The Metamodern Condition
A Report on “The Dutch School” of Metamodernism
“We infer the notion of metaxy… to try to grasp the sensibility of the metamodern condition, to comprehend what it means to experience and live in the twenty-first century.” — p. 11, Metamodernism: Historicity, Affect and Depth After Postmodernism, 2017
In late November 2017, Robin van den Akker, Alison Gibbons, Timotheus Vermeulen published Metamodernism: Historicity, Affect and Depth After Postmodernism, an edited volume of critical debate about metamodern movements in aesthetics, arts, and culture. In it, they are able to update and refine the project they officially began in 2010. This was a much awaited sourcebook for the study of metamodernism, and represents a milestone for this intellectual movement. It is potent analysis of what it covers, but also leaves open a vast field for the development of metamodern theory and its transformative power.
“As its organising principle, the book takes Fredric Jameson’s canonical arguments about the waning of historicity, affect and depth in the postmodern culture of western capitalist societies in the twentieth century, and re-evaluates and reconceptualises these notions in a twenty-first century context. In doing so, it shows that the contemporary moment should be regarded as a transitional period from the postmodern and into the metamodern cultural moment.” — Metamodernism: Historicity, Affect and Depth After Postmodernism, 2017
Prefatory Notes on Metamodernisms
I am (endearingly) calling their initiative “The Dutch School” of metamodernism to identify and distinguish it as one of a few emerging frameworks for this conceptual and historical shift — because the primary authors are Dutch in origin, not for any other reason or regional limitations. Hopefully it sticks. I have been attempting to develop my own more sociological approach which also reflects some elements of the metamodernism of Hanzi Freinacht and others in various ways, hence making the distinction. The substantive distinctions will become more clear throughout this article.
(Note: there is some substantial clash between Seth Abramson (see Metamodernism in Five Terrible Diagrams) versus the Dutch School, Luke Turner, and others, and I intend no disrepect to anyone and especially to the development of metamodernism below).
The cause for the contrast between the Dutch School and my own is obvious; despite drawing on a lot of theory also central to sociology, the word cannot even be found in the text of the book (except a variant: ‘social theorist,’ or ‘sociological’ (one occurrence each)). This is largely a book of art criticism with insightful social commentary, not of sociological theory. Their artistic emphasis leads to the following list of novel practices they argue are metamodern, which I’ll put here because I mostly omit them in this article. This is Dutch School Metamodern art and culture in a nutshell:
“neo-romanticism, quirky, queer utopianism (MacDowell), historioplasticity (Toth), super-hybridity (Heiser), the ‘artisanal turn’ by way of mannerism (van Tuinen, four post-ironic authorial strategies (Konstantinou), post-solipsistic defencelessness (Timmer), affective auto fiction (Gibbons), tonal warmth and heart (Rustad and Schwind), re-construction (Huber and Funk), curated authenticity (Browse) and performatism (Eshelman)… [ranging across] film, television, literature, visual arts, photography, crafts and the Internet.” —p.18, Metamodernism: Historicity, Affect and Depth After Postmodernism, 2017
It is completely natural that our different expertise and concerns will produce different valuable research through a common concept. Better to acknowledge this than not. And whether the emerging schools of thought will be seen as a sort of “continental vs. analytic” divide (or “Dutch” vs. “Nordic,” or “Abstract”) is yet to be seen, but I think there is much more overlap than polarized difference. Nevertheless, The Dutch School is foundational and we are all striving towards similar plateaus. Indeed, I don’t think there can even be any coherent metamodernism without consilience.
For some background, I have written a very brief introduction to general metamodernism in the article “Beyond” Metamodernism, mostly surveying other sources and suggesting that I think the ‘meta-’ prefix should be central, as well as ultimately refer to being ‘above’ and ‘beyond’ postmodernism, not just ‘after’ and ‘between’ as they propose. Perhaps getting ahead of myself, I offered a very broad definition, which of course it is not limited to;
“I summarize metamodernism as a new cultural, political, scientific, and social movement representing a post-ideological, open source, globally responsive, paradox resolving, grand narrative.” — Beyond Metamodernism
I’ve slowly been filling out that conceptual framework through the rest of my work while taking in new ideas; I have reviewed Hanzi’s first book on metamodern politics, The Listening Society (September 2017), but in retrospect I didn’t do it justice compared to the treatment that I have given this book here. ‘Reconstruction’ after deconstruction is a principle we both hold as central to metamodernism, and take beyond the literary realm into sociology and the real world. I also wrote an indepth commentary on Surwillo’s book Metamodern Leadership, and have also integrated metamodernism with other articles such as Meta-Marxism, Systemic-Conspiracy and Social Pathology, and Social Paradoxes and Meta-Problems.
I have discussed my broad interpretation of metamodernism with respect to mainstream pop-culture in The Last Jedi and Late Capitalism and The Metamodern Mythology of The X-Files. And of course, I have begun to make a case for my own art film (2014) as metamodern in an essay series on The Abs•Tract: Core Philosophy: Ep. 1, Ep. 2, etc… I’m not retconning, to be sure, it was always intended that way.
I am also ultimately advocating for major ‘turns’ in social science, as I’ve described in Evolutionary Globalization and The Quantum Turn in Social Science, to name only the ones I’ve written on so far, to be considered part of metamodernism. With the authors’ blessing, I have argued that The SIMPOL solution constitutes a metamodernist proposal for simultaneous policy shift and meta-governance. And in general, with over a dozen articles on different dimensions of abstraction, I am asserting that abstraction takes on new meanings within metamodernism as well, particularly as exemplified and put into practice by the book The Stack as reviewed in The Abstraction of Benjamin Bratton.
In contrast, I’ve tried to make a major metamodern case study out of Jordan Peterson, who’s explicit anti-postmodernism (using a strawman) and ‘vicious abstraction’ (another form of misrepresentation) of other superordinate concepts suggests that he is both unaware of and at odds with any notion of metamodernism. I approach him from the superposition of both fan and critic. Therefore, the debate over him and his anti-postmodern anti-Marxist quest seems like a very appropriate place to inject this new theory.
Peterson is by no means the only intellectual gatekeeper with his back to the future this way, but he may be uniquely positioned to understand metamodernism and (then) effect a positive turn in public discourse, pedagogy, and social policy. Metamodernism is sort of the invisible pink elephant in the room that has to be acknowledged, especially if you want to get away with throwing composed tantrums at postmodernism. Peterson is instead ironically divisive, domineering and suppressing the public conversation about ideas of social justice in a political climate of right-wing hegemony, corruption, and demagoguery. My Peterson trilogy is as follows:
- 1. The Abstraction of Jordan Peterson: Mapping Meaning in the Land of Identity Politics (A Defense)
- 2. The Detraction of Jordan Peterson: Constructive Criticism to a Public Intellectual (A Critique)
- 3. The Resolution of Jordan Peterson: Truth, Lies, and Reconciliation in a Time of Chaos (A Synthesis)
I mention it here, because the case of Peterson highlights a (potential) blindspot in the Dutch School’s thesis, perhaps outside of its purview altogether, to be fair. There is a contemporary aggressive misinterpretation of postmodernism (from some academics no less), showing no appreciation for it as a long broad historical and cultural period, reducing it far beyond its diminishing returns on deconstruction, almost completely to the enforcement of political correctness (or worse: a conspiracy of cultural-marxism). This is a textbook fallacy of reductionism.
We can also acknowledge that the misapplication of postmodernism at its limits is of course part of the problem in the first place, but doing so in a careless way does a huge disservice to the legacy of critical theory, which is more important than ever. This anti-pomo trend indirectly threatens the emergent metamodernism (yet may be considered part of it still), which needs postmodernism as much as it needs modernism.
Thus, perhaps it is why, as I cite again later, van den Akker and Vermeulen “are not celebrating the waning of the postmodern...” (p. 6). They are still skeptical and cautious. In this sense — and vis-a-vis Peterson — the book’s lack of engagement with the criticisms against postmodern deconstruction, beginning no later than the Sokal Affair in the mid-90s, at least as establishing those turning points, will make it hard for people like Peterson to understand exactly how or why metamodernism is that much different or better. For me, one of the major signposts in the 2000s was also Bruno Latour’s Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? (2004) that proposed a sort of ‘super-criticality,’ which they also seem to miss or omit.
Even still, it is remarkable that so many people are so desperate to jettison the richly complex yet inadequate historical and philosophical era (of postmodernism) without anything to replace it with for our present era; even more remarkable while metamodernism is actively floated about in publications as mainstream as Huffington Post. Even if readers aren’t buying it, you would think that more writers would pick it up and run with it. It begs the question then, if metamodernism is so pervasive, then why doesn’t everyone ‘feel’ it yet?
The popular reversion to ‘classical liberalism’ or libertarianism, it seems to me, is not only indicative of an unwillingness to move forward and embrace new ideas, but more generally it is a reversion to modernism as the (wrong) answer to what comes after postmodernism. These seem to be unnecessary complications of an otherwise healthy birth of metamodernism.
And yet it makes perfect sense if one considers Seth Abramson’s On Metamodernism (April 15, 2018). The general theme of it is the somewhat Sisyphean task of being a metamodernist, of being ignored or ridiculed for your noble efforts; of working on a higher level of abstraction, knowing you’re probably right, and not giving a shit who realizes it or not. Indeed, this is the case with being ahead of any kind of paradigm shift.
Abramson writes, “[I]nformed naivete is knowing your optimism is naive — but plowing on anyway.” To be a classical liberal in 2018 is informed (in a lesser sense) without knowing how naive it is. And in a way that I can uniquely identify with, Abramson touches on the inevitable negative reaction to metamodernism, or what I’d like to call ‘the metamodernist condition’;
“One of the first metamodernists, David Foster Wallace, famously said in 1990 that the next real literary rebels in America would be artists with little interest in trying to shock or upset their peers but who were, rather, willing to become so credulous of everything in the world that their peers would laugh at them. Wallace, a vocal opponent of postmodernism, thereby launched a thousand metamodernists on trajectories that would, in fact, lead to many laughing at them in public. And I should know, as I’m now one of the people laughed at.” —Seth Abramson, On Metamodernism
Similarly, van den Akker and Vermeulen express almost exactly this sentiment as well;
“Admittedly, the hubris of delineating a historical moment and describing a social situation in terms of yet another ‘-ism’ opens us up for Homeric laughter at best and fierce scorn at worst… such attempts are ‘easy to mock’ ([Barker and Jane] 2016, 251). This may be so — and we are happy to take the flak — but let us explain why we think our attempt deserves more than an easy laugh.” — p. 3, Metamodernism: Historicity, Affect and Depth After Postmodernism, 2017
And to this point, sadly, at the time of this writing, five months after its publication, Metamodernism: Historicity, Affect and Depth After Postmodernism has zero reviews on both Amazon and Goodreads, not to mention I could not find any scholarly reviews. It seems that I am the first. But is delineating history and coining words really that radical or presumptuous? Isn’t it what academics do, and have been doing throughout history, thereby contributing to the sum of human knowledge (not to mention the sacrificial contributions to paradigm shifts)? Naming is very powerful, and when people finally explicitly experience the ‘metamodern moment,’ everything may change. Explaining why people don’t yet care for or get metamodernism, Abramson continues;
“Wallace specifically, and metamodernism broadly, held that metamodern writing, whether creative or professional, wouldn’t shock people so much as either (a) annoy the hell out of them, or (b) be intensely engaging to them. The presumption, moreover, was that the form of metamodern writing would also be unrecognizable as either “conventional” or “experimental.”” — Seth Abramson, On Metamodernism
This captures the general reaction to my Abs-Tract project, as well and the metamodernism therein, hence the metamodernist condition. People generally don’t know what to make of it, despite my efforts to make it a thoroughly explicit and impactful social/thought experiment and metaphysical fitness system. People laugh at the comedy, but also at me, for trying so hard to advance a novel worldview. The shock factor is (somewhat purposefully, as part of the joke) lost on people because it is coded in a different (higher) level of complexity with metamodernism.
At any rate, all of this is but my long way of setting up this great and difficult book, Metamodernism, my first deep discussion on the nitty-gritty details of metamodern theory according to “The Dutch School,” and my critique therein. Future posts will continue to develop my own ideas of metamodernism as well, along these lines and others. I apologize for the length of this article, but the idea is to abstract/abridge an important book that you’ll probably never read anyways. For ease of navigation the rest of the article is organized as follows;
Periodization establishes the chronology of events that characterize metamodernism, while Structures and Feelings discusses the affective response to both being after postmodernism and living in 21st century capitalism. Both of these sections reflect the key themes of the book’s introductory chapter. Historicity, Affect, and Depth is the subtitle of their book, in which they take Frederic Jameson’s concepts and re-evaluate them in light of metamodernism. On Post-Truth Politics reviews and expands on the book’s eleventh chapter, which uses Tony Blair vs. Jeremy Corbyn as a case study in authenticity and depthiness. On Super-Hybridity discusses the book’s fourth chapter, which examines the intersection of highly composite forms of art with myth-making and geopolitical conflict. Lastly, The Metamodern Condition is some synthesis and commentary in which I try to expand on the metamodern condition, which is implicit but not defined in the book, followed by a brief Conclusion.
The book opens by historically situating the emergence of metamodernism in the 2000s (a timeframe they pinpoint as 1999–2011) as particularly formative. To summarize in advance, they define what I count as seven major features of this period as 1) alter-globalization movements, 2) right-wing populism (arguably fundamentalist), 3) fourth-wave terrorism and war, 4) awareness of the “anthropocene,” 5) financial crises, 6) technological deployment (computer revolution) and the logic of network culture (social media), and lastly 7) a fourth quantum leap in capitalist productivity and a “fourth update of capitalism.”
They set up this discussion by way of the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989 and the subsequent premature neoliberal celebration of ‘The End of History’, which Fukuyama would walk back 20 years later in The Future of History. The vision of the rest of the ’90s was blurred by that brief euphoria, mimed in “third way” liberal consensus politics, and blocked by the turn of the millennium — as they write later, “the ‘end’ must be seen as a cipher for the ‘blocking of the historical imagination’ in a postmodern comfort zone.” (p. 22) — I suppose like the inability to see past the naively speculative catastrophe of Y2K, in an ironic way. Predictably though, many scholars are now writing about;
“the remarkable ‘return’ (Kagan 2008), ‘revenge’ (Milne 2012) or ‘rebirth’ (Badiou 2012) of History after the End of History… History has been rebooted by recent world historical crises of an ecological, economic, or (geo-)political nature. Arquilla perhaps most aptly summarizes the current historical moment with his notion of a ‘bend of History’ (2011).” p. 2, Metamodernism: Historicity, Affect and Depth After Postmodernism, 2017
Despite this very strong opening, none of the subsequent chapters are about ecological, economic, or geopolitical issues, except one, which I will discuss: Super-Hybridity: Non-Simultaneity, Myth-Making and Multipolar Conflict. This is suggestive of how the field of metamodernism is open in more sociological and political directions. The entire first chapter does, however, do good service to the geopolitical context for metamodernism, as we will see.
The book positions itself as being about the ‘senses of a bend’ that are expressed through culture and politics, particularly as an effort “to map and conceptualize the artistic and cultural phenomena related to the various senses of a bend and the return… of History.” (p. 3). Regrettably, there are no actual maps in the book, just very dense text.
The authors quickly outline how postmodernism was actualized in the 70s and 80s by scholars (Hutcheon, Jencks, Foster, McHale) who (rightly) believed that modernist sensibilities had been “superseded by something else entirely.” (p. 3). In the 2000s and beyond, they align themselves with a host of scholars (Lipovetsky, Eshelman, Bourriaud, Kirby, Moraru, Searle) who feel the same way about postmodernism now; particularly that “postmodern discourses have lost their critical value…” This sentiment is of course not limited to their sources, and chronologically the shifts began a little earlier, but for now they will suffice. They proclaim their intention (which I share) to remedy this loss through the formation of a new discourse;
“Thus, what is needed is a new language to put into words this altogether weirder reality and its still stranger cultural landscape. This book is an attempt to create such a language [of metamodernism]… to come to an understanding of our current historical moment, a language that allows us to come to terms with the gap between what we thought we knew and the things we experience in our daily lives.” p. 3, Metamodernism: Historicity, Affect and Depth After Postmodernism, 2017
In this sense, the book does a thorough job of creating such a conversation predicated on a new lexicon, although most of the vocabulary will be way over the head of the average person. It also fulfills their threefold agenda (p. 3), which is to 1) map the cultural landscape expressed through contemporary arts, 2) invent a discourse to talk about it, and 3) (what I think is the most relevant to sociology) to “relate these contemporary concepts, percepts and affects, to recent reconfigurations of Western capitalist societies.”
Following this, I contend that the critique of capitalism (particularly our highly mockable ‘late stage’) is the unfinished business of modernist (enlightenment) and postmodernist (critical theory) theories combined, and is enabled through the common language that we are attempting to establish through metamodernism. The goal is not to end capitalism outright, but by acknowledging and addressing its absurd contradictions, to tame and transform it into something sustainable and equitable. Many have described and advocated such models of ‘post-capitalism’, such as Paul Mason, and Srnicek and Williams, but such is not discussed in this book. “Fully-automated luxury communism” can’t come soon enough.
Nevertheless, to this effect, the first chapter of Metamodernism aptly cites the various “alterglobalist” protest movements, which I list as their first (1) periodizing feature of seven. It starts in Seattle (WTO protests) in 1999 and ends roughly with the global Occupy protests in 2011–2012 as ‘neatly’ bookending the emergence of metamodernism. It is here that they explicitly start to “intimate a rough outline of contemporary metamodern condition… in a more or less classic Marxist vein” (p. 12), which I can relate to via Meta-Marxism (which perhaps is even their intended sense). The protest events highlight the “so-called networked social movements that coalesced around economic inequalities and democratic deficits (Castells 2012).”
Parallel to these progressive movements has been (2) “the rise of right-wing populist movements across Europe and the United States built on a platform of identitarian, anti-immigrant, anti-Islam, anti-establishment and… economic issues.” Van den Akker and Vermeulen note that it would be all too easy to reject these movements as also being expressive of metamodernism if we want it to be a positive paradigm, but its more important to understand how there is a common origin (anti-neoliberalism) behind both movements.
Meanwhile, the 2000s are also characterized by a resurgence of (3) terrorism in a “fourth wave” (the preceding waves spaced roughly 40 years apart), kicked off by ‘9/11’. The theorized cause is essentially ‘blowback’ against Western neo-imperialism, although I’m paraphrasing here, borrowing the term from Chalmers Johnson. They cite a long list of conflicts from, most notably, the Second Intifada, and the Afghan War which was started under the “false pretences of a ‘Global War on Terror’” leading to many “unintended consequences” (p. 14), to the Iraq War (2003–2011), the death of Bin Laden, and the Arab Spring (2011). All of these are indicative of the unique structural shifts in this time period.
(4) “Since the turn of the millennium, the term [Anthropocene] has increasingly gained traction across the humanities, social- and natural sciences, as well as popular discourse…” (p. 14). The ‘anthropocene’ refers to the macro- scale historical era in which human beings have collectively made a destructive impact on earth’s ecology (essentially wrecking our own home, from the dawn of civilization, perhaps even earlier).
Concurrent with this awareness has been a doubling down of “the so-called Denial Machine (Sasaki 2006).” In regards to the term anthropocene, the authors note that “the adoption of one single concept across academia” (p. 14) is rare but reflects our increasing self-consciousness. We can only hope that ‘metamodernism’ will be adopted with such urgency too. And with metamodernism implicitly in mind, Zachary Stein’s work on Education in the Anthropocene: Futures Beyond Schooling points us forward. Note the spiking socio-economic and earth-system trends all ramping up to the year 2000 and beyond in Zach’s charts, as well as the one above.
Chapter 1 then cites the (5) dot-com crash (1999–2001) and the global financial crisis (2007–2008) as indicative of metamodernism. The radical flows of wealth prompt massive restructuring. They describe (again, with ample citations) the neoliberal response as basically “inverted class war” in which the aim is “to restore and further the economic interests of ‘the highest income brackets, capitalist owners, and upper fractions of management’ in the face of declining compound growth…” (p. 15–16). This would seem highly counter-intuitive — given the historical common sense that economic stability depended on auto-workers being able to afford the products they were making, for example— but such is the bounded rationality of pseudo-progressive elites.
The emergence of (6) ‘Web 2.0’ business models sparked the proliferation of hand-held internet access, and the dominance of mass media was (relatively quickly) supplanted by the ordered chaos of social media. This is a distinctly “shared logic,” produced by the intersection of “‘investment decisions’ and ‘consumer choices’” (p. 15), resulting in companies like ‘Google, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, AirBnB, TaskRabbit, Uber, WhatsApp, and Instagram’ becoming the corporate powerhouses they are today.
Finally, (7) the successive quantum leaps in capitalist productivity have prompted a “not yet fully crystallized” (p. 15) fourth leap. First the steam engine (1840s-), then the internal combustion engine (1890s-), then the nuclear and computer revolutions (1940s-), with the fourth leap referring to our digital productivity (1990s-) and nascent renewable energy.
Despite neoliberalism refusing to fold it’s shitty bluffing hand, “Capitalism 4.0” (cf. Kaletsky 2011) is happening they say, albeit very slowly. “Only class struggle can determine the course we take” (p. 17, paraphrasing Duménil and Lévy (2011, 22)), between the “bifurcating” choice of ecosocialism or more neoliberalism. The latter, I would add, resonates with Bertram Gross’ concept of “friendly fascism,” which Sheldon Wolin expanded into “inverted totalitarianism,” and which we already live under and we would be wise to avoid feeding. To this effect, van den Akker and Vermeulen bring their first chapter to a powerful close;
“Thus far, writing from today’s perspective, we appear to have been too rapidly moving along the neoliberal path leading — in twenty, thirty years or so — to a clusterfuck of world-historical proportions… in which wealth is concentrated at the top 1 per cent of the pyramid, while rising sea levels and super storms crumble its base, where the rest of us reside in highly precarious conditions.” — p. 17, Metamodernism: Historicity, Affect and Depth After Postmodernism, 2017
In my view, it is hard to see anyone more at fault for our current predicament than the impotent political elites who they say “clung to the neoliberal consensus in the aftermath of the 2008 crisis.” (p. 13) A strong argument can be made that ‘they should know better’ but they may now be as much at the whim of ideological currents as anyone, not to mention beholden to their funders. And they deserve no sympathy, as they did this to themselves. As a character in one scene of The Abs•Tract film states; “it’s gone so far that the deceivers themselves have become deluded.” And therein lies the meta-problem, and how metamodernism was not quite yet a program or methodology progressives could actively use to commandeer political power in 2016.
It is within this new historical period of 1999–2011 that the distinct metamodern ‘structure of feeling’ emerges. All together, these seven trends combined to reveal a particular cultural historical moment. It is not merely the sum of these factors but the product of them that prompts both new levels of world-historical crises as well as the emergence of a new meta- stage of philosophy after postmodernism. As such, metamodernism includes many developments across the arts, sciences, politics, and culture that are not even aware of, or know how they fit into, metamodernism.
Structures and Feelings
Also in Chapter 1, the origins of the term ‘metamodernism’ are briefly covered, which the authors admit has a ‘scattered lineage’ from all over the world, from Zavarzadeh to Abramson, but ultimately, they write, “[t]his book is not the place for such a full-blown archeaology.” Many of the early conceptions never stuck and the concept is in the ether.
My own discovery was a somewhat spontaneous product of the critical sociology I was into and being in graduate school in 2010–11 at the London School of Economics. Change was in the air, but not so much in the classroom. Overspecialization has led to tunnel vision in academia. I noticed the conspicuous dearth of (and a new need for) grand theory, consilience, and meta- concepts and perspectives, combined with what was happening in the world at the time (Arab Spring, Occupy, and of course, “Dutch School” metamodernism itself).
Their initial construction (2010) was based largely on Raymond Williams’ “structure of feeling” and its role in Fredric Jameson’s (1991) and David Harvey’s (1990) “studies of the interrelation between late capitalism and postmodern culture.” (p. 5), combined with the neo-romanticism of Jos de Mul (1990), and this book expands on that notion.
Briefly, they note two other major contributors to metamodernism — Furlani (2007) and Dumitrescu (2007), who aim to develop a solution to the “artistic dead ends and cultural failures of postmodernism”— with which they overlap, but use them to outline their points of departure as; 1) different lines of inquiry, 2) different sources of cultural texts and practices, and thus 3) different findings. The Dutch School analysis explicitly does “not offer a solution to the problematic of postmodernism.” They write, “[d]espite suggestions to the contrary… our conceptualisation of metamodernism is neither a manifesto, nor a social movement, stylistic register, or philosophy…” (p. 5) even though it takes all such things into account.
On the contrary, to them “[m]etamodernism is a structure of feeling that emerges from, and reacts too, the postmodern as much as it is a cultural logic that corresponds to today’s stage of global capitalism” (p. 5) which leads to “productive contradictions, simmering tensions, ideological formations and — to be frank — frightening developments…” (p. 5). That is to say, this multi-modal form is what metamodernism is to them in its current stage of development. With that in mind, they write;
“Thus, we wish to state very clearly that we are not celebrating the waning of the postmodern — nor, indeed, are we pushing a metamodern agenda.” — p. 6, Metamodernism: Historicity, Affect and Depth After Postmodernism, 2017
This may be a key point of departure between The Dutch School and my (and/or Hanzi’s) approach to metamodernism, but is also perhaps grounds for productive partnership. They can do their brand of art-history focused academic theorizing, we can integrate it with ours and also do knowledge translation, public education, activism, and artistic practice. We are following trends in sociology that necessarily advocate for more (pro-)active and “engaged” forms of social research.
We necessarily have a self-less political agenda, as it seems that everything is politicized (needing de-politicization), the world is falling apart in all too obvious ways, and from a metamodern perspective it as increasingly easy to identify and distinguish true progressive candidates from the ‘usual suspects’ of political predators. For the general public on the other hand, it is increasingly difficult to know who to trust. We see the future of metamodern philosophy and sociology (around the bend, as it were) and want to manifest the (positive) implications rather than passively watch them unfold.
This is why Hanzi Freinacht insists that metamodernism is not only 1) a cultural phase, but 2) a developmental stage and 3) a philosophical paradigm as well. This is evident if we consider it in terms of increasingly levels of abstraction. The Listening Society dealt with it primarily as a developmental stage and political opportunity, while we are now both aiming more at the third version. The Dutch School’s metamodernism helps crystallize its definition as a cultural phase, while we’ve been already working under that assumption.
Continuing on, the ‘structure of feeling’ is “a sentiment so pervasive as to call it structural.” (p. 6). Although the Dutch theorists base their metamodernism on this, they admit that the coiner, Williams, “never systematically developed it.” (p. 7). This does not necessarily diminish their thesis though, as they justify a sufficient working definition. And this calls to mind (both for the lack of proper definition, but also to add to the ‘structure of feeling’) the case of Foucault’s “regimes of truth,” which I have constructively explored before based only on a few rambling passages from him. Fruitful comparisons have also been made between the ‘structure of feeling’ and the Marxian “superstructure” or the Gramscian “hegemonic.” (p. 7). Below is a cheatsheet for the postmodern ‘structure of feeling’;
My impulse about the metamodern ‘structure of feeling’ is that it could naturally include discussion of the sociological ‘habitus’ and ‘milieu’ as well but it does not, at least not in this book (maybe Williams or Jameson addresses these concepts somewhere). The term ‘zeitgeist’ (=“spirit of the times”) also comes to mind, and they do in fact use it, in how the term “post-truth” (p. 167) captures the ‘contemporary political zeitgeist.’ Point of fact, my dissertation on The Zeitgeist Movement is in retrospect definitely a constitutive element of metamodernism (as part of alterglobalization).
However we define a ‘structure of feeling,’ in 2011 I definitely ‘felt’ this ‘structure’ that I now perceive as metamodernism. In a moment of vagueness, the authors try to summarize that elusive ‘feeling’ once again;
“In other worse, a structure of feeling is a sentiment, or rather still a sensibility that everyone shares, that everyone is aware of, but which cannot easily, if at all, be pinned down.” — p. 7, Metamodernism: Historicity, Affect and Depth After Postmodernism, 2017
This is reminiscent of the description of “The Matrix” within The Matrix (1999), as mystified by Morpheus before fully briefing Neo;
“The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work… when you go to church… when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.” — Morpheus, The Matrix, 1999
It seems to me then that the metamodern condition of experiencing the new ‘structure of feeling’ may be, more accurately, an existential sense of how one perceives the ‘matrix’ (system of control) that they live in, informed by the historical moment they are immersed in. The Matrix served as a powerful allegory for emancipating oneself from an oppressive society, but the more abstract form of it is a great analogy for the ‘structure of feeling.’ In particular, the awareness may correlate in the precise sense of a post-Matrix understanding of the world as a sort of social simulation rife with ideological inconsistency, technological oppression, alienation from one’s species-being, while still being hopeful; the type of realizations that are now commonplace within metamodernism.
To be sure, The Matrix has been extensively analyzed through the lens of postmodernism, but that was before metamodernism was on the radar. The timing of The Matrix also demarcates the same historical window beginning in 1999. Moreover, it actually takes place in the future but the simulation is set in 1999, which perfectly captures the naivety and narcissism of “the end of history” that blocked our foresight past that moment. I’d say choosing ‘the red pill’ would be somewhat like choosing metamodernism to get out of the postmodern nightmare, but that metaphor has become distorted and compromised by right-wing commentators lately. Perhaps it’s better to say metamodernism entails learning how such a nihilistic future can be avoided in the first place; metamodernism is reconstructing the self and world after the lessons from deconstructing (the film).
Anything I can do to understand and add clarity to the operationalization of the term ‘structure of feeling’ on which they base their metamodernism. I’m willing to be wrong, but I think selective mainstream culture is just a good a source of paradigm-shifting ideas as are abstruse tomes of fiction or sculptures and paintings reserved for the gallery. Although parts of the book do draw widely from many well known films and TV shows, it is mostly a very highbrow enterprise.
“It’s tenor, however, can be traced in art…” (p. 7) they continue, directly after the above quote, which they trace throughout the book. To these ends, I hope my Matrix comparison is useful. I feel it is a work of high art that bridges the postmodern and metamodern. At any rate, the ‘structure of feeling’ is always changing anyway, they write, so pinning it down is admittedly an intellectual game. Another invocation of Williams may provide a key;
“A structure of feeling is, in this sense, ‘a particular quality of social experience… historically distinct from other particular qualities, which gives the sense of a generation or of a period.’ (Williams 1977, 131).” — p. 8, Metamodernism: Historicity, Affect and Depth After Postmodernism, 2017
I draw your attention to the word ‘generation,’ as Surwillo adds Strauss and Howe’s Generational Theory to the metamodern mix in his book Metamodern Leadership. It is a flawed yet useful marker for periodization, which the Dutch theorists do not really develop here, although they go as far as to note that “[i]t was in the 2000s, after all, that the millennial generation came of age” (p. 11). In this way, we (millennials) get our acute sense of the metamodern ‘structure of feeling’ by virtue of growing up and entering adulthood in this particular historical period. Generational Theory adds a heuristic way to contextualize one’s social experience in the bigger picture.
Regarding long term cycles of history that feed into metamodernism, the authors note “fourth-wave terrorism” (p. 13), “a fourth technological leap in the productive powers of capitalism” (p. 15), and “a fourth update of capitalism — a ‘capitalism 4.0’ (Kaletsky 2011)” (p. 17). What they do not mention is Strauss and Howe’s The Fourth Turning which describes the finale phase of the Millennial Saeculum (roughly 2005–2025). That’s a lot of “fourths” intersecting and is perhaps too synchronistic not to mention. To be sure, just as there is a left-right schism within the metamodern era, The Fourth Turning has also been used and abused by alt-right sympathizer and muckraker Steve Bannon towards his own sadistic ends.
They continue to expand on and cite ample evidence for the ‘structure of feeling’ under three subheadings which represent the various meanings of “meta-”: “With or Among,” “Between,” and “After.” “With or Among” indicates being with/among “older and newer structures of feeling.” There is a simultaneity of presence, and many residual ‘feelings’ about past and future ‘structures.’ Whereas ‘post-’ signified a sort of limbo that “‘bracketed the past’ and foreclosed utopian desires,” ‘meta-’ suggests a renewed opportunity to draw on the past and future to transcend “the post-postmodern bankruptcy.” (p. 9) Whereas postmodernism ‘recycled,’ metamodernism ‘upcycles’ (p. 10).
“Between” refers to the “metaxy” they speak of, which captures the practice of oscillation, a dialectic movement that attempts to resolve conflicting positions. Metamodernism is an oscillation between modernism and postmodernism, but not to be reduced to merely that. Nor does it “combine the ‘best of both worlds’”(p. 11) as we would have it. The reason they say this is because, as discussed, just as metamodernism enables alter-globalization movements it also enables destructive xenophobic populism. It’s a double-edged sword.
But why can’t it combine the ‘best of both worlds’? A philosophy that synthesized modern and postmodern truths would better inform and transform these misguided social movements. Finally, the “after” aspect of ‘meta-’ refers to the periodization which was discussed in the previous section above. Having introduced these two major themes (periodization and structure of feeling), we can move along.
Historicity, Affect, and Depth
The entire book is an exploration of the “structure of feeling” (borrowed from Williams), filtered through three concepts (borrowed from Jameson); historicity, affect, and depth. The book is divided into four, four, and three chapters, respectively, based on these sections, plus an introduction and epilogue. Each of three sections has its own introduction, authored by van den Akker, Gibbons, and Vermeulen, respectively. This format is an entirely academically responsible approach, but I would say that it also prevents them from truly breaking ground; they are admittedly just rigorously surveying it. That is to say, the book is exactly what it should be, and I appreciate it, but in my research I am aiming for more theoretical closure.
Historicity typically refers to ‘historical actuality’ (as in the debatable ‘historicity’ of Jesus) but that is not what is meant here. By historicity, these metamodernists mean the “various modalities in which one can relate past, present, and future (or be in history) and that these modalities vary over time and across cultures.” (p. 21). Given all our time-keeping instruments and access to historical knowledge, we now have quite an informed sense of a shared human history and our present moment, giving rise to a very high-resolution ‘structure of feeling.’ From here, it’s easy to imagine one’s situated experience as differing wildly depending on the time, place, and social position in history, but not vice-versa.
They say that the awareness of this new historicity stemmed from two mutations of capitalism, according to Jameson (1998): 1) global markets under US hegemony, extending capital into the BRIC countries, and 2) the incorporation and co-option of culture by commodity logic. For the latter, just think of the shameless false advertising and co-option of rebellion by Coca-Cola or Pepsi, for example. That is merely the tip of the iceberg. (BTW, I develop a unique abstract perspective to these mutations based on George Soros’ own concepts and practices (among others) in The Abstract Empire of Global Capital, which includes some discussion of metamodernism as well.)
Their defining feature of metamodern historicity is “that its present opens onto — in an attempt to bring within its fold — past possibilities and possible futures (defined as being with or among residual and emergent structures of feeling).” (p. 22). They describe, which I’ve listed as follows for convenience, based on Hartog (2016), the different regimes of historicity as;
- modern regime: “futurism”
- postmodern regime: “presentism”
- metamodern regime: “multi-tense”
In a more striking comparison, they write that (p. 22–23);
- moderns: “walked through a front door that opened onto a future Ville Radieuse;” (radiant city)
- postmoderns: “looked out a back window into a glossy past while doing some interior decoration”
- metamoderns: “open a back door while walking through a front door as if re-enacting an M.C. Escher drawing.”
As such, the four chapters of the ‘historicity’ section “provide an analysis of the multi-tensed narrative structures that constitute the metamodern regime of historicity in a contemporary culture that harks back to its past futures to make the present into the future’s past.” (p. 23).
Affect, under Affect Theory, is the categorization and study of subjectively experienced feelings then applied in various disciplines. It is the experience and measurement of the human response to objects and events. Thus, the ‘waning of affect’ refers to our reaction to “the superficiality of postmodern representation, and the free-floating signs or intensities of a mediatised consumer bubble.” (p. 83). Here, Gibbons argues that modernism evoked more depth and truth, which prompted greater affective response (eg. Van Gogh’s oil painting of peasant boots), contrasted with how postmodernism merely reproduces ‘an image of an image’ (eg. Warhol’s silk-screen print of diamond shoes) leading to the waning of affect.
I’ve included an image from Jameson that helps clarify their whole discussion on the page. Although they could have used anything, the shoe art example, borrowed from Jameson, created a vivid enough distinction of different affects. Furthermore, it gave me an epiphany that perhaps metamodern footwear would be like painted barefoot shoes, effectively leading to a very sensitive and visceral return of affect, literally, among other affective benefits. Maybe, maybe not. I’ll leave it there, for now. The important point is not the feeling evoked (feelings can be capricious and frivolous) but how it is cognized, which determines the meaning of the emotional response, according to Affect Theory.
Unlike the Van Gogh painting, the Warhol image precludes any logical emotional interpretation and thereby confuses and dulls the affective response. Quoting Jameson (1991), she writes “[liberation] may also mean… a liberation from every other kind of feeling as well, since there is no longer a self present to do the feeling.” Continuing this sentiment further down the page, Gibbons adds, “[I]n the postmodern moment, such emotion is unavailable (for instance, due to the subjects bombardment with stimuli in a situation in which lifestyles, consumerism and mediatisation engulf social space).” (p. 84) A meaningful response to superficial art is a fallacy. This is the waning of affect.
In an inverted sense, this description evoked the mesmerizing scene in V for Vendetta (2005) in which Evey cries “I can’t feel anything anymore” after being imprisoned and refusing to break. Instead of being bombarded by nonsense, everything was stripped away. The realization of the will that remained was the precondition for her transformation. The audience, on the other hand, can experience her rebirth vicariously through their own postmodern superficial and fragmented identity coalescing into something whole and human again, mirroring Evey’s metamodern heroism. It is cathartic. Fittingly, V’s veracious way with words and emotional maturity would seem to resonate with Gibbons’ summary of how we can now begin to reconstruct affect;
“In the contemporary, then, we can perhaps speak once more of a hermeneutics of the self, a will and ability to process intensities so that we can articulate meaningful emotional reactions or cognitive responses to today’s social situation in which another affective modality has substituted yesterday’s fragmented and fragmenting euphoria.” — p. 85, Metamodernism: Historicity, Affect and Depth After Postmodernism, 2017
The loss of affect in postmodernism culminates in post-irony and radical defencelessness, embodied in the likes of David Foster Wallace, among others. Interestingly, Surwillo also picks up on the similar concept of ‘anti-fragility,’ although I did not discuss it in my review of Metamodern Leadership. But there is also more to metamodern affect to be sure. This book is dense, and evidently we are all still learning what it means to (re-)integrate our complex thoughts and feelings in the 21st century.
This section of the book also stresses ‘relationality’ (through other people) as a mechanism for self discovery. This would seem to overlap with relational sociology, which has grown in the past decade and perhaps should be considered a metamodern form of sociology. In this section intro, Gibbons explains that her own chapter “engages with relationality.” The following excerpt struck me as perhaps very relevant to challenging Jordan Peterson’s essentialist assumptions and reservations about both social construction and identity. Her metamodernism offers a compelling compromise;
“The post-positivist model of identity sees both essentialism and postmodernism as unhelpful, but rather than abandon them it argues that the two exist in tension. Contemporary identity is therefore both driven by a desire for meaningful personal emotional experiences while being aware of the constructed nature of experiences, particularly in relation to social categories of identity.” — p. 86, Metamodernism: Historicity, Affect and Depth After Postmodernism, 2017
Depth is based on Jameson’s ‘depth-model,’ which suggests that the world as we perceive it is but surface, “a reflection, an expression, a symptom of what you might, with some liberty, call ‘noumena’” (meaning ‘a thing in itself’, p. 147). The depth is always there, you just don’t see it unless you know how to look. In how affect differentiated two modes of feeling, depth differentiates two modes of perception.
Vermeulen continues the shoe discussion started by Gibbons: “Van Gogh’s shoes are [like] worn-out sandals, his feet register every rain drop, each little bump in the road. Warhol is wearing the latest Nike Air Max, if you will, the advertised ‘Air’ a buffer between feet and ground…” (p. 148). One mode connects with the real, the other negates it.
Here, my barefoot shoe theory appears to be validated, as Vermeulen then says, “current artists, writers, and activists have stepped into another footwear trend, to stick with the metaphor, one which neither allows contact with the ultimate ground nor negates it, but instead performs it.” (emphasis mine, p. 148). He doesn’t at all speculate what that actually means — I’ll bet he’s thinking clogs — but it sounds to me like barefoot shoes are the sincere-ironic answer to that riddle. Hey, if the shoe fits…
The assertion of this section of the book is that we are returning to depth (via various modes of perception) after postmodernism; depth is returning. This is my favourite part of their metamodernism because it’s imbricated with other depth studies such as depth psychology (which is essentially what Peterson does), deep ecology, deep or depth sociology. There is of course also the concept of the ‘deep state,’ a cross-section of the military-industrial complex, which falls under my research stream of systemic-conspiracy. We are starting to see the architecture of such machinations exposed, as the section on Super-Hybridity discusses. These ‘deep’ fields were mostly eschewed under postmodernism, but are now ready to (re-)assert themselves.
Their discussion of depth also includes the projection of depth where it isn’t, such as the “frankly frightening populist mythmaking of the alt-right and other demagogic movements in politics.” (p. 149). To this effect, Vermeulen coined ‘new depthiness’ (2015) as a “composite of Jameson’s depthlessness and comedian Stephen Colbert’s gimmick of ‘truthiness’ (2006)” (p.149) based on gut feelings rather than facts. The irony though is that the alt-right and other such movements do believe that they are armed with facts. Such is the crisis of epistemology and education.
“Depthiness in this sense is the establishment of depth not as a shared epistemological reality but as one among many personally performed (im)possibilities — which is, to be sure, not to say they cannot be shared, but rather that they are by no means necessarily shared.” — p. 149, Metamodernism: Historicity, Affect and Depth After Postmodernism, 2017
This quote reminds me of the so-called Intellectual Dark Web (IDW), that fashions itself as a band of ultra-reasonable rebels and freethinkers discussing forbidden knowledge. While they are intellectuals, their edginess is highly suspect. There is depth, but they also have a certain depthiness (some more than others). I can already predict what Ben Shapiro would say to this metamodern analysis: “Facts don’t care about your structure of feeling.”
To be fair, many of the critiques against them are partisan and lack a meta-philosophy to back them up. Nevertheless, the IDW members are intransigent to the ample valid critiques that are out there for them, nitpicking over perceived and actual slights instead of engaging with the substance of the disagreement. In my view, this is no more obvious than in the case of their de facto patriarch, Jordan Peterson, who I’ve singled out. Thus, despite (all of ) their penchant for rational argument, better ideas have a hard time getting through. Even the best of intentions between Ezra Klein and Sam Harris fail to produce any resolution over their clash (see Michael Brooks’ coverage). And virtually nobody is disagreeing with Steven Pinker that we need a new enlightenment, but perhaps just the way he is presenting it. (See Steven Pinker: False Friend of the Enlightenment, John Gray: Steven Pinker is wrong about violence and war, and Unenlightened thinking: Steven Pinker’s embarrassing new book is a feeble sermon for rattled liberals.)
To be more fair, what Bret Weinstein, Lindsay Shepherd, Jordan Peterson and many others have experienced at the hands of ‘regressive leftists’ is tragic, but their belief and/or alliance with conservatives who think that ‘social justice’ isn’t even a valid concept is equally troubling. While Bret’s treatment was aggressive and Lindsay’s was passive aggressive, the common root of the animus towards them is the suppression of social justice (class, racial, gender, environmental justice) in the first place and the perceived insensitivity towards it; with no recourse, the angst is then ‘filtered’ (for lack of a better word) through protest or diversity policies. Consequently, now ‘social justice’ means completely different things to different groups, and the IDW’s anti-left reaction is not guided by reason any more than it is ‘felt out’ through the fog of (culture) war.
I strongly believe that metamodernism can resolve these conflicts on many levels, but again I digress, and there is not space to engage their depth and expose their depthiness here. I was looking forward to a discussion of depth ahead, but to my dismay the remaining chapters explore not depth but depthiness. Vermeulen explains that “the [metamodern] return to historicity, affect and depth… is a return that should be understood above all as a desperate but wishful attempt to think, feel and perceive historically, spatially and corporeally.” (p. 149). (Sidenote: I’m very tempted to add Oxford commas throughout all these damned quotes, not to mention the book title).
If I understand correctly, it seems that he thinks a depth discussion is premature due to the multiplicity of worlds being built through depthiness and the infinite potential futures on the horizon. They want to analyze and expose depthiness before they excavate and foster depth. Fair enough.
In the next two sections, I will focus on the chapters that most relate to my own work and interests; chapters 11 (Post-Truth Politics) and 4 (Super-Hybridity).
On Post-Truth Politics
I’ll begin with chapter (11), an extension of the ‘depth(iness)’ category titled Between Truth, Sincerity and Satire: Post-Truth Politics and the Rhetoric of Authenticity, by Sam Browse. The premise of post-truth is that people are more attached to their opinions than interested in facts that would change their mind. Such is the pain of cognitive-dissonance, that people can’t bare the burden of knowing better even if it might save their (or someone else’s) life.
Coined in 2004 (Keyes), post-truth was applied to politics in 2010 (Roberts) to mean “‘a political culture in which politics (public opinion and media narratives) have become almost entirely disconnected from policy (the substance of legislation)’.” (p. 167). This is beyond precarious and ineffectual governance, and yet it has become the status-quo that many elites are insistent on maintaining.
Colbert’s ‘truthiness’ goes back to his pilot episode in 2005 and was named ‘word of the year’ by the American Dialect Society, and again by Merriam-Webster in 2006. Little did we know then that these jokes would be more relevant than ever going past 2016, and, in a way that resonates with Chapter 9 — The Joke That Wasn’t Funny Anymore: Reflections on the Metamodern Sitcom — are becoming increasingly worn and threatening in their implications.
