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A Little Mad at MAD

March 13, 2012

Like most people, I am exceedingly eager to know what comes after postmodernism.

And, I should probably just end the post with that sentence.

I pass The Museum of Arts & Design on the way to the gym from work. The palimpsest of a building, which was quite controversial for a time (aren’t they all?), is imposing and welcoming at once.

A friend much more intellectually curious than I wanted to see the Notes on Metamodernism exhibit that ended Sunday; I wanted an excuse to go to Argo for a teapuccino and see my friend. I was mildly intrigued by pictures like these.

A reaction to postmodernism, metamodernism is supposed to describe the return to modernist thought, art, literature, while not altogether forfeiting the lessons and aesthetic of postmodernism. It’s a waffling in between those two poles while also, one presumes, moving forward. Makes sense to me! We have to assume, of course, that the Modernist and the Postmodernist eras of our previous century represented the pinnacles, the purest extremes of those movements, which may be arguable but I’m all about definitive generalizations for the sake of internet writing. I’m picturing metamodernism as a pendulum that is having seizures in its arc.

The fun part comes when we try to ascribe metamodernist themes to certain artists, writers, politicians (?)** and philosophers who most likely didn’t have a “THINK METAMODERN” sign over their easel or desk but who cares what they think, right?


“Artists and cultural practices they consider metamodern include the architecture of BIG and Herzog & de Meuron, the cinema of Michel GondrySpike JonzeGus van Sant and Wes Anderson, musicians such as CocoRosieAntony and the JohnsonsGeorges Lentz and Devendra Banhart, the artworks of Peter DoigOlafur Eliasson, Ragnar Kjartansson, Šejla Kamerić and Paula Doepfner, and the writings of Haruki Murakami, Roberto Bolano and Jonathan Franzen.”

MAD was supposed to have a video installation that complimented the free copy of cultural theorists Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker’s 2009 essay, “Notes on Metamodernism.” We found the pamphlet and its cumbersome prose outside the theater, but the doors were locked. After three attempts by staff to get the exhibit up and running, they plied us with free return tickets and sincere apologies.

Mike and I could only imagine that metamodernism was inherent in the experience of standing awkwardly outside the basement theater by the coat check, having people ask us where the restrooms were. Innocence abandoned in the nihilism of The Postmodern, our nostalgia for The Modern will only lead to exclusion and abandonment! Or something like that.

So in lieu of having a cogent opinion about the exhibit itself (dodged that bullet), I’ve created a metamodernist experience for you here. Listen to Devendra while viewing these pictures and stills and reading these passages.


We knew James Franco would factor into metamodernism somehow, didn’t we?

“I think he’s very funny and charismatic,” she said. “But I mostly just feel sorry for him. You know what I mean? He seems like one of those men who have to spend all their time maintaining an attitude, because they’re weak inside. He’s nothing like the man you are. All I could see when we were talking was how much he admires you, and how he was trying not to show it too much. Couldn’t you see that?”

The degree of pleasure it brought Walter to hear this felt dangerous to him. He wanted to believe it, but he didn’t trust it, because he knew Richard to be, in his own way, relentless.

“Seriously, Walter. That kind of man is very primitive. All he has is dignity and self-control and attitude. He only has one little thing, while you have everything else.”


(I don’t even…)

“Father!” Tengo called out to him. He had not spoken the word in a very long time. “I’m Tengo. Your son.”

“I don’t have a son,” his father declared.

“You don’t have a son,” Tengo repeated mechanically.

His father nodded.

“So what am I?” Tengo asked.

“You’re nothing,” his father said with two short shakes of the head.

Tengo caught his breath. He could find no words. Nor did his father have any more to say. Each sat in silence, searching through his own tangled thoughts. Only the cicadas sang without confusion, at top volume.

He may be speaking the truth, Tengo thought. His memory may have been destroyed, but his words are probably true.

“What do you mean?” Tengo asked.

“You are nothing,” his father repeated, his voice devoid of emotion. “You were nothing, you are nothing, and you will be nothing.”



And, if you go to MAD, definitely check out Swept Away: Dust, Ashes, and Dirt in Contemporary Art and Design. That’s some pretty cool stuff.

**Barack Obama is, like, SO metamodern.

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