Intimations of metamodernism

Extracts from Intimations of Metamodernism: Innocence and Experience in Arundhati Roy’s ‘The God of Small Things

Seeking unity of the self or equilibrium between reason and sensibility has not been a major preoccupation with modernist and postmodernist writers. Yet authors like Roy seem to pay constant heed to assimilating such opposing ways of relating to the world. Owing to attempts at balancing emotions and reason, at focusing on stories of self-realization, and revisiting tradition(s), The God of Small Things illustrates a literary trend of metamodernism.

Metamodernism can be defined as the reflection in art or literature of the tendency to integrate contrasting psychic agencies and to achieve self-realization. Without ruling out experimentation, this may translate as renewed interest for a ‘tellable’ story, as well as efforts to incorporate or sublimate previous paradigms of thought, as opposed to the (post)modern propensity towards fragmentation, and the iconoclastic or ironic distancing from traditions.

An underlying presupposition of metamodernism is that, after ages of excessive reason, of experimentalism, arch linguistic games, heightened emotions, and peripheral experiences and fragmentation, there is a pronounced tendency towards integrating reason and sensibility. This also entails attempting to achieve what Jung called individuation or the unification of the archetypes of the soul, also referred to as self-realization.

One can certainly discern a principle of polarity at work here, in the metamodern attempt to recover unity after fragmentation has become the norm and to integrate so-called ‘feminine’ ways of relating to the world, such as intuition or emotion with what is thought of as ‘masculine’ reason.

The journey home

The journeys people undertake structure their lives and crystallize their experience. This is true of most characters in The God of Small Things. As in the Mahabharata, each journey marks a significant step in the development of the personalities involved.

Travelling allows for self-discovery. It also favours pretence; putting on masks, people can pass as something they are not. More often than not, the journey home re-establishes order in one’s universe. It amounts to returning to the centre, to touching or approximating that point where illusions lose their charm and people see themselves for what they are. New pieces of knowledge, as well as previously ignored aspects of one’s being, unify and are integrated at a superior level. As medieval alchemists discovered, transmutation is a journey, and journeys bring about transmutations.[…]

The author’s and protagonist’s destinies converge: returning home after a long absence (six years in the case of the former, twenty-three in that of the latter), they rediscover their place of birth and re-live stories of the past. The novel itself is such a re-lived, re-created story constructed from shreds of memories, facts, and experience projected against the backdrop of rural, tension-marred India. If the two can at least symbolically be identified – insofar as the genetic relationship between writer and her alter ego allows for such assimilation – the gift that the hero grants to society is the novel itself.

The narrative conveys a belief in the permanence of fragile things, in the value of love for what is human and the possibility of an ethic of tolerance, humility, and forgiveness. These, Roy seems to believe, are the small things that can ease the ailments of contemporary humankind and, in doing so, shape a sensibility different from the postmodern one, a type of awareness which can be called metamodern.


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