The end of the 19th century found metanarratives such as traditional religion losing traction as the public became disenchanted with naïve modernist visions of transcendence. It was around this time that Nietzsche famously quipped “God is dead,” a sentiment that, a century later at the height of postmodern cynicism, never seemed truer. Postmodernism was concerned with the deconstruction of overarching structures such as religion, exchanging transcendence for material immanence and, as stated by Jameson, “contrived depthlessness” (think Warhol and the surface level of his content). As postmodernism in turn falls from relevance, a new ideology comes to take its place, striking out against shallow simulacra.
Metamodernism can be described as the current cultural diversion from the late 20th century’s postmodern ideologies, characterized primarily by cynicism and a rejection of overarching metanarratives. As described by Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van der Akker in “Notes on metamodernism,” metamodernity branches away from postmodern ideology and reintegrates some of modernism’s more optimistic characteristics. This is an informed rather than naïve return to modernism, characterized by neither modernism nor postmodernism but a constant ‘oscillation’ between the two ideologies. If modernism concerns itself with construction and postmodernism with deconstruction, then metamodernism is a form of reconstruction, blending their aspects together.
The rise of metamodernism has sparked the development of increasingly abstract ideologies, ones in which the artist is yearning for utopia without expecting it. This consideration of transcendence differs from its modernist predecessor in its informed naiveté, knowingly fabricating theologies for their compelling nature rather than their spiritual value. A key aspect of metamodern religious reconstruction is the ambiguity provided by the swaying between modern and postmodern ideologies, meaning that metamodernism neither confirms not rejects the concept of transcendence. It is this malleability that provides the possibility of fabricating deities – one cannot presume to create God without first accepting atheism. Thus, through religious reconstruction metamodernism has turned mythmaking into an art form.
This mythopoeia plays modernism’s transcendence against postmodernism’s immanence, creating works which are immanent in imagery yet transcendent in sentiment. Consider the above work Pieta by Martin Wittfooth. The familiar scene of the Virgin Mary holding the dead Jesus in her arms is transformed into a tree — anthropomorphized by Mary as the referent – cradling a dead bird, an image of ecological destruction. The traditional narrative of the piece is forgotten, transferring the sacredness onto nature, content that is immanent in a setting that implies transcendence. Metamodernism exhibits a desire for depth within constraints, a longing that I believe is widely reflected in the current cultural landscape. As the breakneck speed of developing technology carries us into the age of transhumanism and sentient AI, are we not, in a fashion, inventing a new race of deities?
Dempsey, Brendan. “[Re]Construction: Metamodern ‘Transcendence’ and the Return of Myth.”
Notes on Metamodernism, 21 Oct. 2015,
www.metamodernism.com/2015/10/21/reconstruction-metamodern- transcendence-and-the-return- of-myth/.
Clasquin-Johnson, Michel. (2017). “Towards a metamodern academic study of religion and a more religiously informed metamodernism.” HTS Theological Studies, 73(3), 1-11. 24 April 2017, https://dx.doi.org/10.4102/hts.v73i3.4491.
Timotheus Vermeulen & Robin van den Akker (2010) Notes on metamodernism, Journal of Aesthetics & Culture, 2:1, 5677, DOI: 10.3402/jac.v2i0.5677
Michelangelo’s Pieta photo courtesy of Juan M Romero [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia
Martin Wittfooth’s Pieta from www.martinwittfooth.com
Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons