Evolution of the concept

The beginnings

Alexandra Dumitrescu first used the concept of metamodernism in print in relation to cultural theory and literature.

Her first English-language articles on the subject have been published electronically in 2005 and 2007, on the Hypermedia Joyce and Double Dialogues journal sites respectively. Another article which announces metamodernism as a cultural paradigm dates back to 2009: “Robinsoniads as Stories of Technology and Transformation”. The concept of metamodernism is also mentioned in a book chapter “Intimations of Metamodernism: Innocence and Experience in Arundhati Roy’s ‘The God of Small Things” (2010).

The paradigm

​“Bootstrapping Finnegans Wake” (2005) proposes that “the concept of metamodernism may be employed to describe a paradigm of thought subsequent to the postmodern one.” However, the metamodern and the postmodern may be seen not “as mutually exclusive, but as completing and defining each other.”

In “Interconnections” (2007)  Alexandra revisits the position announced in “Bootstrapping” and posits metamodernism “as a period term and a cultural phenomenon, partly concurring with (post)modernism, partly emerging from it and as a reaction to it (especially to its fragmentarism, individualism, excessive analyticity, and extreme specialization).” She further proposes that “allowing for diverging theories, metamodernism champions the idea that only in their interconnection and continuous revision lie the possibility of grasping the nature of contemporary cultural and literary phenomena.”

A metaphor for metamodernism may be that of a “set of maps under continuous revision,” or a “boat being built or repaired while it sails.” The provisional aspect of these metaphors will be later captured by Vermeulen and Akker’s definition of metamodernism as a continuous oscillation.

​“Foretelling Metamodernity” (2006) goes beyond expressing the intuition of a paradigm shift and defines “metamodernism as an emerging cultural paradigm” characterized by a search for “self realization.” The authors invoked are Blake, Jung and Codrescu, who agree that “energies of a feminine nature play a major part in the process of self realization (or re-formation of the self.

​Metamodernism is further outlined in relation to, or by contrast with postmodernism: “While postmodernism has been equated with the cult of artificiality (Calinescu 248) and the ‘loss of innocence’ (Eco 19-20), metamodernism represents the search for the innate or the natural, the innocent and simple” which becomes necessary and topical in the wake of extreme complexity. In other words, “whereas modernism and postmodernism believed in determining nature to deviate from its norms (Calinescu 173), metamodernism stands for an attempt to investigate (and appropriate) the laws of – inner and outward – nature, to understand them and to act in agreement with their” requisites or coordinates, in spite of imposed rules, hierarchies or restrictive social practices (Jencks).

Rejecting the aberrant (such as the cast system, or Robinson’s judicial system for organising a kingdom inhabited by one subject), metamodernism seeks the beauty of the unsophisticated (of “the small things”), and repels the kitsch satisfactions provided by the means of mechanical reproduction (Calinescu 7 and McHale 185). Postmodern mediated lives (McHale 115) – eg. by computer, or the cyberspace – are gradually replaced by a search for unmediated experience of the self and of nature.

A metaphor for this understanding of metamodernism is the search for the roots, which can be equated with identifying the meaning and origins of situations (Roy 33), as well as the elements of constancy within the modern complexity. But in order to have access to the roots, and perceive the simplicity beyond complexity, a series of transformations of the self are enacted.

Metamodernism as a constellation of transformations involves a revision of deeply ingrained perceptions and concepts. The concept of time and that of progress are reexamined. Time, for instance, is seen in modernity “as a line stretching from a beginning towards the future (and pictured as the arrow of time’), bound to reach some final stage, and following a progressive course of development” (“Foretelling” 156). But, “‘the end of history’ (Fukuyama), a postulate of postmodernism, maybe contrasted with the postulation of an open world” (Prigogine). Accordingly, in texts like Tournier’s and Roy’s the suggestion is of non-linear time, as a spiral which integrates past experiences and sublimates them.

References

  • Calinescu, Matei. Five Faces of Modernity : Modernism, Avant-Garde, Decadence, Kitsch, Postmodernism. Durham: Duke University Press, 1987
  • Dumitrescu, Alexandra. Publications defining Metamodernism in literature and culture
  • Eco, Umberto. Reflections on “the Name of the Rose”. London: Secker and Warburg, 1985
  • Fukuyama, Francis. “The End of History and the Last Man.” London: Hamish Hamilton, 1992
  • Jencks, Charles. Critical Modernism: Where Is Post-Modernism Going? Stafford: John Wiley & Sons, 2007
  • McHale, Brian. Constructing Postmodernism. London: Routledge, 1992
  • —. Postmodernist Fiction. New York: Methuen, 1987
  • Prigogine, Ilya, and Isabelle Stengers. Order out of Chaos: Man’s New Dialogue with Nature. New York: Bantam Books, 1984
  • Roy, Arundhati. The God of Small Things. London: Flamingo, 1997
  • Tournier, Michel. Vendredi Ou Les Limbes Du Pacifique. Paris: Gallimard, 1972

© Copyright note. The text above is an adapted excerpt from Alexandra Dumitrescu, Towards a Metamodern Literature, PhD thesis manuscript

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