Saturday, May 7, 2011


Notes on “Notes on Metamodernism”

Part XII of a series about the possibility of a rebirth of Social Realism in the Post Postmodern (Popomo). These are some rough ruminations based on my first LATE NIGHT reading of “Notes on Metamodernism” by Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker. *

Water Sports, by yours truly is about the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and clean v. dirty water, use of that clean v. dirty water by mankind, political policy concerning clean air and water v dirty air and water, and my distressed and jaded but hopeful feelings(literally - the technique used in the artwork is mixed media distressed paint) about clean v. dirty water. Can Water Sports be a Metamodern artwork?

Ontologically, Metamodernist oscillates between the modern and the postmodern. It oscillates between a modern enthusiasm and a postmodern irony, between hope and melancholy, between naïveté and knowingness, empathy and apathy, unity and plurality, totality and fragmentation, purity and ambiguity. Indeed, by oscillating to and fro or back and forth, the Metamodernist negotiates between the modern and the postmodern. One should be careful not to think of this oscillation as a balance however; rather, it is a pendulum swinging between 2, 3, 5, 10, innumerable poles. Each time the metamodern enthusiasm swings toward fanaticism, gravity pulls it back toward irony; the moment its irony sways toward apathy, gravity pulls it back toward enthusiasm.

There are at least two things problematic about these notions. First, the description prevents imbalance (though the authors are careful to point out that the oscillation isn't balanced) from existing, since “gravity pulls it back” from whichever extreme the metamodern has temporarily inhabited. And that is precisely because the metamodern – if there actually is such a thing, and I haven’t conceded to that – describes a position that is jaded to the point of believing that destructive forces are unavoidable, and simultaneously naïve enough to hope for avoidance. It is like a double negative being positive, or perhaps more like having your cake and eating it too, or not. Secondly, why “gravity,” a physical force when talking about social/cultural phenomenon? What other force/forces might there be that are social/cultural, as opposed to physical? Additionally, gravity pulls toward a physical mass at the center to which things become attached, unable to oscillate. Is there another physical science metaphor that works better? Vermeulen and van den Akker also use the term Rhizomatic to describe the theorized metamodern.*2 I get the reference to Deleuze and Guattari's (D&G) "Rhizome." I just don't like it because it doesn't work. Let me explain. In botany, a rhizome is a type of root/bulb that inhabits the soil’s surface and sends out roots horizontally through just the top layer. The roots develop new rhizomes at their ends so that new plants, replicas of the original occur at the periphery of an ever-widening free form shape. Over time, the original rhizome becomes less and less effective and the center area dies out as the rhizomes spread from the center. Thus, the Rhizomatic model is 2-dimensional, and there is no biological center through which the metamodern is able to oscillate. In order for any all of the components to oscillate between each and every possible other opposition, the model of necessity must be three dimensional. Also, the new rhizomes are identical copies of the original and each other. There is no radicalization as D&G would have it. In either case, Vermeulen and van den Akker are using mixed metaphors. Is the metamodern more like a botanical process by way of D&G's "Rhizome," or a physical process? If it is like a combination of the two, then that complication must be stated and reconciled. One can always use subversive radicalization as an excuse. However, if we try for poetic license and mixed metaphor by way of D&G's version of Schizophrenia then we must also state that to be the case. Never assume that the reader can follow willy-nilly, and that is my main criticism of D&G's A Thousand Plateaus as well. The reader is expected to follow willy-nilly the most complicated explication of subversive radicalization of plurality extant.

A way out?

One particular theory in science maintains that the physical universe is made up entirely of energy and mostly empty space, that material things are no more than organized energy. In one variation of that theory, all wave patterns are made up of particles of energy, and waves of various lengths can interact with one another in such a way as to create oscillations, fluctuations between various frequencies. If instead of looking at this after-the-Postmodern period in a mash of literary, biological, and Newtonian metaphor, if instead we use physical science exclusively doesn’t that do the deed as metaphor for Vermeulen and van den Akker’s Oscillating Metamodernism? Thus the formula is not D&G's"n-1," but TE for total energy = PE for particle energy + OE (organized energy or matter) where matter can be any/all kinds of matter, and both sides of the equation are interchangeable. *3

According to these young philosophers – and I always maintained that the thing which was to come after the Postmodern would be understood first by the younger generation, certainly not mine - the Metamodern is transcendental in that it oscillates between and among all kinds of binaries. Evidently, it does not ever inhabit the pairs of opposites. What does that mean for understanding the processes within a philosophy that is positioned beyond the Postmodern? While not inhabiting the binary oppositions avoids the Postmodern predicament, it also implies a willful distancing from an understanding of the actual complicated interactions between the two terms in oppositional disparities.

Before ending these perambulatory first ramblings, let me be clear. I’m playing the part of devils advocate because I’m actually starting to pitch for Vermeulen and van den Akker’s invention of and theorizing about metamodernism. I much prefer it to the theories that a Post Postmodern (Popomo) is a banal inhabition of the Twenty-first Century electronic technologies.


*1 Vermeulen, Timotheus and Van den Akker, “Notes on Metamodernism, Journal of Aesthetics & Culture eISSN 2000-4214, on the Web at, Viewed Wednesday, 7:57 PM, May 4, 2011. This journal is published under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License. Responsible editor: Astrid Söderbergh Widding.

*2 Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix A Thousand Plateaus, trans.Brian Masumi. London and New York: Continuum (2004)

*3 Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix A Thousand Plateaus, University of Minnesota Press (1987) Introduction - "n-1" (p7).

No comments: