Mapping The Metamodern

The speculative project of mapping contemporary culture.

The 21st Century has seen the emergence of cultural artefacts that do not fit into the traditional cultural paradigms; Modernism and Postmodernism.

This project is an attempt to:

1. Catalogue examples of recent cultural developments.

2. Create new terminologies that adequately describe them.

3. Determine whether Metamodernism constitutes a new cultural paradigm.

Cultural Cartography

The mapping project is intended to be open-ended and revisionary, subject to a regular iterations. Following Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, the aim is to produce a ‘map and not a tracing'(1).

Current iteration (002):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Narrative Irony

Irony that exists inside a narrative structure. The use of irony polemically, as a device to make a point or to convey explicit meaning.

This approach tends to have little real-world impact, and its message can be easily mistranslated. Advanced capitalism thrives on the new and the transgressive, it has the ability to turn acts of resistance into commodities.

Example 1: Spitting Image.

A classic example of British post-modern cynical ironic satire which ran from 1984 – 1996, satirising culture and politics through the medium of grotesque dolls.  Margaret Thatcher was a recurring target of spitting image, often characterised as a terrifying bully or pantomime villain. The result of which was to actually strengthen Thatcher’s public profile by making her seem like indestructible monster and monstrous. Thus empty condemnation ended up reinforcing the status quo.

Example 2: Cassetteboy

Cassetteboy is seen by some as a poster boy for mashup culture- but like Spitting Image, his work falls within the framework of narrative irony and thus feels strangely antiquated.

Example 3: Banksy

The infamous street artist Banksy is a prime example of narrative irony and the commodification of resistance. His ‘works of political and social commentary’ now adorning tote bags,  throw pillows and iPhone cases.

Textural Irony

Irony that is expressed via ‘textural’ or aesthetic elements. The utilization of antiquated techniques, methods, materials, tropes etc in a contemporary setting. These elements are used to produce a variety of effects,  including; hyperreality,  ironical humour,  and nostalgic fondness.

Example: Vapourwave.

Vapourwave has been described as the ‘pop-art of the virtual plaza’, and is said to investigate how “capitalistic society has generated a dehumanizing hyperreality by focusing on infinite generation of ideals as shown through commodities”. The degredation of stock music and music from corporate YouTube videos produces “the defamiliarisation of things we’ve become so use to that we don’t notice them any more”(2).

Cis-irony

Appropriating the ‘cis’ prefix from gender theory, cis-Irony is the re-affirmation of irony, a normative state of postmodernism. The nihilistic hyper-concentration of irony. In contrast to narrative or textural irony, cis-irony is characterised by affect. Affect here is not a synonym for emotion, but what Brian Massumi describes as ‘intensities'(3).

Irony in its affectual state cannot be used as a tool to make a point, and does not necessarily employ ironic textures. It is pre-critical, a nihilistic end-in-itself, the pleasure of the black hole. In cis-irony, narrative structures are hollowed out, turned into aesthetic objects, pure surface matter.

Examples: andywilson92, Cole Kush, ano0nymooose.

Due the affordability of 3D rendering software such as blender, daz3d and gmod, bad 3d modelling has quickly established itself as a YouTube genre; with numerous channels dedicated to making content which could be described as ‘uncanny-valley‘ meets Punch and Judy. These works often take the form of dark re-imaginings of existing media, incorporating elements of goofy comedy, horror-film creepiness and surrealism.


Formal Nostalgia & Dyschronia

The term ‘formal nostalgia’ describes cultural artefacts that make extensive use of antiquated textures and styles with no ironical intention. This term has its origins in what Frederic Jameson(4) called the ‘nostalgia mode’. According to Mark Fisher(5) this is to be understood as:

“a formal attachment to the techniques of the past, a consequence of a retreat from the modernist challenge of innovating cultural forms adequate to contemporary experience”.

Several decades on from Jameson’s observations, we are now witnessing nostalgia infiltrate almost every aspect of culture. This could be described as dyschronia, or “time out of joint”(6). Regarding this, Fisher(7) states: “there has always been retro; the difference now is that retro is no longer a particular style: it’s so dominant that it goes unremarked upon”.

A good example of contemporary dychronia would be what Owen Hatherley(8) describes as austerity nostalgia. He observers:

“This most recent austerity [2009/10 to present] has nonetheless been overlaid with the imagery of that earlier era [1940s – 1955]. At times this has been so pervasive that it felt as if parts of the country began to resemble a strange, dreamlike reconstruction of the 1940s and 1950s”.

“as if pop music and the social revolutions of the 1960s- the struggles for sexual equality, and particularly, racial equality- had never happened. Instead everyone had decided to live in their own customised pre-liberation era”.

“the dominance of a certain ‘structure of feeling’, […] where austerity’s look, its historical syncretism, its rejection of the real human advances of the post-war era had seeped into the consciousness of people who would, when pressed, probably be opposition to it, even as they performed its aesthetics”.

Examples: Duffy, Mark Ronson, Arctic Monkeys.

Again quoting Fisher:

“What makes…[these] typical of postmodern retro is the way in which they perform anachronism. While they are sufficiently ‘historical’-sounding to pass on first listen as belonging to the period which they ape- there is something not quite right about them. Discrepancies in texture- the results of modern studio recording techniques- mean that they belong neither to the present nor to the past but to some implied ‘timeless’ era, an eternal 1960s or an eternal 1980s”.

