Metamodernism

 

Tumultuous apocalyptic chaos and fondly felt nostalgia, familiar landscapes in an unfamiliar setting, narratives that are both deeply unsettling and poignantly humanizing. All of these ideas fit into the overall vision that we have for Norde Tribe as a universe of content and experiences, and yet many of these ideas seem to contradict one another. How can these radically different ideas fit into a cohesive whole? How do we resolve an idea such as apocalyptic nostalgia, which seems to be fundamentally self-contradictory? The full answer to these questions is long, nuanced, and probably not entirely contained in this article, but let’s try to make things a bit clearer with everyone’s favorite thing, terminology.

 

Postmodernism has been the lens through which many people have viewed the transition from 20th to 21st century. With an emphasis on challenging metanarratives, unreliable narrators, and ironic pastiche, postmodernism challenged the resolute progress of modernism and threw us into a chaotic ocean of competing ideas, viewpoints, and approaches to self expression. Postmodernism was a prescient response to a building uncertainty in the triumph of Western focused modernism, but as we entered the second decade of the 21st century, some wondered whether it was too ironic, too self-doubting, too joyless to really be the defining mindset for a new century.

 

A growing undercurrent of nihilism, the lack of confidence in belief itself, has swelled over the last few years. It is perhaps a natural continuation of postmodern thought. Over the last few years, we have become increasingly obsessed with the apocalypse, a mindset reflected in our movies, television, and literature. Especially for the generation referred to as millennials, the consideration of the apocalypse is a tantalizing concept to limn. Why this fascination with the end of culture, society, and the human race as we know it?

 

Maybe the apocalypse does not seem as distant to us as it did to previous generations of Americans. This is, in a sense, counterintuitive, are we not more privileged, entertained, and connected than any generation before us? Perhaps, but there are factors beyond basic standard of living that have a profound effect on our mental framework and worldview. Many millennials feel buried under mountainous student debt, unsure of their employment and relational future, and isolated by the technologies that promised to connect them. Add to this increasing turmoil on the world stage, frustration in corrupt political institutions, and decreased religious affiliation and you have a perfect storm of doubt, fear, and ennui.

 

When everyday life is confusing and seemingly pointless, the apocalypse becomes a tempting solution, the destruction of tarnished, convoluted modern society and the return to the primordial, the fundamental elements of humanity lived at harmony with nature. Rugged individualism is a deeply felt cultural value in American culture, and there is no greater frontier than the post apocalyptic hellscape. But more than this, post apocalyptic narratives allow for a kind of brutal honesty, a type of sincerity to human interaction that transcends postmodern irony. A relationship with the natural world which is uncaring and indifferent to our struggles but also solid and deeply imbedded in our past. In Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, a relentlessly sincere testament to the love between a father and son in a depraved, post apocalyptic mindset, the cruel honesty of nature is evoked frequently and beautifully.

 

“He walked out in the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe.”

 

Nature stands opposed to the phantasmagorical deception of virtual reality, beckoning us into a place that is unforgiving of our mistakes but also infinitely satiating to our need for wonder and the sublime.

 

But the apocalypse is either a temporary solution or no solution at all. A battered humanity will rebuild itself and an annihilated humanity leaves us with no future at all. What we need is a way to regain sincerity, the kind of sincerity that we choke on when we breathe in a crisp breath of subzero air, the sincerity we are speechless at in the unblemished surface of a vast, frozen lake, the sincerity that assaults our eardrums in the savagery of a thunderstorm. This idea of embracing sincerity without banishing the ironic complexity of postmodernism has been defined by a number of modern philosophers and artists as “Metamodernism.

 

Metamodernism embraces the value of honest enthusiasm in a world that is often a depressingly complex miasma of thoughts and opinions. It seeks to avoid both modernism’s resolute myopia and postmodernism’s ironic dismissal of sincerity through a process called “oscillation”. In a metamodern context, we oscillate between competing, even contradictory ideas to allow ourselves to embrace both sincerity and complexity.

 

Apocalyptic nostalgia steeps us in our longing for both a comforting but unfulfilling past and a destructive but ideologically simplified future. We seek to understand the complexities of our modern world by recontextualizing them in a post apocalyptic setting, but we also want to pierce the veil of modernity and suss out fundamental ideas and attitudes about humanity as a whole. In oscillating between the harsh simplicity of primordial humans and the nuanced complexity of our modern lives, we believe that we will make new discoveries about what it means to be human and how humans relate to a natural world that they are increasingly distanced from. And so we set out, somewhere between obsolete explorers and ameteur historians, to explore the metamodern frontier of apocalyptic nostalgia.

 






Jonathon Engelien

    I grew up in the valley of Central Wisconsin, in an area straddling a post-industrial world and seemingly untamed wilderness.  The harsh winters of the Upper Midwest, the liturgical display of seasons, and the economic and social decay of the region fostered my interest in survivalism and post-apocalyptic imagery. 

    I create in the framework of an idea I call Apocalyptic Nostalgia. I defined it as: The comforting and painful longing for the past and a destructive future, both as a means of understanding as well as coping with the present.  My artwork converges both the realities of nostalgic, comforting materials, with harsh, apocalyptic, and yet to happen sensibilities.  My artwork blurs the lines between fiction and reality.  It offers a setting for the viewer’s suspensions of disbelief, with the goal of intrinsic thought and meditation.  The work straddles the real and the unreal as it pretends to exist and come out of a post-apocalyptic world.

    Apocalyptic Nostalgia relates or depicts the natural world and/or human experience in it.  It is concerned deeply in paradoxes, with ideas such as survival, human endeavor, camaraderie, identity, individualism, community, vastness, intimacy, longing, rest, contentment, loss, safety, danger, hope, hopelessness, future, past, myth, reality, sacred, secular, longevity and destruction.