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Metamodernism I: Reformulating Truth

A Dig Deeper Article by Production Dramaturg Brandon Shalansky


Metamodernism has been an incredibly important theoretical framework in the development of Studio Theatre’s production of Ubu Roi, guiding the collaboration and defining and refining the production’s unique and lively mise-en-scène. A new critical approach to understanding the world, metamodernism emerges out of a movement beyond postmodernism, what some scholars have also called post-postmodernism. While the postmodern emphasized a rejection of the modern and pre-modern, metamodernism seeks, according to writer Brendan Graham Dempsey, to reintroduce/reintegrate “ideas, sensibilities, and practices from before the postmodern back into the cultural conversation,” albeit altered “by their interaction and recontextualization through postmodern critique and awareness.”

Dylan O'Donnell, deography.com, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

This process fundamentally involves the dismantling of orthodoxies, dogmas, and power structures related to the acquisition and control of knowledge. As such, the conceptualization of knowledge itself becomes transformed. According to prominent metamodern theorist Jason Ānanda Josephson Storm, metamodernism “seeks to establish a new model for producing humble knowledge,” rooted in compassion, collaboration, and change. Humble knowledge also fundamentally accepts the possibility of oppositions, contradictions, parallels, and alternates.

Metamodernism opens the door to possibility without a total dissolution of truth through its emphasis on simultaneity. According to Dempsey, metamodernism brings a “critical postmodern awareness to naive traditional and modern cultural ideas and forms, not in an effort to denigrate or cancel them but in a good-faith sensibility that attempts to hold them in balance. In this way, elements from the traditional, modern, and postmodern [coexist] simultaneously … a continuous oscillation between their embrace and their critique, between enthusiasm and self-consciousness.”

Oscillation then is a driving motion through which metamodernism reformulates truth. Metamodernism does not falter in the face of skepticism either, challenging us to find meaning in the navigation of paradoxes, rather than straining to solve them.

Examples of metamodern films and television include Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022), Bo Burnham: Inside (2021), and Nathan Fielder’s The Rehearsal (2022). Metamodernism has been significantly less prominent in the world of theatre, but it is noticeable in such productions as People Places Things (2015) by Duncan Macmillan, Mr Burns, a Post-Electric Play (2013) by Anne Washburn, and The Welcome Revolution (2018) by Feat.Theatre. Metamodern performance strategies also overlap significantly with elements of postdramatic theatre — a theory and practice described by Hans-Thies Lehmann — particularly plethora, saturation, and simultaneity, which


play a large role in the concept and design of Studio Theatre’s Ubu Roi.


References

Dempsey, Brendan Graham. “Metamodernism 101: What Does ‘Metamodern’ Mean?” YouTube, uploaded by Brendan Graham Dempsey, 19 April 2021, youtu.be/9BzD3wUEMaQ.


Drayton, Tom. “The Listening Theatre: A Metamodern Politics of Performance.” Performance Philosophy, vol. 4, no. 1, 2018, pp. 170-87.


Lehmann, Hans-Thies. Postdramatic Theatre. Translated by Karen Jürs-Munby. Routledge, 2006.


Storm, Jason Ānanda Josephson. Metamodernism: The Future of Theory. U of Chicago P, 2021.


Whitehead, Alfred North. Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology. Free Press, 1978.

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