Dr. Timotheus Vermeulen is assistant professor in Cultural Theory at the Radboud University Nijmegen, where he also directs the Centre for New Aesthetics. He is co-founding editor of the leading academic arts and culture webzine Notes on Metamodernism and contributing editor to Feedback Blog, a new critical theory startup by Open Humanities Press. He has written on contemporary aesthetics, art, film and television for amongst others The Journal of Aesthetics and Culture, Screen, Monu, Frieze, and various collections and catalogues. He currently lives in Düsseldorf, Germany.
with Robin van den Akker, Metamodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Capitalism 4.0 (Forthcoming 2015)
Scenes from the Suburbs (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014)
with Martin Dines (ed.), New Suburban Stories (London/New York: Bloomsbury 2013)
Articles In Journals
with Gry Rustad, ‘Watching Television with Jacques Rancière: US Quality TV, Mad Men, and the late cut’, Screen 54.3 (Autumn 2013), pp. 341-354.
‘Metamodernist affect’, American Book Review 34.4 (forthc. 2013)
with Robin van den Akker. ‘Metamodernisme’, Twijfel Vol 1 (2011), pp. 9-20.
with Robin van den Akker. ‘Notes on metamodernism’, Journal of Aesthetics and Culture Vol 2 (2010), pp. 1-13
o’Märkmeid metamodernismist’, transl. Jaak Tomberg, Methis Vol. 8, No: 11 (2013). pp. 130-145.
o’中现代主义札记’, transl. Chen Houliang, Journal for Foreign Theoretical Trends Vol. 11 (Winter 2012), pp. 65-73
Chapters In Books
‘The YBAs are Dead! Long Live the YBAs’, Hendrik Folkerts, Facing Forward (forthc. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2014)
with Robin van den Akker, ‘Art Criticism and Metamodernism’, Stephen Knudsen (ed.), Art of Critique (forth. 2014)
with Robin van den Akker, ‘The Return of Utopia in the Arts’, Irina Hron-Oberg (eds.), Thinking in Unity After Postmodernisms (forthc. Nordhausen: Traugott Bautz, 2013)
‘As if’, James Elkins & Harper Montgomery (eds), Beyond The Aesthetic and the Anti-Aesthetic (University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2013), pp. 168-170
with Martin Dines, ‘Introduction’, Martin Dines & Timotheus Vermeulen (eds), New Suburban Stories (London/New York: Bloomsbury 2013), pp. 1-15.
with James Whitfield, ‘Arrested Developments’, J. Jacobs & S. Peacock (eds), Television Aesthetics and Style (London: Bloomsbury Press, 2013), pp. 103-112.
‘Quality TV and Independent Cinema’, in John Berra (ed.), Directory of World Cinema Vol 2: American Independent. Bristol: Intellect/Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013, pp. 31-35
with Gry Rustad, ‘Temporality and Temps Mortality in Mad Men, The Wire and Arrested Development’, in Melissa Ames (ed.), Television and Temporality (University of Missisipi Press 2012), pp. 153-164.
with Robin van den Akker, ‘Metamodernism, history, and the story of Lampe’, R. MagShamrain & S. Strumper-Krobb (eds.), After Postmodernism (2011), pp. 25-40.
‘The Suburbs’, in John Berra (ed.), Directory of World Cinema: American Independent (Bristol: Intellect/Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010)
Features In Magazines
Ways of Knowing: The Sculptures, Installations and Drawings of Diango Hernandez, Frieze (November 2013)
with Robin van den Akker, ‘“Een Verlangen naar Oprechtheid”’, De Groene Amsterdammer (05.09.2013), pp. 36-39
‘School of Thought – Interview with Galit Eilat’, Frieze D/E (June 2013)
‘Future Fictions’, Frieze (May 2013)
‘Little Women’, Frieze (April 2013)
‘Düsseldorf Renaissance’, Frieze D/E (Feb 2013)
‘The New Stedelijk’, Frieze (Nov. 2012)
with Dan Fox, Nils Norman, Anton Vidokle and Sharon Zukin, ‘Changing Places’, Frieze (June 2012)
with Simon Critchley & Nina Power, ‘Theoretically Speaking’, Frieze (August/September 2011)
with Robin van den Akker, ‘Metamodern Architecture’, MONU No 15 (2011)
Christoph Schellberg, Frieze D/E (December 2013)
Daiga Grantina, Frieze (November 2013)
‘Christoph Knecht’, Frieze (August 2013)
‘Corridor Plateau III’, Frieze D/E (July 2013)
‘Drawing a Universe’, Frieze D/E (June 2013)
‘Painting – Posenenske, D’Hollander, Warboys’, Frieze (May 2013)
‘Simon Evans & Oyvind Fahlstrom’, Frieze (April 2013)
‘David Douard’, RONG WRONG, Frieze (Dec 2013)
‘Bernd Krauss’, Kölner Kunstverein, Frieze D/E (Dec Jan 2013)
Thirteen Theses on (the End of) Liberal Democracy, Notes on Metamodernism (2013)
‘Annabel Daou’s Which Side Are You On?’ Notes on Metamodernism (2012)
‘The Lunar Tic’, Notes on Metamodernism (2012)
‘The Young Berlin Artists’, Notes on Metamodernism (2011)
‘Hard and Soft’, Notes on Metamodernism (2011)
‘The Door Opens Inwards’, Notes on Metamodernism (2010)
‘Hard-Boiled Wonderland, Blue Velvet, and the End of Postmodernism’, Notes on Metamodernism (2010)
Timotheus Vermeulen on Metamodernism (interviewed by Cher Potter) for Tank Magazine (May 2012)
Cher Potter: MM is a declaration of independence from Postmodernism – but rather than a punked out two fingers, it’s a sorry-we’ve-grown-apart. As a way of explaining MM, what does the necessary transition tell us about our generation?
Timotheus Vermeulen: I would say that it tells us that twenty-somethings have come to the realization that the critical and creative vernacular with which their parents tried to intimate and influence what was going on around them is no longer sufficient to capture, let alone change, their experience of the world today: a world in all sorts of geopolitical, economic, ecological turmoil, where ‘left’ and ‘right’ are suddenly actual categories again, where jobs are scarce, and where melting icebergs are no longer a projection but a reality. Today’s students have learned all about postmodernism, they understand its critical value, but they find it difficult to relate to it. Politics doesn’t end with Lyotard, art doesn’t stop with Derrida. Jeff Koons’ critique of consumerism, Brett Easton Ellis’ interrogation of mediation, Todd Solondz’s play with white, middle class suburbia; they suddenly seem anachronistic, out of place in the frustrated, contorted face of capitalism 4.0, populism and so forth. Self-indulgent is another phrase that comes to mind. What a lot of people long for, I think, is not only to deconstruct the vernacular of their parents, but also to reconstruct an idiom that enables them to put into words alternate relationships. It is important to understand here that the language they reconstruct is not a new language, but a language that signifies anew. It is a language where grand narratives are as necessary as they are problematic, hope is not simply something to distrust, love not necessarily something to be ridiculed. The metamodern generation re-appropriates the language of postmodernism in order to conceive of almost modern ideals, oscillating between a postmodern doubt about the sense of it all, and a modern desire for sens: for meaning, for direction.
CP: Can you explain the Meta in Metamodernism
TV: Meta has acquired something of a bad rep over the last few years. It has come to be associated almost exclusively with a particular reflective stance, a repeated rumination about what we are doing, why we are doing it and how we are doing it. But meta does not necessarily mean reflection at all. In philosophical discourse meta can mean anything from after to with to between.
I think it is fair to say that our use of meta derives from Plato’s metaxy. With metaxy, Plato meant the oscillation between two states: in the myth of Heracles, for instance, metaxy referred to the tragic entrapment between the world of the gods and the world of the humans, without ever entirely being a part of either of them. For Robin van den Akker and myself, meta signifies an oscillation, a swinging or swaying with and between future, present and past, here and there and somewhere; with and between ideals, mindsets, and positions. For us, the prefix meta indicates that a person can believe in one thing one day and believe in its opposite the next. Or maybe even at the same time. Indeed, if anything, meta intimates a constant repositioning: not a compromise, not a balance, but an at times vehemently moving back and forth, left and right. It repositions itself with and between neoliberalism and keynesianism, the “right” and the “left”, idealism and “pragmatism”, the discursive and the material, web 2.0 and arts and crafts, without ever seeming reducible to any one of them.
CP: As a philosophy with its own blog, one way in which MM exists is as a kind of open-source document with tabbed divisions of architecture/arts/fashion/network culture, documenting trends across aesthetics and culture. The idea of open-source is a way of getting beyond the limitations or personal tastes of the author – have outside contributions added any wildly unexpected avenues to the work?
TV: Yes, definitely. For us, metamodernism is not so much a philosophy – which implies a closed ontology – as it is an attempt at a vernacular, or as you say, a sort of open source document, that might contextualize and explain what is going on around us, in political economy as much as in the arts. When Robin and I began writing about metamodernism, that vernacular was very limited. Each new author has stretched those limits up. Sometimes a lot, other times a bit. Our contributors, among them Hila Shachar, an Australian cultural theorist, James MacDowell, a British film scholar, and Nadine Fessler, a German literary critic, have turned our attention to phenomena, art works and texts that we had no awareness of, picking out and unpicking artistic choices we would have never considered, and as such have expanded the idiom far beyond its initial boundaries.
CP: Metamodernism announces a new romanticism and a rediscovery of love and affect – what are the tenants of this early 21c Romanticism?
TV: It depends. In some works of art, like the installations by Olafur Eliasson, for example, Romanticism is most clearly present in the attempt to turn the ordinary, that which we usually pass by without noticing, without giving it even a second of thought, into something extraordinary, that is, something we cannot but be aware of and contemplate simply because it is in its ordinariness unlike anything else. In others, such as the work by Paula Doepfner, it is evident in its careful consideration and integration of the environment. There are works concerned with the idea of the Romantic sublime; with fate; with craftsmanship. But by and large, I would say that what characterizes the Romanticism that has been increasingly visible in contemporary culture since the early 2000s is Romantic Irony: to strive for infinity in spite of one’s finiteness; to hope in spite of one’s better judgment. In the arts we see this attitude in the work of someone like Ragnar Kjartansson, whose work I like a lot. But also think of the protesters at Stuttgart 21 or Occupy Wall Street: they realize that what they are doing might be futile, but that doesn’t mean that they cannot at least give it a try.
CP: You mention a renewed search for optimism and sincerity, which reminds me of the 2008 internet-released film ‘The Cult of Sincerity’. It’s an almost-ironic tragedy in which a Williamsburg hipster looks for a way beyond cynicism by attempting to make genuine human connections and art – while knowing and proving that this idealistic integrity is ultimately unachievable.
The anarchist critic Herbert Read said that for a man to be sincere he should be unconsciously insincere – that sincerity and self-awareness are contradictions.
It begs the question, which I’d like to ask you – what is sincerity and do you think it is possible at all?
TV: Of course, to be sincere always implies a moment of insincerity, at least towards yourself. But that is another question.
What is meant, I think, when people talk about the so-called “New sincerity”, the artistic movement associated with writers and filmmakers like David Foster Wallace and Wes Anderson I imagine you refer to, is that someone temporarily suspends irony. It does not mean that, say, someone is so naïve to believe that his or her love song is the only true love song. After all those postmodern parodies that is impossible. It merely means that for the time being, that person pretends it is so as to convey as much ‘truth’ as possible. That is why new sincerity has sometimes been called post-irony and other times performatism. To be sincere, at least today, is not a natural quality but a choice, a performance you know might be impossible to put on forever, but try and maintain as long as you can.