Building on these concepts, Vermeulen wrote about ‘depthiness’ in 2015, explaining;
“‘Truthiness’ expresses the production of a ‘truth’ according to emotion instead of empiricism; ‘depthiness’ articulates the creation of ‘depth’ as a performative act as opposed to an epistemological quality… Truthiness puts the truth into question; depthiness raises doubts about depthlessness.” — cited on p. 168, Metamodernism: Historicity, Affect and Depth After Postmodernism, 2017
Browse relates authenticity and sincerity to depthiness, such that the post-truth politician is in the first instance “plain-speaking, gutsy and authentic.” (p. 168). He points to the origins of post-truth politicians then not in the political right of late (Donald Trump, Nigel Farage), but in the Third Way politics of the ’90s (Tony Blair). Third Way implies ‘centrism,’ which sounds noble, but in my understanding the centre-right economic and centre-left social policies it is suppose to fuse are in fact antithetical. So, in practice Third Way is ultimately disingenuous.
Browse’s chapter is an analysis of the British satirical show that parodies New Labour, The Thick of It. The collapse of Third Way politics and the subsequent satirization of it is “an important factor in the development from a post- to metamodern cultural sensibility” as it expresses “a renewed emphasis on depth and authenticity in the cultural sphere.” (p. 168).
Whereas Blair embodied ‘mimetic authenticity’ (later seen as “depthless” and “ringing hollow” thanks to satire, p. 176), today’s Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn employs ‘curated authenticity,’ in the sense of authentically presenting the very real stresses of other people, which actually resonate with him (p. 179). Browse suggests this is indeed “a contributing factor to Corbyn’s electoral success.” p.178). By frequent public engagement, “the rhetorical appeal is not his own ethos, but the authority of the (struggling and suffering) demos.” (p. 179).
But again, it cuts both ways. Back in chapter 1, Van den Akker and Vermeulen write that the metamodern ‘structure of feeling’ is “not better or worse” but is “a discourse that gives meaning to our experience, such as what is good and what is bad in the first place.” That seems contradictory, and maybe it is, however the point is simply that;
“[Metamodernism], for instance, enables Bernie Sanders or Jeremy Corbyn to evoke the longevity of their principles whie also enabling Donald Trump and Geert Wilders to shift daily between ideological positions while getting away with it.” (emphasis mine) — p. 11, Metamodernism: Historicity, Affect and Depth After Postmodernism, 2017
Exactly how the metamodern ‘structure of feeling’ enables shifty liars to ‘get away with it’ routinely is a problem to be solved. Naturally, we should all want to swing all this metamodern energy behind progressives, not have it divided between persecuted leftists and populist demagogues on the right. That is not real balance. As the following section on chapter (4) also suggests, metamodernism and the return of depth should actually help us determine the difference between truth and truthiness, depth and depthiness, beyond the joke. Browse’s closing statement applies equally to Sanders as it does Corbyn. In their curation of authenticity;
“they may be here on the surface with you now, but their authority stems from having been deeper and seen further into the oceanic depths below.” — p. 181, Metamodernism: Historicity, Affect and Depth After Postmodernism, 2017
In the same way that Sanders, Corbyn, and Trump have found relative support through a sort of metamodern signalling, Hillary Clinton lost it for similar reasons. She would appear to echo Blair’s ‘mimetic authenticity’ (and of course Bill Clinton’s “Third Way” more familiarly) in this regard. More broadly, this is what evolved into the Obama administration and the corrupt Democratic Party. As Seth Ambramson observes, and I agree, this is why she was destined to lose to Trump (and would have been to Sanders for that matter, who would have beat Trump);
“I began using metamodernism as a tool in my professional writing. Doing so allowed me to predict much about Donald Trump’s political career on the very day he announced his presidential run — and to predict, too, though I was sad to say it, that Clinton might not be able to defeat Trump in 2016. The reason for this wasn’t that Clinton wasn’t qualified; or that she wasn’t a noble, talented, intelligent, and accomplished person; it was that she wasn’t as metamodern in her cultural positioning as were Sanders and Trump.” — Seth Abramson, On Metamodernism
I’m less kind to Clinton though. As I understand it, elites love to hide behind ‘noble lies’ as mechanisms of social control, and she is no exception. It’s a ‘necessary evil’ part of politics we are told . Lying to the people is all too functional for world leaders, as Mearsheimer explains in Why Leaders Lie (2011), but it’s only deepening the crises. Clinton was sandwiched between a pathological liar and a humble truth-teller, and as such she had trouble getting her story straight. Now, in a post-truth anti-trust environment, it’s almost as if it’s too late to tell the truth — like a twisted incarnation of The Boy Who Cried Wolf — but it’s not.
To the effect of Seth’s points above, during the election I produced a series of (20) memes attempting to reflect this, which I later annotated in True Colors: The Real Faces of Politics Three Archetypes in the War on Ideas (RIP 2016 Election). Had metamodernism explicitly entered the zeitgeist then, perhaps it would have made a difference. Because whenever it finally does, it will.
This chapter (4) falls under ‘historicity,’ the full title being Super-Hybridity: Non-Simultaneity, Myth-Making and Multipolar Conflict, by Jorg Heiser. Super-hybridity is “a method of responding to, or exploiting, the technological accelerated possibility of converging sources and influences; it is not an aesthetic programme in and of itself, lest an ethics.” (p. 67). The ‘super-’ prefix denotes a ‘tipping point’ from the postmodern practices of remix and pastiche to Web 2.0-enabled supercharged hybridized forms of art (largely by millennial ‘digital natives’). The term super-hybridity, coined by Heiser in 2010, initially implied two things;
“The first is that creating by way of using existing sources was not automatically merely unoriginal pastiche, especially if the high number of tropes and sources used de-emphasised ‘quoting’ as an aesthetic gesture in itself…” — p. 56, Metamodernism: Historicity, Affect and Depth After Postmodernism, 2017
Although I had metamodernism in mind in making my film The Abs•Tract (2014), I didn’t know this term “super-hybridity” specifically, but it applies here. The film uses a very high volume of puns, tropes, intertextual references, and quoting to mock quoting itself (such as I am expressly mocking The Secret (2006) crossed with ab-gimmicks). For example, I purposely misquote Descartes as saying “I think I am ripped, therefore I am.” (0:33) to project beyond his initial meaning.
“The second is that ultimately all new cultural practices — all ideas — are borne out of the sticky mess of existing practices and ideas, even if in their newness they seek to deny that very fact.” — p. 56, Metamodernism: Historicity, Affect and Depth After Postmodernism, 2017
While trying to avoid and transcend postmodern pastiche, I was still clearly dependent on other sources and cultural artefacts, so I made it as meta- and sublime as possible. Along these lines, I sought to build on the ancient myth of the ‘original man’ Adam Kadmon, but reincarnated in today’s world to save it. My myth-making extended to claiming that The Abs•Tract book is in fact based on/ descended from the ancient lost treatise Abacus Tractatus, while also knowing how dependent it all is on my contemporary, sources, technology, and cultural references. This is a principled yet tongue-in-cheek reconstruction of history (also combining both depth and depthiness), as we know that much of it has been lost or destroyed anyways. For more on The Abs•Tract see the articles on Ep. 1, Ep. 2, etc…
I wanted to discuss this chapter not so much for the concept of super-hybridity in art, which is interesting, especially how it relates to my own, but more for how Heiser’s discussion relates to geopolitics and my concept of systemic-conspiracy. We must understand super-hybridity, Heiser writes, (since the turn of the millennium) global digital networking and social media have become ubiquitous, and;
“… in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations our digital data have been exposed as being subjected to levels of capitalist manipulation and state surveillance unimagined even by the paranoiacs. The hard, dark truth may be that the stickiness and messiness of cultural confluences occuring rapidly in one given place and time are not only corrupted from the outside, co-opted by capitalism and autocratic state tendencies, but may also rot from the inside, as fantasies of purity and purification… seek to find justification in the mythical past while embracing the techno-cultural now.” — p. 56, Metamodernism: Historicity, Affect and Depth After Postmodernism, 2017
This kind of ‘hard, dark’ commentary is ubiquitous these days as all sorts of revelations and inconvenient truths are regularly spilling out, turning conspiracy theory into fact. A methodological program is needed to make sense of it, hence considering conspiracy as a structural and systemic process rather than an agentic one (although there are agents).
Heiser then warns that super-hybridity can be exploited as a social practice, not just an artistic one. In this way, Steven Bannon (to bring him in again) is also engaged in super-hybridity in his capacity as a propaganda film producer (though he thinks he’s a documentarian). He and his ilk use the dark side of “The MetaPhorce” (from The Abs•Tract), the dark side of metamodernism. And this is dangerous because, as Heiser later says, we have to “learn anew to tell apart crowd wisdom from mob mentality…” (p. 65). To this effect;
“To the extent dissident opinion and whistle-blower leaks become more easily available, so do troll comments and fabricated news.” — p. 65, Metamodernism: Historicity, Affect and Depth After Postmodernism, 2017
This choas of super-hybridity as such is also a function of ‘non-simultaneity’ or ‘asynchronicity,’ which Heiser translates from the virtually unspeakable word Ungleichzeitigkeit. It describes “different stages or periods of progress in social, economic and technological terms within what are often the same civilizations.” (p. 56–57). Although we are in the 21st century, and that is a staple of metamodernism, not everyone is in sync in the historical perspective. Not to mention, time is very social constructed, as is periodization, and there are many different calender systems.