Hauntology

Hauntology is a play on words coined by Jacques Derrida in Spectres of Marx. For our purposes, Hauntology can be described as a longing for lost futures. Applying this to music, Mark Fisher states:

“In hauntological music there is an implicit acknowledgement that the hopes created by postwar electronica or by the euphoric dance music of the 1990s have evaporated […] yet at the same time, the music constitutes a refusal to give up on a desire for the future. This refusal gives the melancholia a political dimension, because it amounts to a failure to accommodate to the closed horizons of capitalist realism”.

Hauntology provides a rupture point in postmodernism; its incessant longing for lost futures is not simply another form of nostalgia. It serves as a buffer stage between the phasing out of postmodernism and the emergence of metamodernism, imbuing ‘ironic’ textures with a new sincerity.

It is important to note that hauntology can only ever be a transitionary stage, once metamodern culture begins to emerge it no longer serves a positive purpose, but instead ossifies into a genre. Hauntological artefacts cannot adequately represent the present.

Examples: The Advisory Circle, Burial, Phillip Jeck.

Metamodernism

For our purposes, a metamodern cultural artefact is one that simultaneously exhibits modern and postmodern traits. For example; sincerity and irony, hope and melancholy, totality and fragmentation, empathy and apathy, purity and ambiguity(9).

We can identify two distinct types of metamodernism; genrefied and trans-genre.

Genrefied Metamodernism

Genrefied cultural artefacts are those that can either be slotted into an existing genre, or that exist in a solid state long enough to form into a new genre. This would include cinematic (or narrative based) film and genre music. A key feature of genrefied metamodernism is its simultaneous depiction of sincerity and irony.

Sincirony

A neologism combining sincerity and irony. Sincerity here is used to convey a very particular meaning, that of earnestness. Sincirony’s uniqueness lies in its ability to solve one of the major problems of postmodernism, namely its inability to adequately represent the present. If the transition from modernism to postmodernism was marked by a shift from temporality to spaciality, then the triumph of sincirony is its ability to re-introduce a temporal element. A way of situating our place in time historically and re-introducing ways of thinking the future.

Example 1: PC Music

In the words of PC Music founder A. G. Cook(*):

“One of our intentions is to try and push pop music and make it experimental and accessible, and put an interesting noise or personality as well as a good melody.”

“Sometimes people just don’t like how it sounds, and they’re like “Oh, well, I can’t justify this. It must be a joke.” But we’re really just trying to see if we can make something stick culturally”.

“We take it seriously. This is a big part of our lives. There’s no way that satire could be at the core of anything”.

Example 2: Stewart Lee

Stewart Lee’s sincironic approach to stand-up removes the ironic distance employed by much of the postmodern ‘alternative’ comedy scene. In the clip below he pokes fun of his own ‘liberal’ (yet reductive) views as much as he satirises the discriminatory views of others.

Example 3: Brian

In contrast to the cis-ironic examples cited earlier, the youtube artist ‘Brian’ does not merely utilise 3D modelling as a tool for expressing alienation or to manufacturing disgust; there seems to be something sympathetic, intimate and humanising in his approach. The ‘characters’ he creates, though alien and distorted, have a vulnerable, sensuous beauty to them; evoking strong feelings of empathy.

By harnessing the forces of intimate sincerity and uncanny creepiness simultaneously, he seems to transcend the limitations of either ideology.,

Trans-genre Metamodernism

Cultural artefacts that are not compatible with existing genres, and are transient in nature, dissipating before it is possible to form a genre around them. This would include ‘post-cinematic’ film and video works, along with trans-genre music.

Trans-garde

Trans-garde works can be identified by the simultaneous deployment of modernist experimentation and postmodern irony, or playfulness. Like sincironic ones, they also have the ability to restore a temporal element to contemporary culture. In contrast to modernism’s avant-garde- there is not a conscious effort to produce the new or the challenging, such traits arise organically from ‘artists’ earnest engagement with the realities around them. Trans-garde movements seem to have a built-in obsolescence period, a timely self destruct function that sees them dissipate before ossification can take place.

Examples: Giant Claw, Death Grips, Easy Fun.

Cross-category

There is a significant bleed between categories.

Between Dyschronia & Sincirony

Example: Wes Anderson

Between Sincirony & Trans-garde

Example: Southland Tales

Between Trans-garde & Cis-irony

Example: MLG Videos

Conclusions

It is clear from the mapping project that postmodernism still serves as the cultural dominant. The postmodern traits of irony and nostalgia persevere, now in the hyper concentrated form of cis-irony and dyschronia respectively.

Despite this, the emergence of metamodernism, following hauntology’s period of mourning, provides us with a form of culture that is able to adequately represent the present. Finding mainstream audiences for metamodern media is an important first step in a wider programme of cultural transformation.

 

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Charles Kingsley (2016).

References

1.  A Thousand Plateaus, 1988, Deleuze & Guattari
2. Vapourwave and the pop-art of the virtual plaza, 2012, Harper
3. Parables for the Virtual, 2002, Massumi
4. Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, 1991, Jameson
5. Ghosts Of My Life, 2013, Fisher
6. Specters of Marx, 1993,  Jacques Derrida
7. Nostalgia for an age yet to come, 2011, Fisher
8. The Ministry of Nostalgia, 2016, Hatherley
9. Notes on metamodernism, 2010. Vermeulen & van den Akker