclaimed albums of recent years, and was nominated for a Grammy. Simpson has said in interviews that his album title refers to “metamodernism” as it’s lately been discussed in America, both here on The Huffington Post and elsewhere.

So what is metamodernism?

Well, first and most importantly, you should understand that it’s a "cultural philosophy."

This means that it's a system for understanding the world.

Sometimes the sort of understanding metamodernism offers us is a logical understanding of how and why things happen during this particular period in human history. In this sense, we can see metamodernism as a "system of logic" that helps us better navigate the digital age.

At other times, metamodernism helps us understand our emotional reactions to things that are happening now—both our reaction as individuals, and the reactions of whole communities and even nations—at which point we can see metamodernism as a “structure of feeling.”

In short, cultural philosophies help us make sense of our times by seeing patterns in how entire cultures (and individual subcultures within those cultures) operate. And because American culture, like any culture, has political and economic subcultures as well as ones in which new art is regularly being made, metamodernism gives us a lens through which to consider nearly everything that’s happened in America since the invention of the internet: political, socioeconomic, and sociocultural.

Metamodernism is particularly useful at helping us understand the internet because it’s the cultural philosophy of the digital age. This means that academics first started theorizing the term when the possibility of something like an “internet” began to be discussed widely at colleges and universities, which was in the 1970s and 1980s. In cinema, the general outline of a response to postmodernism nearly identical to metamodernism was posited in the alternately exacerbating and invigorating 1981 film My Dinner With Andre, which you can watch in full here and which noted film critic Roger Ebert once called the only movie he could think of entirely without clichés. My Dinner With Andre is an experimental film in which Andre Gregory describes—for nearly two hours—metamodern performance art almost identical to what metamodern artist Shia LaBeouf is up to today, and a “reconstructive” metamodern mindset exponentially more present and actionable in the 2010s than it was in the 1980s. In a four-start review, Ebert summarized Gregory’s philosophy as a belief that “the quest for transcendence is important even if there is, in fact, no transcendence to be found”—an incomplete but not unreasonable summary of how metamodernism manifests today, if we take “transcendence” to mean “transcending the conditions that postmodern culture artificially imposes upon us.”

In any case, we saw metamodernism pop up in literature around the same time as this; the first works of art we’d call “metamodern,” like David Foster Wallace’s 1,100-page novel Infinite Jest, may have appeared around the time the Age of Television finally gave way to the Age of the Internet—in the 1990s and early 2000s—but in fact Wallace began writing his metamodern magnum opus in 1986. The bottom line is that by the mid- to late 1970s it was clear that what the postmodern exertions of the 1960s had produced (along with much wonderful public policy) was an unanticipated side effect: a decay, disillusionment, and despair at the heart of American culture that even our sharpest thinkers didn’t yet know how to transcend. They sensed that we had to push past the irony, cynicism, and world-weariness of postmodernism and the nation’s post-sixties hangover, but was there really a coherent cultural philosophy or paradigm that could help us do this? Returning to a state of naiveté—pretending the preceding quarter-century of postmodern (”deconstructive”) thinking hadn’t happened at all—wasn’t an option, but how could we ever carry forward the hard lessons of the postmodern period while regaining our faith in sincerity, hopefulness, and, indeed, our own future? We needed a technology that would help us live “as if” things untrue were actually true, that would allow us to think in five and six dimensions rather than just in over-literal, excessively reality-bound terms. (If thinking in five and six dimensions sounds New Agey to you, realize that, in science, quantum mechanics already has physicists authoring equations and theories in eleven and even twelve dimensions.)

So: enter the internet.

We could only begin considering metamodernism a “cultural dominant”—which simply means the dominant cultural philosophy in America—once the internet became a universal, culture-defining technology in the mid-2000s. That’s why its core concepts were intermittently discussed in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, but have now become an important touchstone of cultural discourse.

Metamodernism is almost certainly not the first cultural philosophy you’ve come across. (As I noted above, sometimes the phrase “cultural paradigm” is used instead of “cultural philosophy,” but for our present purposes the two phrases can be treated as interchangeable.)

Romanticism was a cultural philosophy dominant in England from approximately 1790 to 1850. Victorianism (1840 to 1900), named for Queen Victoria of England, was another cultural philosophy with a long period of dominance in that country. Modernism (approximately 1890 to 1945) was influential in Europe and America during the first half of the twentieth century. Postmodernism (1945 to 2005) was, until just recently, the “cultural dominant” in the Western world and elsewhere, and is associated with the Age of Television in the same way Modernism is often associated with the Age of Radio.

As you can see from the above, cultural philosophies tend to have a lifespan of roughly a half-century, though technological advances (which are often what spark a new cultural philosophy) can extend or shorten this period.

It’s also worth noting that all of the above cultural philosophies are regularly referred to as “movements.” This is not because they’re rule-based or because you have to join a group to be (say) a “metamodernist.” In fact, cultural philosophies are not, as a rule, dogmatic. Rather, we can and do call Modernism and postmodernism and metamodernism “movements” because when easily articulated philosophies emerge within a culture they’re quickly picked up by politicians, artists, community organizers, and even businesses. Because each politician, artist, community organizer, and business gets to decide whether or not they want to incorporate a new cultural philosophy into the things they do, we rightly think of cultural philosophies as ways of thinking that are adopted. So we call them “movements.”

But cultural philosophies aren’t “movements” in the way, say, the “Tea Party” or “Occupy Wall Street” were/are movements. They’re much, much broader. That’s why we find so many “sub-movements” within any given cultural philosophy.

For instance, both Marianne Moore (a lyric poet whose work was heavily focused on rhythm and the sounds of words) and the Dadaists (a quasi-anarchic collective of European artists) are both considered “Modernists.” Looking at the work of Moore and a Dadaist poet like Tristan Tzara, you wouldn’t think they had anything at all in common. And superficially, you’d be right. The reason they did share something in common is because, in the broadest sense possible, they shared a philosophy—a series of ideas about joyously celebrating the complexities of urbanization and industrialization, and working through these complexities with an eye toward perfecting individuals’ reactions to and understandings of them. Sub-movements within Modernism included Dadaism, Futurism, Surrealism, Vorticism, and the American Modernist poetry of lyric poets like Moore and Wallace Stevens. There were many other Modernist sub-movements, too. What all of these sub-movements in Modernist art—and their counterpart movements in politics and economics—had in common is that they helped people of the early twentieth century better understand their personal condition and the conditions of the culture they lived in.

By the same token, metamodernism is a cultural philosophy with sub-movements.

Before we get to those, though, it’s useful to understand what we mean when we refer to metamodernism as an overarching cultural philosophy or movement. It’s important to understand this because, again, metamodernism is the current “cultural dominant” in digital-age America.

So here it is: metamodernism believes in reconstructing things that have been deconstructed with a view toward reestablishing hope and optimism in the midst of a period (the postmodern period) marked by irony, cynicism, and despair.

Generally speaking, metamodernism reconstructs things by joining their opposing elements in an entirely new configuration rather than seeing those elements as being in competition with one another. If postmodernism favored deconstructing wholes and then putting the resulting parts in zero-sum conflict with one another—a process generally referred to as “dialectics”—metamodernism focuses instead on dialogue, collaboration, simultaneity, and “generative paradox” (this last being the idea that combining things which seem impossible to combine is an act of meaningful creation, not anarchic destruction). Metamodernists will often say that they “oscillate” between extremes, which really just means that they move so quickly between two extremes that the way they act incorporates both these two extremes and everything between them. The result is something totally new.

If you want an analogy to help you picture all this, imagine a pendulum that swings so quickly between two poles that the naked eye can’t even see the back-and-forth movement anymore. Instead, all the naked eye can see is a pendulum hanging straight downward, vibrating slightly. In other words, the pendulum is spending an equal amount of time at every single point on a spectrum—a straight line between two points that are distant from one another—but does so in such a blindingly fast way that all you can see is a weird, vibrating action in the central space between the two opposing points (called poles). The basic idea here is that moving with such quickness along a spectrum deliberately defeats the purpose of having such a binary (two-pole) system in the first place; in this sense, we could say that the sort of movement I’ve described here allows us to over-leap or “transcend” a spectrum altogether. Which is a good thing, as spectra (the plural of spectrum) are necessarily two-dimensional. And, therefore, limiting.

A great example of a metamodern phenomenon is the “remix.” When a musician remixes someone else’s work, in a sense what they’ve created is dependent upon what someone else has created—that’s one “pole”—and in a sense what they’ve made is something entirely new (a second pole). Is a “remix artist” a scavenger or a creator? Is their artwork old or new? Well, both! And therefore, in a sense, neither. In other words, when you’re simultaneously creating and scavenging you are doing something that is both of those things and also an entirely new thing. Namely, you’re remixing.