The clashing results from factual and ideological ‘imbalances’ that distort each other. Identities and belief systems do not just exist in the present, but are made up from reaching into the past and future. The coiner of Ungleichzeitigkeit (non-simultaneity), Bloch, initially used it to apply to the “crypto-romantic” fantasies of the rise of the Nazis, which of course would also apply to neo-Nazis today. Heiser then spends a few pages using IS/ISIS/ISIL as the contemporary example.
He then points out the vicious irony that even those “who explicitly act towards ethnic cleansing and cultural purity” are not above using super-hybridity to grift and plunder from other cultural sources, exactly as the Nazis did with the swastika (p. 61–62). The hypocrisy is, even on the face of it, incredibly dumb, and yet these are the extremes that groups can go to in order to ‘feel’ a sense of identity and meaning, albeit a dangerously false one.
Heiser cites the documentary The Act of Killing (2012), about the 1965–66 Indonesian anti-communist purge that killed perhaps more than a million people, to make a point about self-legitimization and their subsequent immunity against judgement, which could be applied to any other extremist groups. The mass murderers are showing no remorse, pride even, until the filmmaker Oppenheimer “persuades his protagonists to re-enact some of their crimes on camera, in order to make them physically feel the tremor, fear and pain of their victims.” Finally, Anwar Congo “weeps, seemingly starting to regret.” (p. 63).
But there would be no change of heart, no repentence, no metanoia, no truth and reconciliation yet. Apparently Everyone Loves This Documentary Except the Mass Murderers It’s About. They actually thought killing was cool based on watching Hollywood gangster films, were applauded for it by the masses, and are still able to keep the bullshit belief firmly repressed.
As Oppenheimer explains, “You celebrate mass killing so you don’t have to look yourself in the mirror.” And perhaps ultimately that is how metamodernism frankly insists upon a solution: looking in the mirror and being okay with what we see. Heiser sort of suggests this by saying we have to ‘look at the surfaces’ of culture, not just ‘underneath’ at “the invisible machinations of economic interests and political intrigue” (p. 68).
Comparing the Indonesian case with conflicts today, it is even more superficial and paradoxical due to super-hybridity. Images from war are recycled and relabeled for different times and places. Soldiers and terrorists alike are anonymously posing with kittens or sexualizing themselves and each other. It all feeds back into the insanity. “We must be alert to these kinds of debased super-hybridity.” (p. 66).
I feel that this chapter, more than any other, may have the strongest critical insights, normative messages, and political implications. It relates to the ontology of my synthesis of systems theory and conspiracy theory into systemic-conspiracy, of which this is the central takeaway: that elites and masses are equally subsumed into the process, and need to understand the concept in order to avoid playing the game, whether as a victor or a patsy in it. The following point really drives that home:
“ruthless economic and geo-strategic calculation, itself an ideological pathology, can be come sucked in to political and military processes it ceases to control, leading to devastation that ends all calculation.” — p. 67, Metamodernism: Historicity, Affect and Depth After Postmodernism, 2017
In his conclusion, he describes two important phases from the dialectic of enlightenment. The first, we should already know, is that the “functionalist, scheming forms of rationalism are anything but immune against tyranny… [and] merely suppressing these fantasies does not at all equal ethical behaviour.” The second, is that “even the cultural techniques that were borne out of the necessities of warding off [the first]… [such as] the colonised emancipating themselves from the colonisers” is also not immune from “being sucked into civilisational breakdowns borne out of the power games of a post 9/11, multipolar world.” (p.68).
Notwithstanding the clashes implied by Bloch’s notion of Ungleichzeitigkeit, it was actually based on a “Marxist, post-Hegelian philosophy of historic progress” as well as a process of enlightenment towards reflexive thought and ethical standards, but we say how that went to hell in World War 2. The lesson is that “simplistic notions of linear progress have long been exposed as illusory and dangerous.” Nevertheless, thinking, he explains, is unavoidably predicated on “the assumption that progress is possible, at the very least a progress in understanding what’s going on.” (emphasis mine, p. 68).
That is to say, if collective political progress is not available at a given moment, at least individual learning is (in principle, granted the person has means) and that must be cherished. From this it follows that one should at least act “under the guidance” of the principle that “understanding is possible,” to dare to know, as it were, though it is easier said than done, and ethical action is even harder. The takeaway: put your faith in a simple (philosophical) form of progress first and foremost.
Indeed, and not to diminish the dramatic examples of war with my anti-ab-gimmick inoculation, but this is exactly the point of The Abs•Tract and metamodern abstraction (as metamodern thinking); to think hard core, so you actually ‘know what’s going on.’ And thinking is hard. We must, in fact, dare to know, better; better than our Enlightenment forebearers. This includes being actively weary of and oppositional to any anti-intellectual forces that traffic in lies and misinformation, and/or people who try to defund, discredit, or deny education, like say, Trump’s Secretary of Education. I’ll give Heiser the last word (actual end of chapter);
“As soon as we can imagine how things could be better, a principle of progress is implied. This is how I understand Ungleichzeitigkeit today.” — p. 68, Metamodernism: Historicity, Affect and Depth After Postmodernism, 2017
The Metamodern Condition
Much like with Williams’ and the ‘structure of feeling,’ the Dutch School uses the phrase ‘the metamodern condition’ (only a few times) but they don’t clearly define it. It is more or less implied throughout the work as a sensing of how the historical events of the new millenniam “gathered momentum and ‘jelled and combined’… to form the conditions in which the metamodern structure of feeling could become dominant.” (p. 12).
The metamodern condition is something like the experience of knowing (a lot) after postmodern knowledge, while living in 21st century under the dark auspices of Western capitalist society, with all that that implies. This version comes across as perhaps a little WEIRD and WASPy, by the Dutch School’s depiction, but not ignorant as such. This may also accidently suggest that there could be an Eastern metamodernism, Global South metamodernism, and/or a more cosmopolitan and holistic version still which I encourage. Again, such variances is why I’ve designated “The Dutch School.” Seth Abramson explains the ethnic roots of the original movement;
“Where did metamodernism come from? Nonwhite activists-cum-scholars writing in obscure American literary publications in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Most of these activists were Muslim, African-American, or Latino neo-Marxists…”— Seth Abramson, On Metamodernism
I don’t actually know who those sources are (obscure publications are actually difficult to access), but regardless, we already position ourselves in a social justice orientation in this way. We don’t stress any particular aspect of it, but the general cause; and certainly address the issue of racism and the war-on-drugs explicitly so far. The Abs•Tract film and our research reflects this, as I discuss in The Black Art of Abstraction as well as Vicious Abstraction and Systemic Racism. The ‘metamodern condition’ is also very much as Ambramson describes here, which could be applied anywhere;
“Metamodernism is an evolution of postmodernism, and it comes from people who acknowledge how terrible and fractured everything and everyone is — a knowledge that’s the sum and substance of our postmodern inheritance — but who also still see the internet as a place of boundless self-creation, unfettered problem-solving, limitless invention, and more opportunities for collaboration than humans have ever had. To be a metamodernist is to adopt what’s called a “romantic response to crisis,” and to do so by trying to see and use the whole of the internet’s field of information.” — Seth Abramson, On Metamodernism
I was also somewhat surprised that Lyotard’s (in)famous book did not in any way make it into Metamodernism. Perhaps this is because The Postmodern Condition, although influential, was considered even by its author to be his worst book, full of fictions and fallacies. However, it is still useful for a number or reasons, not the least of which would be to compare and contrast one ‘condition’ to the next. I will not do that here, but perhaps another time a deeper look would be warranted. All I’ll say is that while the ‘postmodern condition’ related to the status of ‘knowledge’ at the time, the ‘metamodern condition’ has yet to establish a position in that regard, and abstraction will play a central role.
The Postmodern Condition is mostly memorable for the longstanding cliche of postmodernism being simply an “incredulity towards metanarratives.” This is a most relevant point for the grandest metanarrative of them all: History itself, which was declared to have ended in the early ‘90s only to have returned with a vengeance in the 2000s. Likewise, we are now forced to be credulous again in the face of complexity. Human history is richly diverse and divergent, but all the strands are crashing back into each other in today’s world, when they need to be carefully interwoven.
The intellectual culture that evolved out the post-war (World War 2) period fostered a healthy skepticism towards metanarratives, monolithic totalizing institutions, and traditions like fascism, nationalism, religion, and grand theories alike. These prior meta-narratives had all failed to deliver us out of cultural and political prisons. The era of postmodernism that followed saw major progress in the moral, civil, artistic, and scientific realms, but with high costs and setbacks, not to mention the perpetuation of modernist evils like the ‘war-on-drugs.’ Despite not winning that battle, as an ideological critique postmodernism had run its course (and had been beaten back) by about 2000 and the fragmentation of truth left our discourse in ruins.
Meanwhile, many of the old idiotic metanarratives are back, even the most absurd ones —like white nationalism — suggesting a profound forgetting of history and an angry rejection of postmodern critique. So also returns the need for a grand theory to explain them away, and a great society to address the root concerns so the weeds don’t grow back. The “incredulity toward metanarratives” was surely not meant to be an ‘incredulity towards meta-truth,’ which it has morphed into as ‘post-truth.’ Case in point, the incredulity toward ‘meta-’narratives is erroneously carried forward as an incredulity towards ‘meta-’modernism.
