Comments on “Fluid culture: metamodernism”

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David,

Chaim Wigder's picture

David,

Have you worked more or thought about the content for this page? I have my own problems with metamodernism as I understand it, and I would be very interested to hear the ways in which your meta-rationality construct agrees or differs with respect to it.

-C

Metamodernism

Lots of thoughts and notes, but no finished text!

My desiderata page should give a decent sense of the direction I will take with it.

What are your thoughts about metamodernism? Happy to discuss here if that is of interest.

To be honest, my concern is

Chaim Wigder's picture

To be honest, my concern is not so much with metamodernism per se, but rather stems from my observations and interactions with self-described metamodernists.

(I’m not entirely convinced that there is even such a thing as “metamodernism per se”; given the formulations presented by Abramson and others, they don’t seem to me to be describing anything that much different from plain old modernism.)

The major concerns I have, briefly, relate to an apparant lack of historical awareness, and a lack of ideological self-awareness in the metamodern “community”, if you will. While they claim to see older and more foreign systems in a “meta” way, I don’t think they extend that understanding to many of their own values, aims, etc. that animate them.

For exmaple, Damico describes metamodern artists as embracing a return to the “honesty” of Romanticism:

They commentate on things the artist finds beautiful, true or worth loving in a climate full of flat, apathetic art.

What an artist finds “beautiful, true, or worth loving” is entirely contingent on their historicity, and the forms of meaningness available to them. I don’t think metamodernists are able to distinguish between the kind of pattern that is given in nature and exists irrespective of human formations, and pattern that only exists as human constructions thatt we can consciously change.

What’s more worrying is the overuse of the word “progress”, as if that concept had some fixed, eternal meaning. Again from Damico:

The metamodernist wants to live as if positive change and progress can be achieved for several reasons. Firstly, it can never hurt to have this belief and it could absolutely be helpful … If we collectively take up the attitude/belief that progress can be achieved, that the idea of progress exists, our society will benefit greatly. (Emphasis mine.)

First of all, the notion that a belief in progress can never hurt us is obviously absurd. But I might just be mincing words here (and I certainly want to avoid that particular fallacy common to internet comment sections). The real issue I have is that the metamodern idea of “progress” is actually utterly modernist, and they aren’t able to recognize that for some reason.

There’s also the general misunderstanding of postmodernism that I think really undermines the metamodern narrative. I am not a postmodernist, and I’m not here to defend it from slander. The point is just that this idea that postmodernism has destroyed all ideology and has left us in a post-ideological, “blank slate” (to use Damico’s term) world is just not true.

Basically, I have many of the same concerns as I did with the Yudkowsky Rationalists. They think they are doing one thing when they are actually just doing the same thing they think they’ve moved beyond.

Are metamodernists modernists?

Hmm, I’ve had almost no interactions with metamodernists, so I can’t speak to that. I’m not part of the community, and only know the work from stuff I’ve read casually online. It appears that “metamodernism” is a work in progress, and different people have different ideas about what it is. I do find some of them resonant with my thoughts, though, and might get on board the movement if I had more time to investigate.

What an artist finds “beautiful, true, or worth loving” is entirely contingent on their historicity…

I was going to reply to this by saying that I’m skeptical that it’s entirely contingent on historicity, and then I read this:

I don’t think metamodernists are able to distinguish between the kind of pattern that is given in nature and exists irrespective of human formations, and pattern that only exists as human constructions that we can consciously change.

Some sorts of beauty and truth that appear in nature don’t seem to be historical constructions or something we can consciously change. So these two sentences seem to contradict each other… I’m probably missing something.

First of all, the notion that a belief in progress can never hurt us is obviously absurd.

I agree, certainly…

The real issue I have is that the metamodern idea of “progress” is actually utterly modernist

Well, metamodernism, in at least some formulations, tries to synthesize what is right in tradition, modernity, and postmodernity. Tradition and postmodernity both more-or-less deny progress, so if there’s going to be any conception of it, it’s likely to be pretty similar to that of modernity, at least at first? But relativized so it’s not taken as guaranteed, absolute, pointing to some ultimate, or altogether well-defined.

The point is just that this idea that postmodernism has destroyed all ideology and has left us in a post-ideological, “blank slate” (to use Damico’s term) world is just not true.

I agree with that. Rather, we’re drowning in a sea of smashed-up jagged shards of ideology. Way too much of it. (Hence my analogy somewhere of building watercraft to navigate the stormy seas of meaning.)

Damico:

The rubble created when postmodernism smashed our collective thought to bits in the name of intellectual emancipation.

I think that’s basically right, if maybe overdramatized, but:

With this blank slate

That’s definitely not what we’ve got, as you point out…

we will combine all human knowledge and begin to construct a new grand narrative, one subject to constant discussion and consideration.

Yeah, that’s more modernist than I would endorse. My “meta-systematic” view is one of unavoidable pluralism and contradiction and no Big Answers (more-or-less the postmodern attitude), but recognizing also that partial truths are available and valuable and some contradictions can be resolved (a revised, relativized modernist attitude).