This idea of “doing both of two very different things at once to create something new” leads many metamodernists to use the shorthand phrase “‘both/and’ thinking.”

“Both/and” means thinking that’s “both” of two things “and” (therefore) something entirely new.

Another example of a metamodern phenomenon is “modding”—the practice of re-coding a videogame you’ve purchased to change the narrative or the gameplay somehow. This too is an example of someone recognizing that a thing can be taken apart and then put back together again differently—not to make some ironic commentary on the thing being deconstructed and then reconstructed, but rather to re-imagine it altogether. This takes, obviously, enormous creativity—and a lot of optimism about the value of creating things in the first place. Sure, there’s something cynical about feeling like no game you buy is “good enough” the way you purchased it, but there’s also something incredibly idealistic and forward-thinking about feeling empowered to not just change an existing videogame but to want that change to be an improvement you personally authored.

In film, we might call the “reboot” metamodern. Whereas the “remake” is a generally “Modernist” approach to filmmaking—it assumes that tackling the same complex film project repeatedly can lead to a “perfected” version of it— and “sequels” are “postmodern” to the extent that they often involve ironically commenting on the shortcomings or other oddities of their predecessors, the reboot is an earnest and dramatic re-imagining of a project that is nevertheless cynical because it fails to move on from that project entirely.

In a reboot, a filmmaker is always caught between trying to be faithful to the original and knowing that she or he has complete freedom (because it’s a reboot!) to change elements of the original that were once considered fundamental. Going to the movies to see a reboot is an odd experience for a movie-goer: we’re simultaneously seeing and processing all the “old” bits and the “new” bits—perhaps variously excited by and frustrated with both—which makes the movie seem both “old” and “new,” both a “whole” and “a series of parts.” The sense of pleasurable disorientation that can result from this ”dual vision” is quintessentially metamodern.

Look up “retconning” in comics and you’ll find a similar phenomenon—one that’s also metamodern.

Other movies become metamodern because they’re riding the line not between new and old but, say, “sincere” and “ironic” or “real” and “unreal.” Wes Anderson films are metamodern because one can’t tell if the somewhat artificial, somewhat cloyingly earnest worlds they create are fundamentally “sincere” or “ironic.” Answer: they’re both! At the same time and in the same space. And in that sense, they’re metamodern. Meanwhile, films like Holy Motors make you question not just why things are happening but whether they are actually happening at all. These films are metamodern too. Take a look at this scene from Holy Motors. One question we might ask in response is, is this man part of a scheduled performance? Are the other instrumentalists real? Is this a flash mob? Who are they playing for—anyone? Are they earnestly expressing themselves and their emotions with each note, or are they making some sort of a point by the mere fact (and structure) of their strange underground performance? These are just a few basic questions; if you watch the film, you’ll see that everything is even more complicated than this, as the main character seems to be “acting out” different possible lives as some sort of “job.” The “job” is real—but does that mean the “lives” he acts out are too? Are the others he plays the accordion with at a “job” also, or is this “real life” for them? How do they see the hero—as an actor or a real-life musical collaborator?

Heady stuff.

At a more easily digestible level, Rick & Morty is creating the same sort of generative ambiguity about what is real or unreal, sincere or ironic. Or consider The Lego Movie, which is at once a cynical commercial for a popular line of toys, an unsubtle critique of the very capitalism that the titular toymaker depends upon for sales, and an earnest (to the point of saccharine) father-son drama. The screenplay pulls in so many contradictory directions at the same time that the final product seems “strange” somehow—if delightfully so. Moreover, the clumsiness and stiltedness of some of the film’s dialogue and plot can be seen as either an error on the part of its adult writers, a cunning attempt by those same writers to mimic the words and imagination of a child, or a sincere bit of storytelling by a child protagonist who in fact (we eventually discover) has “authored” the entire screenplay. Not knowing exactly how to take certain aspects of the film is part of its appeal—and its humor.

