Embracing Metamodernism

by G Gordon Worley III 1 min read18th Aug 201711 comments


I’ve never much felt like I was part of a cultural movement. I’m too much a “digital native” to be fully part of Gen X. I’m insufficiently idealistic to be a Millennial. I’m part of the transhumanist, the rationalist, and the effective altruist subcultures, but in a weak way that more resembles atomization than membership. And my philosophy is one of irreducible complexity. So I was surprised to discover I’m a metamodernist.

In a The Huffington Post piece from January, Seth Abramson describes metamodernism this way:

[M]etamodernism 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.

Abramson goes on to examine how metamodernism manifests in music, art, film, literature, and memes and finds examples in the Childish Gambino, Shia LaBeouf, My Dinner with Andre, David Foster Wallace, and The Bee Movie. Elsewhere Abramson has compared metamodernism to other living cultural philosophies and sees similar relationships to those Chapman sees between different modes of meaning. Of greatest interest to me, though, is that metamodernism gives wider context to the philosophical work of myself and other post-rationalists.

Or maybe we should be the meta-rationalists to allude to metamodernism since there is much in metamodernism that jives with the meta-rational, especially the notion of reconstructing the deconstructed. Perhaps why we’ve so far struggled to make ourselves comprehensible is that our closest intellectual cousins, the post-modernists, were largely content to deconstruct things without reconstructing them. Comparing ourselves to them we are forced to explain how postmodernism failed despite having a good start, but if we compare ourselves to the metamodernists then the story is simpler because we also look to move beyond deconstruction to reconstruction, and not in spite of deconstruction but in the spirit of it. In this way our divergence from the rationalists seems to go beyond epistemological differences to a belief that the world can be deconstructed while maintaining its shape rather than being reducible.

tennis is basically baseball

Sorry if that seems like a lot of inside baseball, but how meta-rationality is understood by others has been a salient topic for me of late. Rest assured that my drafts folder is filled with posts on the relationship between feedback and suffering, the important of regression to the mean, and my ever elusive mathematical foundation for phenomenology. I expect to tackle all those topics in the next few months.