CP: David Foster Wallace also spoke about the next generation of literary rebels who might ‘…dare somehow to back away from ironic watching’, ‘to rally behind the single-entendre…(and) eschew self-consciousness and hip fatigue’
Why are so many people from different fields picking up on this romantic sentiment all at once?
TV: I would say that it is at once (1) a passionate reaction to years of postmodern deconstruction, ironic distance, and cynicism, (2) the formative experience of a generation coming into its own by setting itself against the discourses of their parents, and (3) a response to changes in society which necessitate a different attitude. It’s about addressing 21st century problems, but it is also simply young people saying to their parents: “We’re tired of listening to your whining. If you are so concerned about the moral state of society, then do something about it.” It helps, of course, that we’ve got the Internet and various kinds of social and locative media to share those views.
CP: For Frederic Jameson, Post-modern Romanticism freed people from the reality principles of late capitalism, while it seems today’s romanticism is a way of returning to reality, to the body and the commonplace, to find a way around over-sophisticated derivatives and ironic stand-offs. Would you say that today’s romanticism is not so much opposed to realism as inspired by it?
TV: Romanticism today, but I am generalizing here, does not so much turn its gaze away from ‘reality’, as that it looks at it through a different lens, or from another angle. Take the novellist Haruki Murakami, for instance. Murakami writes about the most surreal events but he does so in the realistic stylistic register of Fitzgerald and Chandler. He thus at once infuses the realm of the impossible with a sense of possibility, of actuality, while imbuing ‘reality’ with a hint of the miraculous. He asks the reader not to turn away from reality, but on the contrary to look at it from up close.
CP: We’ve spoken a bit about the current recycling of 18th century Romantic ideas of genius, inspiration and intuition. Original genius in the context of art production, a current economic obsession with innovation and a simultaneous acceleration of the often-ingenious copy makes it a pertinent point of revision. What are your thoughts on how notions of genius are now operating within Metamodernism?
TV: The question of genius is extremely pertinent, especially since it ties in with one of the most important questions for philosophy today: how should we conceive of the subject after poststructuralism? I, unfortunately, do not have an answer to either one of those questions myself yet.
Goethe once said that genius is the ability to see what no one else can see even though it is open to everyone. If there would be such a category as the metamodern genius, she or he would not be someone who is more talented than others, but rather someone who is able to put into words alternative relationships. But really, I would have to think about this matter some more.
CP: A year ago, the German newspaper Der Zeit declared that MM would dominate the arts in 2011. It is true that the art world has responded very enthusiastically to MM with MAD museum hosting a Metamodern exhibition and Metamodernism being on the programme at this year’s Frieze Art Fair and Moscow Biennale – do you have a theory on why it’s so appealing to this crowd?
TV: I think that you should ask them. I can only guess. Curators and collectors, too, will have noticed shifts in cultural discourses. We offer a vernacular that may enable them to tie some of these shifts together and make sense of them.
CP: You and Robin van den Akker never took to the idea of a MM manifesto – however the artist Luke Turner has recently put one together for you consisting of 8 principles with the ambitious and heart-warming final call: ‘We must go forth and oscillate’. Do you feel it does the theory justice?
TV: I feel Luke’s manifesto summarizes well some of the developments we would say characterize metamodernism. However, for Robin and myself, metamodernism is not a program, is not a call for whatever kind of protest. On the contrary. Although we are personally quite excited by some of the trends and tendencies in the arts and literature, we are far less thrilled about certain recent events in politics – such as the rise of right wing populism, or the disintegration of the political center, to name just a few. Again, I should emphasize: metamodernism is an attempt to come to terms with what is happening all around us, not a blueprint for how to achieve it.
source: Tank Magazine (May 2012)