Online, the most notable metamodern trend is the “meme.” Most memes are remixes or mods or reboots of some original thing—think the Lazy Town remixes of 2016, or all the strange stuff done, for some reason, with The Bee Movie—though others (like the “Ermahgerd” girl) are simply static text-image combinations that can be endlessly reinvented by those who share them. These reinventions, which eventually create a phenomenon called “meme drift,” can be understood by those who see them because of the shared experience of seeing and understanding the original text-image combination. With the “Ermahgerd” meme, for instance, people soon changed the original picture, and then changed the original text, and yet the meme was still recognizable to most people, anyway. Memes are therefore metamodern not just because they’re collaborative and interactive, but also because they create an instinctive feeling of understanding even when they can’t logically be broken down into their parts.

This last metamodern quality—the feeling of understanding something, or at least thinking of it as “coherent,” without being able to deconstruct it into its parts—is sometimes called “the metamodern awesome.” (Think of “awesome” as the twenty-first century equivalent of “the sublime.”) If we go back to the pendulum metaphor I used above, the oddity of seeing a pendulum hanging straight downward and quivering slightly—which suggests to us that there’s a motion occurring that can’t properly be seen, and that we can no longer say where on the spectrum the pendulum is at any moment—corresponds to a feeling that you’re witnessing something “awesome.” An “awesome” thing is one that’s marvelous and gives a kind of instinctive pleasure but is almost impossible to describe or explain.

We often find this type of “awesome” in music, where certain artists are so inscrutable that while they “make sense” to us on a certain level, we can’t tell if they’re being sincere or ironic. Take RiFF RAFF, for instance, or vanity music projects like Alison Gold’s “Chinese Food” or Lisa Gail Allred’s “Three-Second Rule”. It’s impossible to know whether these artists are being serious or not, but there’s something mesmerizing about the artwork anyway—perhaps even because of this. For this reason, while “pastiches” or “send-ups” are postmodern because they’re fundamentally ironic and cynical about the works they’re playing off, artworks which can be easily “understood” but whose purpose or creative integrity is unclear are generally seen as “metamodern.” Perhaps the best example of this is a now impossible-to-find promo video for Cameron Carpenter’s “International Touring Video”—snippets of which, authorized by Carpenter after he had to take the original promo down due to widespread ridicule, can be found here—which continues to stand as the quintessential metamodern artwork. It is impossible to take seriously, but the work itself betrays no evidence whatsoever of whether its creator was himself taking it seriously.

In literature, as in film, “fan fiction” is metamodern because it allows us to optimistically interact with and participate in a narrative or mythos we love even though we know what we’re creating isn’t “canon”—that is, isn’t of the same status as the original work. Check out, for instance, this Han Solo short or the excellent extension of the Sherlock Holmes mythology found in A Study in Charlotte. Just so, so-called “slipstream” fiction—which seamlessly slides, page-to-page, from one fiction sub-genre to another, for instance from Mystery to Science Fiction to Fantasy to Romance to Western to True Crime—is metamodern because it creates a coherent “whole” that is, all the while, deliberately orchestrating seemingly opposing parts.

In the business world, we find metamodern thinking in advertisements that are deliberately “bad”—that is, advertisements that should, by all rights, harm the products or services they’re “advertising” but in fact are so mesmerizing that consumers end up, to their own surprise, wanting to be associated with the product. Consider these ads for the attorneys Juan LaFonta and Bryan Wilson—and then consider how we’ve conventionally considered it important for our personal attorneys to be sober, boring, highly focused professionals. Or consider this singularly unappetizing but fully “official” Totino’s commercial (courtesy of the metamodern duo Tim & Eric).

So: key terms in metamodernism are dialogue, reconstruction, collaboration, interdisciplinary and transmedia work (collaborations across academic disciplines or creative genres/modes), inter- and hyper-textuality (the creation of new texts through the interaction of existing texts), generative paradox, generative ambiguity, simultaneity, engagement rather than exhibitionism, and, more broadly, the collapsing of artificial distances between concepts and people.

In addition to the above, it’s worth noting that we often speak of metamodernism as trying to negotiate between Modernism and postmodernism through a “romantic response to crisis”—essentially, asking that we remain optimistic in the face of our postmodernism-enabled hopelessness and act “as if” things will get better (even if we don’t necessarily think they will).

