Metamodern Mythopoetics: Manifesto
by Alesky Varian
Exemplary of the metamodern sentiment (as first articulated by Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker), Metamodern Mythopoetics is a spiritu-artistic movement which oscillates between modern and postmodern contraries, accepting postmodernism’s radical skepticism of meaning and authority while simultaneously affirming a modern commitment to admittedly-fraught ideals such as Purpose, Beauty, and the Sacred. The means by which it achieves this paradoxical synthesis is the Aesthetic Contract, while the end is an entirely new mythological system—one indebted to and inspired by historical mythologies, but ultimately sui generis and rooted in the Human condition of the 21st Century.
B. PHILOSOPHICAL FOUNDATIONS
1. GOD IS DEAD. Somewhere between 1914 and 1945, God died upon the battlefields of Europe. With him went Certainty and Higher Purposes—a loss which paralyzed the century. But we have gained as well, for, shed of supernatural spirits,
we affirm the natural world, and life therein—a joyful and exuberant Humanism!
Our senses fall to Earth, where we may revel in the bounty of her myriad joys! Loosed from Objectivity, subjective feeling is our only certainty.
2. GOD IS MISSED. And yet, this liberty has rotted into anarchy. Purpose, it seems, had served a broader purpose: God had held our Art. With Sacredness dissolved, all quality and craft devolved to sabotage and apathy—to ugliness and nihilism. Ideological chaos has wreaked its havoc on our Culture, and our hearts. And so we say, almost despite ourselves: construct again!
Against the prevailing critique of Human constructs as merely false tools of oppression, we unashamedly proclaim that Human beings are meaning-making creatures, whose fraught attempts to make sense of life’s unremitting chaos can indeed be good and beautiful.
Let Sisyphus roll his rock—but let him learn to like it! The falsity, or at least the constructedness, of what we invent in no way undermines its significance.
3. GOD IS REBORN. The search for Meaning is the search for fulfillment; fulfillment is but feeling. In this regard, Art and Religion are brothers. For both, the “truth value” (if it can be determined at all) is at best inconsequential. At worst, given the disenchanting revelations of modernity, it is destructive: sublime feelings sacrificed upon the ascetic altar of immaterial Reason. Metamodern religion, maintaining its quest for spiritual fulfillment while conceding its claims to Truth, thus blends imperceptibly into Art. Man does not find, he makes his Meaning: creating Art, we create our gods.
Therefore, against the prevailing profanity of the current age, we profess our thirst for Sacredness with an “informed naiveté”.
With full knowledge of material causes, we shall re-enchant the world regardless! Our symphonies shall be our hymns; our paintings: vaulted frescos; and our poems: new Narratives and myths of gods still waiting to be born!
C. ARTISTIC PRECEPTS: WHAT IS ART?
1. AESTHETIC. Since feeling is fundamental, Art must be sensual. And so,
against the prevailing conceptualism and ideologization of Art, we assert that Art is fundamentally aesthetic: that its primary end is to arouse the senses and elicit intense, extramundane feelings.
It must not be confused, then, with any expression whose primary aim is something else: Art is not statement, confession, philosophy, subversion, experiment, activism, or any other such endeavor (though it may incorporate such elements in varying degrees). Fundamentally, Art heightens and produces experience for the sake of experience, feeling for the sake of feeling, and is thus the greatest means to elevated living.
2. BEAUTIFUL. Not all feelings are equally desirable. In Art, as in life, positive, edifying experiences should be prioritized. Thus,
against the prevailing preoccupation with shock, disgust and discomfort (when concern for the arousal of feeling is evidenced in contemporary Art at all), we fervently reaffirm the view that Art is a means of ennobling and gratifying the Human race through Beauty.
