This was a question I’ve had for some time now since the heyday of the Emerging Church came and went, but I haven’t put a whole lot of thought or research (read, Google search) into it until recently. I knew that postmodernism wasn’t quite as pronounced as it had been in culture in general, and particularly in the church, and personally I don’t hear much about it anymore, like during the Emerging Church days, which attempted a synthesized version of postmodernism with Christianity. There are certainly still elements of relativism as it pertains to how you know something for sure (epistemic humility, as it’s called) such as “you have your truth, I have mine,” but this is almost kind of assumed in culture now, not debated like it was.
After researching, what’s coming, as I understand it (and I’m by no means a philosopher and am riding off the opinions of others I’ve read on the internet), is a more tribal, malicious form of “I have my truth, you have yours.” This takes it a step further. It’s sort of taking the postmodernist approach to truth to the next level of interactivity: upholding and even fighting for that view of “my truth” even in the face of objective evidence (namely, all cable news?). We see this all over Facebook, Twitter, et al., which in thinking about it may be implicitly why I decided a while back to stop engaging theological and political posts for the most part.
So back to the question: what is coming in the place of postmodernism?
It’s called by several names, each of which have their own emphasis it seems: metamodernism, pseudo-modernism, digimodernism, altermodernism, amongst other names like post-postmodernism. There does seem to be a good bit of debate (shocking) about the philosophical views taking shape in the wake of postmodernism, and as with postmodernism interestingly enough, it isn’t well defined, though that is taking shape.
To get the thought started though, let’s start with this article that in 2006 (yeah, 2006!) seemed to be the moment the discussion was popularized about where things are headed on this front: The Death of Postmodernism and Beyond by Alan Kirby.
The shift from modernism to postmodernism did not stem from any profound reformulation in the conditions of cultural production and reception […] But somewhere in the late 1990s or early 2000s, the emergence of new technologies re-structured, violently and forever, the nature of the author, the reader and the text, and the relationships between them.
Postmodernism, like modernism and romanticism before it, fetishised [ie placed supreme importance on] the author, even when the author chose to indict or pretended to abolish him or herself. But the culture we have now fetishises the recipient of the text to the degree that they become a partial or whole author of it. Optimists may see this as the democratisation of culture; pessimists will point to the excruciating banality and vacuity of the cultural products thereby generated (at least so far).
This pseudo-modern world, so frightening and seemingly uncontrollable, inevitably feeds a desire to return to the infantile playing with toys which also characterises the pseudo-modern cultural world. Here, the typical emotional state, radically superseding the hyper-consciousness of irony, is the trance – the state of being swallowed up by your activity. In place of the neurosis of modernism and the narcissism of postmodernism, pseudo-modernism takes the world away, by creating a new weightless nowhere of silent autism. You click, you punch the keys, you are ‘involved’, engulfed, deciding. You are the text, there is no-one else, no ‘author’; there is nowhere else, no other time or place. You are free: you are the text: the text is superseded.
Cheery. Keep in mind this was written in 2006. And think about how this has unfolded and manifested with phones and social media in our day, 12 years later. It doesn’t matter what the author of the text demonstrably, tangibly, objectively wrote, it’s how the reader authors it themselves, shown clearly in the angry responses and incoherent argumentation around politics and theology I witness (we all witness). That doesn’t mean there aren’t good discussions happening. It just means in general things are getting more tribal and unstable in discourse. Moving on.
This next article focuses more on the literary aspect of where things are headed and is optimistic for the future of literature in this new, dawning paradigm. But the paragraph below does well to posit what’s happening. Postmodernism is dead. What comes next? by Alison Gibbons.