Sometimes this “romantic response” asks us to “overlap multiple subjectivities”—a fancy academic phrase which simply means allowing yourself to be many different people at once without putting any one of them at the forefront. (Think of the end of the metamodern film Interstellar, in which the hero briefly occupies a five-dimensional space in which all points in time are simultaneously occurring. If you take this idea and apply it to all of the different versions of yourself, or, in an even grander sense, to all the different personality types and demographic groups now present in America, you’ll have a sense of how big this concept is. Where postmodernism said that combining “subjectivities” inevitably destroyed most of them, metamodernism holds that overlapping different identities only empowers all of them.) For instance, a remixer is at once speaking through the voice of everyone who she or he is sampling, while also using his or her own creative vision (as a curator of sounds) to create a completely “new” artwork. Meanwhile, a “modder” is mixing their own vision with others’, and anyone who helps shape a meme is simultaneously expressing themselves and the visions of the countless creators and “meme inflectors” who came before them.

I mentioned above that metamodernism, like any cultural philosophy, contains within it innumerable sub-movements. For metamodernism, one of the most prominent sub-movements of the moment is—though we first heard this term used in the late 1990s—“The New Sincerity.” New Sincerisist art “oscillates,” but much differently than some other metamodern sub-movements. Whereas, in other sub-movements like “transcendent metamodernism” or “metamodern dada,” the metamodern oscillation is entirely contained in the work itself, in the New Sincerity the oscillation occurs between the work and its audience. That is, New Sincerisist art is so unfailingly sincere that it can’t actually be credited as sincere by its skeptical, heavily postmodernism-influenced consumer. This is a “new” sort of sincerity not so much because it’s sincere in a different way from, say, what that word and concept meant to the Victorians, but rather in that we—the consumers of contemporary art—have changed so much since the late nineteenth century that we can’t accept sincerity as sincere anymore, and therefore receive it as ironic. One could argue that Belle & Sebastian, those icons of nineties “twee” music, were always being sincere in their lyrics, but we had no way to process that sincerity comfortably and so we began to see Stuart Murdoch and company as cynical hipsters exploiting a sincere “mode” to sell albums. Certainly, that reading was more consistent with our experiences living in a postmodern culture (or, in a culture dominated, at the time, by the postmodern cultural philosophy). By comparison, contemporary band Future Islands is so sincere about (and committed to) being self-consciously performative that it is “metamodern” not in a New Sincerisist way, but more in line with that sub-movement of metamodernism in which the oscillation between sincerity and irony is contained in the work itself (so-called “transcendent metamodernism”).

In My Dinner With Andre, while discussing the development of a “reconstructive” philosophy inside a postmodern culture rife with cynicism, Andre Gregory—perhaps presaging the “New Sincerity” of the late 1990s and thereafter—says,

“[Some] feel that there’s really almost no hope, and that we’re probably going back to a very savage, lawless, terrifying period. Others see it a little differently. They’re feeling that there will be these pockets of light springing up in different parts of the world, and that these will be, in a way, invisible planets on this planet, and that as we, or the world, grow colder, we can take invisible ‘space journeys’ to these different planets, refuel for what it is we need to do on the planet itself, and come back. And it’s their feeling that there have to be centers now where people can come and reconstruct a new future for the world. And actually, these ‘centers’ are growing up everywhere now. And what they’re trying to do—I mean, these things can’t be given names--but in a way, these are all attempts at creating a new kind of school or a new kind of monastery. And [a friend] talks about the concept of ‘reserves’—islands of safety where...the human being can continue to function in order to maintain the the species through a dark age. In other words, we’re talking about an ‘underground.’ And the purpose of this underground is to find out how to ‘preserve the light’—life; the culture--how to keep things living. What we need is a new language, a language of the heart, some kind of language between people that’s a new kind of poetry. In order to create that language, you’re going to have to learn how you can go ‘through a looking glass’ into another kind of perception, where you have that sense of being united to all things. And suddenly, you understand everything.”

As 1981 was pre-internet, a useful exercise is to replace the word “underground,” above, with the word “internet.” Given the “virtuality” of space on the internet, this word-replacement suddenly gives phrases like “invisible planets,” “invisible space journeys,” and “a new kind of school” new meaning.

