Thursday, 14 October 2010

What meta means and does not mean

Over the last few months, there has been much discussion online as well as at parties, galleries and conferences, about the meaning of the prefix meta- in metamodernism. Now, of course, each and everyone is free to define, re-appropriate and use it in any one fashion. Metamodernism as a term - but not as a concept - is or has been associated with altermodernism, reflective modernism, reflexive modernism, and a counterstrategy within modernism. And it has been applied to developments and disciplines as diverse as economics, politics, architecture, data analysis, and the arts. But (or So) we feel compelled to once more establish what WE mean with the prefix meta - and, perhaps even more important, what we do not intend by it. In a previous post we described it as follows:
The prefix 'meta' has acquired something of a bad rep over the last few years. It has come to be understood primarily in terms of self-reflection - i.e. a text about a text, a picture about a picture, etc. But 'meta' originally intends something rather more colloquial. According to the Greek-English Lexicon the preposition and prefix ‘meta’(μετά) has several meanings and connotations. Most commonly it translates as 'after'. But it can also be used to denote qualitative 'changes' or to designate positions such as 'with' and 'between'. In Plato's Symposium, for example, the term metaxy designates an ontological betweenness (we will return to this in more detail in a later post). The Online Etymology Dictionary gives the following description:
prefix meaning 1. "after, behind," 2. "changed, altered," 3. "higher, beyond," from Gk. meta (prep.) "in the midst of, in common with, by means of, in pursuit or quest of," from PIE *me- "in the middle" (cf. Goth.miþ, O.E. mið "with, together with, among;" see mid). Notion of "changing places with" probably led to senses "change of place, order, or nature,"
When we use the term 'meta', we use it in similar yet not indiscriminate fashion. For the prefix 'meta-' allows us to situate metamodernism historically beyond; epistemologically with; and ontologically between the modern and the postmodern. It indicates a dynamic or movement between as well as a movement beyond. More generally, however, it points towards a changing cultural sensibility - or cultural metamorphosis, if you will - within western societies.
Thus, although meta has come to be associated with a particular reflective stance, a repeated rumination about what we are doing, why we are doing it and how we are doing it, it once intimated the movement with and between what we are doing and what we might be doing and what we might have been doing. When we use the prefix meta- we do NOT refer to the former meaning. Meta- for us, does NOT refer solely to reflectivity, although, inevitably, it does (and, since it passes through and surpasses the postmodern, cannot but) invoke it.

When we use the prefix meta- we refer to the latter intent. Meta, for us, 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. It is influenced by estimations of the past, imbued by experiences of the present, yet also inspired by expectations of the future. It takes into account and affect the here, but also the there, and what might or might not happen elsewhere. It is convinced it believes in one system or structure or sensibility, but also cannot persuade itself not to believe in its opposite. Indeed, if anything, meta intimates a constant repositioning. It repositions itself with and between neoliberalism and, well, keynesianism, the "right" and the "left", idealism and "pragmatism", the discursive and the material, the visible and the sayable. It repositions itself among and in the deconstructed isms and desolate ruins that rest from the postmodern and the modern, and reconstructs them in spite of their un-reconstructableness in order to create another modernity: then one, then the other, one again, and yet another. Bas Jan Ader's quest for the miraculous, Charles Avery's quest for an imaginative elsewhere, Mona Hatoum's search for another socio-personal identity, Sejla Kameric longing for another ethnic-personal epistemology, Mariechen Danz's longing for the pre-discursive, Ragnar Kjartansson's desire for what is always just beyond his reach…

Meta- does not refer to one particular system of thought or specific structure of feeling. It infers a plurality of them, and repositions itself with and between them. It is many, but also one. Encompassing, yet fragmented. Now, yet then. Here, but also there. 

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