Moving From Postmodernism to Metamodernism

Moving From Postmodernism to Metamodernism

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3534-9.ch006
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This chapter describes the state or condition of society after the industrial revolution in the early 20th century as the information age overturned culture, ushering in postmodernity through the turn of the 21st century, which gave birth to what the author calls metamodernism. Philosophical movements present templates upon which individual thinkers characterize the cultural trends, artistic and literary achievements, scientific and technological advancements, and ways of thinking during a specific economic, social, and political time and space. The irreverence, cynicism, and irony of postmodernism gave way to a metamodern new sincerity and a new hope across the swinging pendulum of opposing ideas: tradition and innovation, birth and death, or truth and post-truth. The current cultural “sense of feeling” corresponds to networked culture and the critical need to address literacy in new ways.
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“Compulsive modernization is the insatiable desire to change and grow”. ---Samuel Wilson

Understanding history requires not only facts about people, places, and events; but also, a recognition of the cultural conditions-- social, psychological, or spiritual-- influencing the inhabitants of the era. As we contemplate the present and the changes taking place globally in digital culture, we must look back to where we have come from and how people viewed the world in recent history to fully grasp the impact of technology on our lives. The evolution of our human condition includes technological advancement in medicine, transportation and all aspects of science reflected through applied arts: literature, art, architecture, and music. The need for digital citizenship as an essential personal responsibility may be grasped through a journey from modernism’s emphasis on positivism, intellectualism, natural and applied science, leading to postmodernism and bridging to our current high-tech moment—metamodernism.


Background Begins With Modernism

Humanity was greatly impacted by the industrial revolution as mechanical inventions made life easier and brought commerce to cities and, so too, changed the thoughts, ideas and feelings prevalent in that time. Over a hundred years ago (about 1890), modernity erupted with the belief that life would be improved through industrial technology, analytical and theoretical thinking and a quest for an abstract truth.

Philosophers and theoretical scientists of the time, such as Darwin, Mach, Freud, Einstein, Nietzsche and Bergson, presented changing ideas about the nature of reality. These modern thinkers sought to use technology within scientific fields and influenced the creativity of artists as modern inventions were on the rise.

Modern Literature

One of the prevalent themes of modernity was everything new. The poet, Ezra Pound coined the phrase “Make it new!” which became almost a battle cry for the modernists even though he credited ancient Chinese works for initiating it. His poetry rebelled against the boundaries of iambic pentameter. “As he redrew the lines of poetry, from the rhetorical and metrically rigid to natural speech and the image, often through the narrative use of a persona, other writers were undertaking similar explorations: Eliot in his many-voiced The Waste Land used a panoply of sources and even footnotes; Joyce, in his remarkable tour de (literary) force Ulysses, drew principally from Homer; H.D. [Doolittle], throughout her poetry, relied on the classics and refined Imagist” (Nadel, 2007, p.24).

Pound’s lengthy poem, The Cantos, presents experimental writing over many years and made him a major figure of modern literature. “While there are passages of remarkable beauty and precise observation in the poem, one of its great achievements is in destroying the idea that only certain kinds of language, ideas or emotions are appropriate for poetry” (Beasley, 2012, para. 3). Modern writers influenced each other and appreciated diverse techniques as exemplified in the different styles of Ezra Pound (See Figure 1) and his good friend T. S. Elliot.

Figure 1.

Modern writer ezra pound


“The literary characteristics of modernism include: the radical uncertainty (ambiguity) in the perception of reality; the writers' creation of ironic ambiguity in their narrative personae; humanism, the assertion of decent values such as honesty, responsibility, moderation and tolerance; and the Jewish experience” (Rosenberg, 2005, p. 166). Modern writers include the works of Virginia Woolf, D. H. Lawrence, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, Marcel Proust, Franz Kafka, Thomas Mann, and Jorge Luis Borges among others. These writers sought to create innovative literary techniques such as interior monologue, stream-of-consciousness, and the use of multiple points-of-view.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Metanarrative: Cultural stories of a large magnitude which are held up for all to believe, such as Freudian psychology, political democracy, or patriarchal order (also called grand narratives).

Positivism: A scientific approach that concentrates on logic, reason and natural scientific proof.

Oscillation: Moving between polar concepts, such as doubt and faith or irony and sincerity, or swinging between two opposing perspectives.

Deconstruction: Tearing down ideologies that have been passed down through stories, such as various religions or the concept of manifest destiny.

Post-Truth: An era in the 21 st century in which false information and fake news are prevalent particularly in social media and networked culture.

Phenomenology: A scientific approach that concentrates on experience and consciousness.

HyperReality: The inability to distinguish reality from signs, symbols and simulation particularly due to technological advancement, an idea introduced by Jean Baudrillard.

Simulacra: The signs and symbols of culture that construct perceived reality.

Modernism: A collection of cultural movements and feelings arising out of the industrial revolution from about 1890-1950 although dates may overlap with early and late modernism.

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