Cultural movements, approaches towards the arts, philosophy, and the sciences have defined the nature of many of the greatest cultural treasures of the Western world. From Greco-Roman to Gothic, from Baroque to Romanticism, our culture has always seen one of such movements at its vanguard. Over the last century, we have witnessed the modern era, then postmodernity, in which we seem to reside today.
But what effect do such eras have upon the direction of our culture? What effect do they have upon you and I? And what can we expect from the upcoming cultures?
You might be familiar with modernism and postmodernism, perhaps from the reductionist rantings of Jordan Peterson, or the resident pretentious pseudo-philosopher of every friend group — though it is unlikely that their summations have been used in a comprehensive and balanced manner.
Modernism for instance (although entertaining pejorative connotations today), was progressive for its time; a modernistic approach to the pursuit of objectivity, truth, and purpose was seen as more secular and comprehensive than its predecessors, where purpose and truth was intrinsically linked to a deity and its fatalistic grand plan. 19th-century modernism gave us Marx, Freud, Nietzsche, and Darwin, and the effect of modernity’s dominance in the 20th century upon scientific development has been extraordinary. The search for definitive truth and purpose also birthed various political ideologies, whose doctrines aimed to bring about a better world through instrumental systemic change.
Then, in the midst of modernism’s transformation into ultramodernism and its eccentric cousin, hypermodernism, postmodernists such as Foucault and Derrida entered the scene. Often mischaracterised within public opinion, postmodernism has ushered in a more tolerant and open approach to cultural value, questions of human nature (including those specific to genders and ethnicities) and mental health, among other concerns. Rightly perturbed by the dogmatic essentialism of modernism, the postmodern approach to questions of purpose and truth champions subjectivity and an acceptance of human unknowing, so as to avoid the pitfalls of reductionism.
Arguably today, postmodernity is on the decline. Of course, it still maintains a firm grip on academia (have your lecturers ever told you there are no right answers?); modernism clings for life in matters like examination procedures. But in art, film, architecture, and literature, we are beholding the rebirth of greater meanings, purposes, messages, and themes. The cynical pessimism of purposelessness is slowly fading with the reinvigoration for ideology amongst the youth, and their anger at the undirected pragmatism in the post-Cold War era. These trends, pursuing both the direction and optimism of modernism and the broad-minded tentativeness of postmodernism, have been identified and explored extensively by Dutch philosophers Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker, and later by Luke Turner. Their post-postmodern “ism” has a fancy name as well: metamodernism.
Perhaps one word to describe metamodernism would be ‘oscillation’. Challenging both the lack of both objectivity and objectives seen in postmodernism, and the lack of contextual adaptation in modernism, a metamodernist approach pursues purpose and the search for truth, yet is also not afraid to be steered into different waters by contextual factors such as time, manner, or place. Objectivity and purpose in a metamodern approach would adapt to fit the given context, as must our aims. The oscillation between postmodern self-awareness and modern direction also extends to sincerity — internet memes, for instance, often harbour modern-esque messages with their trivially absurd postmodern appearance. Such a cultural movement has additionally attracted the interest and support of a growing number of influential people, most notably the actor Shia LaBeouf. Metamodernity might not have unseated postmodernity yet, but it appears to be on the way in.
But as we will probably live on through and past metamodernity, what can we expect in its wake? Perhaps one of the main shortcomings of metamodernism is its failure to acknowledge the full effects of psychological internalisation of purpose and objectivity. If oscillation is subject to context, how do we address the notion that the creation of the said context is generated through our responses to our surroundings? Therefore, how can we strive to break out of this self-perpetuating cycle of de facto objectivity? Take our constructed human nature and adoption of survival instinct, for instance. What could humanity achieve if we acknowledge the power of the human brain in determining the laws we have internalised? Perhaps a craniocentric critique in consideration of such points could be a valid base for a cynical, yet optimistic post-metamodernism, to pursue objectivity and purpose so as to redefine each respectively. “Cranio-modernism”, anyone?