The Best of Metamodern Lit So Far
Since Kurt Cobain said he’d “rather be dead than cool”, the metamodern era has been upon us. But only in the last one or two years have we entered the metamodern era. The year that Weird Facebook entered the mainstream is when we entered this era in my opinion.
A post-ironic, un-edgy meme from the Facebook page Best Of Wholesome Memes:
Metamodernism is a very good thing. It’s what we have been waiting for for a long time. Postmodernism has finally climaxed—‘hipster’ and ‘edgelord’ are derogatory terms because irony and edginess have been exhausted. There was always a half-life on these vogue concepts that were stylistic but vacuous in essence. In the metamodern era, a New Sincerity in literature has been rediscovered. This is a new movement lead by only a few front-runners that seek to recapture authenticity, honesty, real meaning and raw emotions. These are the books that are currently leading the way in metamodern literature–
The 1996 novel Infinite Jest became the paradigm for the New Sincerity movement. Its author David Foster Wallace was frustrated with the avant garde of his time—whos intentionally deceptive and pretensiously iconoclastic postmodern devices were made to garner praise from critics, whilst alienating readers. Infinite Jest is ironic and uses “audience averse” experimental techniques only as a satire of these avant garde “titty-pinchers”. But it would be hypocritical if Infinite Jest truly reflected these postmodern books by being narcissistically, solipsistically self-referential, incomprehensible and overall un-fun. I don’t want to name and shame books that are like this, but I also don’t want this to sound like a straw-man argument so here are two books that fall into this category: Pricksongs and Descants by Robert Coover and Lost in the Funhouse by John Barth. Infinite Jest pays attention to old-fangled concepts like character development, plot structure and emotional depth to create a book that despite its cutting-edge technique can still captivate readers.
This novel exemplifies the motto of the metamodern movement of ‘modernist values, postmodern technique’. At heart, it is conservative, but in form it uses the techniques developed in the postmodern era—which can be exciting and entertaining if used for the right purposes.
This is my other favourite book along with Infinite Jest because likewise it is just culturally so far ahead. This book by social media personality Heiko Julien aka Eric Wedgewood is a collection of his longform poetry/story-like Facebook posts up to 2013.
Eric derives a lot of his random, out-of-control maximalist style from the author Mark Leyner. But he makes a crucial abstraction to the postmodern work of Leyner: Eric’s writing is at heart deep and emotional, whereas (I don’t like to criticise Eric’s favourite writer), but I find Leyner’s writing to be a bit silly and lacking in substance. The maximalist postmodern technique is entertaining, but in a hollow, pure-hedonistic nihilist way that makes you feel like you are wasting your time and sink into existential despair. Eric’s writing uses this technique that is stimulating enough to entertain readers even in this informationally saturated era, yet it gives it substance that sustains your attention and fills your heart.
Eric Wedgewood is part of the alt-lit writing community—a little-known clique of metamodernist authors who’s hey-day was 10 years ago. The New Sincerity philosophy of this movement was promising, but the movement never became large enough to attract notable writers except for Heiko. I am hoping that this movement will make a comeback, because I find its mix of sincerity, maximalism and simple language to be extremely fun to read.
Haruki Murakami’s most famous novel—Kafka on the Shore is known for its fantastical, absurd spin on the classic bildungsroman, yet it is rarely talked about as ‘metamodern’. But it truly does combine the entertaining flourishes of postmodernism with a core of traditional Japanese values that make for a heartwarming novel of a boy’s journey.
There is none of the easy irony that can be had in the tale of a young boy leaving home. He isn’t at the mercy of a callous public and a cruel world. Instead, he is helped by members of the community and he befriends characters who are peculiar yet never mocked by the author—one who is a transvestite and another who is a simple-minded old man, both who have a heart of gold.
This wasn’t a long list because metamodernism is still in its infant stages. But it could have included a lot of the works of David F Wallace and Haruki Murakami and soon Eric Wedgewood’s new book will come out also—and I am very excited about this. I have a special interest in metamodern literature not just because it is my favourite thing to read, but also because I write it myself. You should check out my page here.