Whatever Lyotard got wrong, he seems right in that his postmodern “incredulity” was based on;
“the crisis of metaphysical philosophy and of the university institution which in the past relied on it. The narrative function is losing it’s functors, its great hero, its great voyages, it’s great goal. It is dispersed in clouds of narrative language elements… Thus the society of the future falls less within the province of a Newtonian anthropology (such as stucturalism or systems theory) than a pragmatics of language particles. There are many different language games — a heterogeneity of elements.”— The Postmodern Condition, 1979
Is not getting lost in language games how postmodernism finally collapsed? It became virtually impossible to say anything is true, while there also being a multiplicity of truths. Postmodernism was always a set of problems to be solved, and metamodernism implies such crises are now resolvable. To Lyotard’s point, I speculate in The Quantum Turn in Social Science, metamodernism itself could be the new metaphysics. Or, at least maybe the “new metaphysics” of “social humanism” as described by Brian Ellis, or the ‘quantum social science’ model proposed by Alexander Wendt, could also be counted as expressions of metamodernism.
And on knowledge, Lyotard had complex insights but I’ll limit it to this point:
“Postmodern knowledge is not simply a tool of the authories; it refines our sensitivity to differences and reinforces our ability to tolerate the incommensurable. Its principle is not the expert’s homology, but the inventor’s paralogy.” — The Postmodern Condition, 1979
Lyotard advocated for paralogical thinking, which is dialectical both-and thinking (logical thinking is either-or), contra Habermas arguing for consensus. But suppose there is a possible fusion of the two: a sort of paralogical consensus. Such a concept would first reject ‘agree to disagree,’ in favour of ‘agree on the irrational root of disagreement,’ to say the least. Second, we could agree that social life is paradoxical, (as it is, as is wave-particle duality), and as such requires a special techniques to resolve paradoxes (beyond game theory), such as ‘normative incrementalism’ as I discuss in Social Paradoxes and Meta-Problems. Habermas is also a notable critic of postmodernism and has proposals for a reconstructive science, among other things, so why not just resolve him into metamodernism too?
Postmodernism tells us that we still need to reject dogmatic belief systems and tribalism backed by metanarratives of religion and nationalism, but we also need to accept the convergence of those metanarratives as well as of history and science into metamodernism. What such a process spells out in terms of spirituality and governance is akin to what has already been prescribed over half a century ago in Einstein’s secular humanistic cosmic religion, or Einstein’s socialism, for that matter, just to give a couple examples.
If I were to interpret The Dutch School’s program facetiously, it seems they would just have artists keep on making quirky post-ironic meta-fiction for them to study, as I did in The Abs•Tract, but that is not enough, and surely they would agree to some extent. The Abs•Tract is “to be continued…” because it ended on a down note and must be rectified. We must save the world from ourselves, not just abs-tract ripped abs, and not just ruminate on fluctuating historicity, affect, and depth in a ironic-sincere manner. We must learn from the past so as not to repeat it, as it is certainy both linear and cyclical.
Thus, for me, the proto-typical origins of metamodernism also formally date back to the ’70s not just for Zavarzadeh but at least for the reason that The Club of Rome chose to engage with a set of ‘meta-problems’ at the root of everything instead of piecemeal progress. There is an ongoing renewal of these efforts. People of the world need a resilient global civil society — a peace industrial complex — to displace the military industrial complex, as I have discussed in Systemic-Conspiracy and Social Pathology. Yes, not only can we afford to distribute provisions and infrastructure globally instead of blowing up expensive weapons, its more cost-effective too. There is the capitalist incentive, just not a greedy monopolistic one.
As a superordinate concept, metamodernism will continue to subsume other ideas until it is a positive meta-philosophical worldview and a global consciousness based on a positively shared ‘structure of feeling’, an ‘effective-value-meme’, as Hanzi puts it, not just a reaction to manifold contemporary crises. As we quickly approach 2020, a fitting year for the sharp retrospection of human progress, we are hopefully in, or entering, the endgame of the culture wars of the last 30 years. Trumpism has accelerated the nose dive, but we may be able to pull up (and pull him out) at the last moment.
I will close this section on a personal note to add some perspective and distinction. The Dutch School authors “Acknowledgements” pages are long, whereas mine would be almost embarrassingly short, especially as it pertains to this actual work. I am thankful for my education, but the world has not been receptive to my ideas. I thank some friends and family, but logistical and intellectual support has been next to nil until the past year. I thank Hanzi Freinacht and his circle who have been advocates and colleagues, but The Abs-Tract film and research project is entirely the a work of an auteur, writing in a cave. I thank the actors and real people that participated, but they are long gone from the project.
Like Seth Abramson and David Foster Wallace, my metamodernism has been a largely solipsistic effort, and largely not by choice. I went to graduate school, but choose not to pursue a PhD because I wanted to generalize, not specialize. So I have received very little help. In contrast, the Dutch School authors write;
“Without these contributions, our research project on metamodernism — to which we hope this volume will contribute — would have been more daunting, if not to say impossible, as well as too single-minded to say anything meaningful about the recent reconfigurations of Western capitalist societies at large.” — p. xi, Metamodernism: Historicity, Affect and Depth After Postmodernism, 2017
Without contributors to my project, it has indeed been very “daunting” if not “impossible,” but I’ve pressed on because that’s what metamodernism compels me to do. Similarly, I hope that I am not “too single-minded to say anything meaningful,” but rather the opposite; that while I am aware of the ‘myth of the individual,’ I contend that my independent abstraction has given me unique insights. As such, while we may share a very congruent worldview, we may personally experience a somewhat different ‘metamodern condition.’ With that I say, let us join forces.
With all these long-ass sections, an attempt at a conclusion is imperative. The Dutch School’s Metamodernism: Historicity, Affect and Depth After Postmodernism is a great book that may very well establish their metamodern cred as successors to Fredric Jameson’s critical foothold, although fully realized metamodernism may in fact be ‘the cultural logic of post-capitalism’, in the way that Jameson’s Postmodernism was ‘The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism.’ This is certainly what I aspire to help define in advance of it arising.
(We can’t keep calling the current stage ‘late capitalism’ forever… So if I may, I suggest that in the interim we call our current stage of capitalism ‘retarded-stage capitalism,’ which as a verb literally means to “delay or hold back in terms of progress or development.” Since about 2000, and especially since the 2008 financial crisis, it has been retrograde and retarded (no offense; not to be conflated with the slur); and to be sure Hanzi Freinacht also uses this word and justifies it in The Listening Society. If this is rejected, the more politically correct ‘terminal-stage capitalism’ would also fit. Either way, it’s a step to transitioning to post-capitalism.)
The book Metamodernism is highly specialized, which leaves ample room for other scholarship on metamodernism, but also leaves out some important things. Its major flaw, in my view, is not addressing (at all) the substantive crises in sociology and philosophy that are also at the root of the emergence of metamodern idea(l)s and theories. There is also little futurology in their metamodernism, despite other notable schools of thought such as accelerationism or transhumanism existing and also being active in this time period.
Despite these shortcomings, I hope this book becomes required reading for scholars and think tanks, or any students studying postmodernism and beyond, so we could at least adopt a common ‘language’ (as they describe it) to reduce the excessive redundancy and conflict in academia and contemporary social thought. This is what the ‘principle of abstraction’ from computer science does, and is much needed in our cultural programming.
Their seven-fold heuristic for periodization is very agreeable, which I will paraphrase in an even more succinct way, while hopefully not reducing its depth. The historical period of 1999–2011 (and beyond) is characterized by, and accompanied by a heightened awareness of, 1) left-wing protest, 2) right-wing populism, 3) non-state vs. state terrorism, 4) anthropocene awareness, 5) financial fraud, fuckups, and neoliberal doubling down 6) Web 2.0 and social media, and 7) post-capitalist potentiality.
The ‘structure of feeling’ relates to the salience of this period, and our ability to articulate the experience of living in the 21st century — what we call ‘the metamodern condition’ — which apparently everyone feels, and yet not everyone actually feels yet. This ‘feeling’ insists upon various modes of solidarity and protest against hyper-inequality and injustice, although its still finding confused forms of expression, probably for lack of positive metamodern values, which Hanzi, myself, and others are trying to create.
Historicity, Affect(,) and Depth, are useful to describe how we think and feel temporally, emotionally, and spatially (or ontologically). These categories waned under postmodernism, which is to say we became disoriented and shallow. In metamodernism, they are returning so that we can understand the historical moment and our place in it, while also reconnecting with each other and nature (reality).
The chapter I covered on Post-Truth Politics attends to the power of satire to change people’s minds and showed how sincerity and authenticity are metamodern political values, expressed in the likes of Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders, that can be victorious. It also revealed how the notion of depthiness can fool our perception, but that some people actually possess great depth of heart and wisdom.
The notion of Super-Hybridity I discussed gave some insight into metamodern modes of art but also in how it can be weaponized in geopolitical conflict, which complements my concept of systemic-conspiracy. The same chapter also supplied some notions of non-simultaneity that described clashing between different stages of progress within a society, but also how that is (somehow) part of a broader dialectical process towards enlightenment and reflexive thought.
Lastly, believe it or not, at 14,000+ words my ‘report’ is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully it is sufficiently definitive. As I said, the book is dense and very much about art and culture, a lot of which I did not touch on. If you are an art-history and culture buff, by all means, indulge in this book. In mostly this sense you will gain substantive insights on the differences between the current emerging paradigm and the last (postmodernism). But my review does highlight what I think is most important about The Dutch School of metamodernism — the basic idea of it — and some of the most important points about mine (and Hanzi’s and Seth’s, to some extent).
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