It seems then, that a new dominant cultural logic is emerging; the world – or in any case, the literary cosmos – is rearranging itself. This process is still in flux and must be approached strictly in the present tense. To understand the situation, we have to pose a number of questions. The first, and most dramatic, is “Is postmodernism dead?”; quickly followed by “If so, when did it die?”. Critics – such as Christian Moraru, Josh Toth, Neil Brooks, Robin van den Akker and Timotheus Vermeulen – repeatedly point to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the new millennium, the 9/11 attacks, the so-called “War on Terror” and the wars in the Middle East, the financial crisis and the ensuing global revolutions. Taken together, these events signify the failure and unevenness of global capitalism as an enterprise, leading to an ensuing disillusionment with the project of neo-liberal postmodernity and the recent political splintering into extreme Left and extreme Right. The cumulative effect of these events – and the accompanying hyper-anxiety brought about by twenty-four hour news – has made the Western world feel like a more precarious and volatile place, in which we can no longer be nonchalant about our safety or our future.
The word “hyper-anxiety” stuck out to me in this paragraph. Is this not the air we breathe now in the West? It’s not just cable news either, it’s all of our news sources, internet, phone, and otherwise. It’s also all the fearful health articles friends post warning of this or that, and our interactivity with these sources. I intentionally went through all the news alerts I receive and shut them all off a few years ago. I couldn’t take it anymore. I needed less information pushing to me to worry about, and it was one of the most helpful things I had done in a while. To be clear, I still want to know what’s going on, I just don’t need all the analysis that goes by the name news. We are an anxious, tense, worried, isolated, and lonely people, even though in terms of technology we’re more connected than ever. They were even talking about this on NPR the other day in the wake of many high profile celebrity suicides. I think this morphing from postmodernism to whatever this is, metamodernism for short, is part of the reason at least and it’s producing despair. That’s at least an initial thought, maybe I’m wrong, I don’t know. I would debate a few things here or there in this article above, but will move on.
This next and last article is written by a progressive Christian (at least that’s what the blog is titled) who lays out the trail of what postmodernism is/was and what it’s becoming. I think he paints a pretty accurate picture, maybe a tad nihilistic and hyperbolic about it (maybe not), but I think it’s pretty right from what I’ve read to this point. We Are Witnessing the End of Postmodernism and the Beginning of Post-Postmodernism by Kyle Roberts.
What we’re witnessing in these fragile, violent days just might be the end of this largely benign postmodernism and the emergence of a malignant post-postmodernism.
The term “post-postmodernism” has been around for over a decade, but I suspect historians might just locate its beginnings at around 2016 CE.
The lid of gentility has come off, “Politically Correct” is going out of style in many quarters (with a childish, racist, vengeance, in some cases), and the universality of globalism is, while not being replaced (capitalism will never allow a wholesale displacement of globalism) is being challenged by an intensified nationalism, an angry tribalism/localism, and an open disregard for the well-being of anyone outside “my” group, or my language-game.
I’ve long thought of postmodernism as, at its core, a deep toleration for difference and otherness. That’s a simplistic reduction, of course, but this toleration of otherness is turning into an intensified, angry rejection of difference and otherness and the attempt to overcome the problem of difference, not by rational argument or toleration, but by the sheer exertion of power, by the politics of fear, and by a polemics steeped in rhetoric but devoid of substance.
Post-postmodernism is tribalism to the extreme and with gloves off. It might just be the ultimate extension or intensification of post-modernism. It’s postmodern to the extent that it accepts the reality of difference and the reality of tribalism, “language-games,” and unique standpoints (unlike modernism, it doesn’t seek to transcend those boundaries). But it is post-postmodern in it is not chastened by epistemic humility, but hardened by certainty. In the post-postmodern mood, there may be a recognition that we don’t have the Absolute Truth, but that doesn’t make any difference, because we don’t care. It doesn’t change the way we relate to others; it doesn’t change the way we understand our place in the world. It isn’t chastened by difference and otherness, but angered by it. It isn’t motivated by peace, but by war.
I’m still learning my way through what this shift from postmodernism to metamodernism means and entails, but it essentially looks to me like the logical conclusion that was always warned about with postmodernism: you can’t have multiple truths, eventually someone’s “truth” prevails over against the others, which isn’t this all of the history of man? The issue now is that we have a of society of people who think and interact in this way. What emerges is anyone’s guess and still formulating to some degree.