Does that make sense?

Thanks for the reponse!

Chaim Wigder's picture

Thanks for the reponse!

So these two sentences seem to contradict each other… I’m probably missing something.

I should probably have left truth out of it, given how philosophically convoluted that word has become. In any case, I’d certainly still say that, perhaps save things like a mother/child bond, etc., what a particular individual thinks is “true (?), beautiful, or worth loving” would be historically contingent (i.e. contingent on the available human practices and discourses).

I’m definitely not denying that there are ahistorical truths! Evolution by natural selection is “true” regardless of the human mind. Whether someone believes in evolution (or whether they find the idea that we are ape-like creatures wonderful or terrifying, etc) is going to be contingent on whether they exist within social structures that make that belief available and/or desirable.

Beauty and love are obviously a lot trickier, and all this is slightly tangential to the discussion. Though I take it you’re not a Kantian with respect to aesthetics. Anyway…

Tradition and postmodernity both more-or-less deny progress

I don’t know that postmodernism denies progress altogether. Part of the issue is that there is not really any monolithic “postmodernism” (though that would certainly be ironic!). One view, for example, would be that ongoing critique of ideology and power is itself progress. (I know you said “more-or-less”, but my point is that the assumption that the idea of “progress” even captures something we ought to unquestionably desire is just that: an (unquestioned) assumption.) Also, the only modernist conceptions of progress appear to be capitalist ones, which doesn’t necessarily have to be the case (and may prove to be destructive; after all, it hasn’t been very kind to the planet thus far).

My “meta-systematic” view is one of unavoidable pluralism and contradiction and no Big Answers (more-or-less the postmodern attitude), but recognizing also that partial truths are available and valuable and some contradictions can be resolved (a revised, relativized modernist attitude).

Nice, yeah. And you don’t mention ethics here, which I know you have quite interesting views on as well drawing from your experiences with tantra.

And that’s another HUGE thing missing from metamodernism that I somehow forgot to mention—a viable ethical stance. I haven’t really seen that being discussed. I think when it comes to ethics the mix-and-match-from-the-systems-buffet approach would be at best inadequate, and at worst disastrous. The “spontaneity” approach you’ve talked about resonates, but that’s tricky to grasp if one is still stuck in modernity or post-modernity (or pre-modernity!).

Monoliths

there is not really any monolithic “postmodernism”

I think it was David McMahan, in his Buddhist Modernism book, who said that for his next trick he was going to try and prove that something is monolithic—a feat unaccomplished, and perhaps even unimagined, by any previous scholar.

the only modernist conceptions of progress appear to be capitalist

Wouldn’t you count Marxism as modernist, a conception of progress, and non-capitalist? (I can imagine objections to each of the three, but they’d take some work. Possibly not as much as proving something monolithic, though.)

missing from metamodernism—a viable ethical stance

Well… it was originally an aesthetic theory, and only recently extended beyond that. (For terminological reasons, I’d prefer to keep it to aesthetics, but I don’t get a vote, and it’s probably too late.)

I think Kegan’s ethical story (which I’ve written about in several places) is effectively metamodernist, avant la lettre. Decades ago he discussed “deconstructive vs reconstructive postmodernism,” and his conception of reconstructive postmodernism seems to have been quite similar to metamodernism.

The meta-systematic approach—his “stage 5,” more-or-less—is not simply buffet-style. It’s cogent, reality-based consideration of which sorts of ethical reasoning are apt in a particular situation, without drawing universal conclusions.

I have your latest post open in the browser tab adjacent to this one, btw!

Touché!

Chaim Wigder's picture

I think it was David McMahan … who said that for his next trick he was going to try and prove that something is monolithic—a feat unaccomplished, and perhaps even unimagined, by any previous scholar.

That would be scandalous! Unfortunately, Big Academia would never allow it…

Wouldn’t you count Marxism as modernist, a conception of progress, and non-capitalist?

Touché! I suppose I was really just wondering why all the metamodernists I’ve met are capitalists.

If we want to build a better world, then being able to move past modernist/postmodernist ways of thinking is important, so we stop making idiotic mistakes like thinking that Rationality is the only way to approach any problems, or imagining that just because meaning is not objective, or just because some meaning is socially constructed, that means (ha!) that meaning somehow isn’t “real” or doesn’t have any casual influence over our behavior and our world.

Learning to think better, though, isn’t the whole of it. I’d argue that it’s entirely possible to be capable of metamodern and (or?) metarational thinking but still be a selfish asshole and exploit others. We need to be aware of whether our social practices are (to be overly Buddhist for a second) contributing to or minimizing suffering.

Anyway, it’s entirely possible that my impression of metamodernism is heavily tainted by my interactions with self-professed metamodernists, and I might be missing some stuff.

I have your latest post open in the browser tab adjacent to this one, btw!

I hope that metarationality does not prevent one from enjoying a bit of nihilistic indulgement every once in a while!

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