The more pleasurable and rewarding a sensation, the more Beautiful we say it is, since we understand Beauty essentially as profound and complex pleasure. Of course, to properly capture the entirety of Human life, Art will and should incorporate the darker aspects of human experience. However, these must be the dissonances which render resolutions more sublime—not, as now, the all-consuming monochrome of the obsessively subversive; not, as now, the neurotic fixation on all that is ugly and wrong upon the Earth. Horror and suffering are admissible in Art only inasmuch as they heighten its ultimate ecstasy.
3. SPECIAL. In an age of leveling, we long for special and for Sacred things. So,
against the prevailing egalitarianism of all Artistic expression—which has intentionally eradicated distinctions such as “high” and “low”; eschewed any hierarchy of quality; and in its most flagrant form asserted “anything can be art”, thereby equating the Sistine Chapel with feces in a gallery—we declare that Art is rather special expression: particular, not common; exceptional, not mundane; sacred, not profane.
Indeed, it is just this specialness which, because of its distinction, contrasts with mundane existence to elicit intense, extramundane feelings like the Beautiful. A thing is valuable only inasmuch as it is rare, and sensually exciting only inasmuch as habit and ubiquity have not already desensitized us to it.
D. THE AESTHETIC CONTRACT
1. CONSTRAINTS. The means by which expression becomes special—and therefore Artistic—is through the imposition of extra-ordinary constraints.
Common, everyday existence is characterized by unregulated variety; by contrast, the defining characteristic of a special or holy day is its intentional exceptionality: the time is special because it is not other time; intense because infrequent. Specification therefore means limitation; limitation means constraint. Thus constraint, and not total freedom, has the power to elicit the most intense sensations, and therefore the most intense Beauty. Chained men roam farther and higher than the free.
In light of this, we propose—against the prevailing abandonment of formal constraints in Art (e.g. free verse Poetry, atonal Music, non-mimetic Painting and Sculpture)—a bold adherence to Forms!
Forms are ordered patterns or processes, novel or traditional, which, once adopted, demand unwavering loyalty from the Artist. Only through Form can the free-for-all madness of contemporary Art—wherein the idiosyncratic subjectivism of every Artist nullifies qualitative comparisons with canonical Beauty—be tamed, and made to flourish.
2. CONTRACT. Such formalism, however, is not imposed upon us by any divine decree or inherent order of the world; it is not uncritically assumed by obliging conventionality, nor nostalgically pursued in slavish imitation of a longed-for past. Rather, it proceeds solely from the volition of the Artist. With this willing self-subjugation to unnecessary and artificial constraints (all for the sake of some greater fulfillment), the so-called Social Contract finds its twin, aesthetic counterpoint. In its language, then, we declare that
while total freedom is our right as Artists, we willfully surrender it and give ourselves constraints—not because we must, not because they are “true”, not even because they are inherently “the best”, but because the absence of such laws creates the chaos known as ugliness.
Such ugliness, indeed, is the current state of much contemporary Art. Only by forfeiting total autonomy may the Artist attain a higher order and a higher good: Beauty.
3. RECONSTRUCTION. Mankind’s invention of God is testament to his desire for order and Meaning—a desire as ancient as the gods themselves. Though now our tools and probes have caught up with our boundless imaginations—to prove us wrong and disallow, by reigning logic, such fanciful creations—why must those dear and Human feelings go unfulfilled? Do we not need a State because the Divine Mandate proved a fraud? Inherency lost, we justify our needs by Contract. So with Gods. For those who will, then, there is a mighty task at hand. Man’s first theogonies arose in ignorance; indeed, the gods he made too often bore its scars. But what when Man knows what he does? Gods need not be destructive and ascetic but, with brush in hand, we can paint them smiling. We had, then lost, now long for Narrative. Now is our chance to tell our epoch’s own—one Beautiful, and Humanistic!
The metamodern era needs its gods and myths: the mythology for a metamodern age. Come, Poets, Authors, Sculptors, Painters, Dancers—all! Let us, together, forge new epics, pantheons, and Forms still unimagined!
THE NARRATIVE WE SEEK IS NOW OUR OWN TO CRAFT!