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Metamodern Times: Going Beyond Nihilism

Disclaimer: This essay was originally published on Tab UOL, in Portuguese.

For one, financial crises, geopolitical instabilities, and climatological uncertainties have necessitated a reform of the economic system (“un nouveau monde, un nouveau capitalisme”, but also the transition from a white collar to a green collar economy). For another, the disintegration of the political center on both a geopolitical level (as a result of the rise to prominence of the Eastern economies) and a national level (due to the failure of the “third way”, the polarization of localities, ethnicities, classes, and the influence of the Internet blogosphere) has required a restructuration of the political discourse. (…) Most significantly perhaps, the cultural industry has responded in kind, increasingly abandoning tactics such as pastiche and parataxis for strategies like myth and metaxis, melancholy for hope, and exhibitionism for engagement. (…) Indeed, if, simplistically put, the modern outlook vis-à-vis idealism and ideals could be characterized as fanatic and/or naive, and the postmodern mindset as apathetic and/or skeptic, the current generation’s attitude — for it is, and very much so, an attitude tied to a generation — can be conceived of as a kind of informed naivety, a pragmatic idealism.

In other words, this modernist optimism is no longer useful for us after the fall of the Berlin Wall, same goes for the post-modernist nihilism that is no longer valid after 9/11. As the researchers argue, “terrorism neither infused doubt about the supposed superiority of neoliberalism, nor did it inspire reflection about the basic assumptions of Western economics, politics, and culture — quite the contrary.” For Vermeulen and den Akker, the result of that was a conservative reaction expressed through the “war on terror,” which, in fact, could rather serve as a reinforcement of post-modern and pessimistic values, but in face of the upcoming financial crises, climate change and even the appropriation of the post-modernist critic/ironic discourse by capitalism, we don’t see the end of history as it was suggested by post-modern authors — after all, history definitely didn’t reach its end. What actually ended was the idea that history could emerge from a “positive” Hegelian idealism in which we would achieve some kind of “Telos”, that is, the ultimate closure or our final purpose which, on the other hand, was interpreted by some societies as the ultimate achievement of the “universalization of Western liberal democracy.”

Existence has the structure of the In-Between, of the Platonic metaxy, and if anything is constant in the history of mankind it is the language of tension between life and death, immortality and mortality, perfection and imperfection, time and timelessness, between order and disorder, truth and untruth, sense and senselessness of existence; between amor Dei and amor sui, l’âme ouverte and l’ame close;

Semioticist Ivan Bystrina has already diagnosed that back in 2005 during a lecture at Pontifícia Universidade de São Paulo, and his views were consolidated as topics of Semiotics of Culture, that is, the way culture (or at least in the West) is organized after dualisms: life and death, black and white, Heaven and Earth. But this opposition is not always proportional, quite the contrary — especially in the case of the binomial life and death, in which you can find one of origins (or triggers) of culture according to his theory. It’s in the effort to turn these binomial pairs into triads that we find metamodernism, although it never really finds balance, but rather a constant movement that is rather fed by ourselves.

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On the left, “I’ve brought you a friend II” (2008) by Glen Rubsamen. On the right, “In the search of the miraculous” (1975), by Bas Jan Ader.

The world must be romanticized. In this way its original meaning will be rediscovered. To romanticize is nothing but a qualitative heightening [Potenzierung]. In this process the lower self is identified with a better self. […] Insofar as I present the commonplace with significance, the ordinary with mystery, the familiar with the seemliness of the unfamiliar and the finite with the semblance of the infinite, I romanticize it.

Therefore, metamodernism finds in the “neoromantic sensibility” an idealism that is better described after the concept of romanticism argued by Isaiah Berlin: romanticism is, therefore, “unity and multiplicity. It is fidelity to the particular…and also mysterious tantalising vagueness of outline. It is beauty and ugliness. It is art for art’s sake, and art as instrument of social salvation. It is strength and weakness, individualism and collectivism, purity and corruption, revolution and reaction, peace and war, love of life and love of death.”

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The third season of Twin Peaks was released 25 years after the last episode of season two. In this new phase, Lynch oscillates between the nostalgia of the series and the mystic absurdity of the Black Lodge.
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Tourists started to take pictures in homage to the iconic Joker (2019) scene in the stairs of Bronx, New York.

Brazilian journalist, MA in Semiotics and PhD candidate in Visual Arts. Head of innovation and futurism at UP Lab. Cyberpunk enthusiast and researcher.

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