The metamodernist Shia LaBeouf has in recent years organized a number of projects in which set-apart spaces are created—either via telephone, live performance, social media, or even, in one instance, a road trip that fans of LaBeouf were invited to take with the actor himself—for this fundamentally open, generous, dynamic, unscripted “language of the heart” to flower. Colorado State University philosopher Andrew Corsa has referred to the resultant congregations of metamodern-minded individuals as “tribes,” which resonates nicely not only with Gregory’s 1981 discussion of “a new kind of [invisible, non-physical] monastery,” but also many art projects discussed in My Dinner With Andre—which typically involve fluid groupings of people simultaneously (i.e., in the same space and in the same moment) living their life and practicing their art in order to feel more connected to one another and their lives. The internet, which has been the enabling technology for many of LaBeouf’s projects, permits the creation and maintenance of invisible, locomotive, non-physical monasteries filled with a “new kind of language” in a way that no one could have imagined in 1981. That’s because the internet allows us to create “a different kind of perception” that gives the sensation of “uniting all things.”

So digital culture is really important to the spread of metamodernism, for what are now (hopefully) some obvious reasons. The internet lets us quickly overlap and combine things to create new things in a way we never could before, and gives us all a chance to act in large, dynamic, ever-shifting quasi-anonymous groups in a way we weren’t as likely to before—even as we know the internet also makes us less happy in many respects. The internet thus distances and connects us at the same time—very metamodern! So, for instance, flash mobs are metamodern, as is so-called “hash-tag advocacy.” Certain large-scale efforts to re-conceptualize problems—like the push to create an International Flag of Planet Earth—are metamodern because they simultaneously recognize that humans are fractured into groups and also that we must still think of ourselves as having a common purpose. (Keep in mind that metamodernism isn’t about a New World Order; rather, it’s about allowing things to be wholes and parts at the same time. The International Flag of Planet Earth doesn’t mean an end to individual nations, merely a desire to not have the continued existence of nations keep us from seeing how, in certain spheres at least, we do have a common purpose—and need words and images that underscore this fact.)

The value of metamodernism in politics should likewise be fairly evident, in an era of unprecedented partisanship and gridlock in Washington, inter-group conflicts exacerbated by an unwillingness to see commonalities or shared ambitions, and public policy solutions that are always framed as zero-sum games—if someone gets helped, someone else is getting hurt—because doing so helps attract television viewers to cable news and re-elect hard-line politicians.

In fact, solutions could be developed to many of our current crises that would be beneficial to all people. So says metamodernism.

Metamodernism is likely to take something you’re certain is bad and show you that it’s an opportunity to do something you never imagined before. It’s likely to show two people who think they have nothing in common that the ways in which they’re different empower them to work together much better than any two people “more similar” would be able to. It’s likely to say crazy things like the fact that we live in a “post-truth” culture gives us an opportunity to instrumentalize that very culture in the service of—you guessed it—Truth. (Metamodernism is, in fact, a “post-post-truth” phenomenon for exactly this reason: it takes the wreckage of meaning and goodwill and hope and refashions it into a new “meta-narrative”—a narrative about how we make narratives—that is fundamentally optimistic. For this reason, metamodernists often celebrate so-called “informed naivete,” this being a willful decision to act as though the facts on the ground aren’t the facts on the ground. Informed naivete helps us come up with shockingly fresh ideas. In such instances it’s not that one forgets reality, it’s rather that, informed by reality, one makes a quite conscious decision to temporarily sidestep or even ignore it in service of one’s own mental health and/or the greater good.)

If you’re interested in metamodernism, just Google it—you’ll find a lot of essays on it on The Huffington Post. Listen to Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and ask yourself how this album re-imagines everything we thought we knew about the values and culture and musical practices that traditionally have undergirded country music. Search for the term on Twitter and Facebook and uncover metamodern art like The Flying Japanese Girl or Meow Wolf or Garfield Minus Garfield. Look up things like normcore and chiptune and see how these phenomena marry opposites like nostalgia and futurism (chiptune) or assimilation and idiosyncrasy (normcore). Or consider Sjaak Hullekes’ “high fashion of the small-town boy.” Or Steve Roggenbuck’s equally sincere and ironic poem, “Make Something Beautiful Before You Are Dead.” You get the idea.

Find enough things like this and you’ll start seeing such things everywhere; start seeing such things everywhere and you’ll start thinking and creating and solving problems like a metamodernist.

And if you start doing that, and enough others start doing that, we might just start digging ourselves out from the massive cultural, political, and economic hole America is in right now.

Thanks for nothing, postmodernism.

Seth Abramson is an assistant professor of English at University of New Hampshire, the series editor for Best American Experimental Writing, and the author of The Metamodern Trilogy—whose most recent book, Golden Age, was just released by BlazeVOX. You can find it here.

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