Meta Modern Era After Twenty Years


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Meta Modern Era was first published in 1995 in Bombay, India. Its author, Nirmala Shrivastava, was seventy two years old. She was born on 21 March 1923, in Chindwara, India. She had been an Independence fighter as a young person, was rusticated from her Luknow College of Medicine for her revolutionary activities, and as a seven years old she wrote a poem that I can’t put out of my mind. The poem was called “Like a dust particle” and expressed a little girl’s desire to touch the lives of people from all walks of life, from people in authority to you and I, to touch them and us in a way that is “nourishing” and inspiring.

I want to be smaller,

Like a dust particle

Which moves with the wind.

It goes everywhere.
Can go sit
On the head of a king,
Or can go and sit
At the feet of someone.
And it can go and sit everywhere.
But I want to be a particle of dust
That is fragrant,
That is nourishing,
That is enlightening. (Nirmala Salve, aged 7)

I came across Meta Modern Era in 1999, when I had just finished an MA in American Studies with a thesis titled Exploring The Big Bad World With Andrei Codrescu, a study of Codrescu’s work and a meditation on contemporary culture and its crises. I read Meta Modern Era for its valuable insights into Western societies at the turn of the century, as well as for it suggesting, to me at least, that some of the deadlocks of postmodernism could be superseded, that the relativisation of values need not be  permanent, that some elements of traditions were to withhold the test of time, that we are not irremediably trapped in our social conditionings. I liked the idea of evolution, which to me seemed linked to Carl Jung’s individuation. The crises we were/ are facing appeared to me then as refused individuation, a rejection and stifling of deeper callings which callings seemed to point towards the possibility of personal growth and embracing, in relation to others, of an ethics of care in the vein of Nel Noddings and Annette Baier.

I didn’t read the whole book until years later, when, in Dunedin, New Zealand, I was working on a PhD that focused on Metamodernism in Literature. But the bits I read were enough to send me on my path of exploring the implications of my intuition that indeed postmodernism had lived its day, and a new paradigm was afoot, a paradigm that was to bring about a transformation of the individual and of society.

The first chapter of the book, Modernism and Rationality, was perhaps  the most challenging for me, for it questioned my assumption that rationality was the absolute goddess of our world. Some of the other chapters were Choices, Democracy, The Culture in the West, Religions, World Peace, Evolution, Message of Metascience.

The author of the book would have been ninety three years old yesterday. Her book, Meta Modern Era, is one of those fundamental books that are largely ignored whilst, through an alchemy I don’t comprehend, it lays the foundations of the emerging metamodern cultural paradigm.