"I THINK THAT'S THE VERSION OF POST-POSTMODERNISM THAT WE'RE HUNTING FOR, THAT METAMODERNISM...
if I'm going to be obnoxious."
-- Daniel Kwan.
The Kwan and Scheinert film Everything Everywhere All At Once
took home the 2023 Best Picture Academy Award. A win for integrative futurism? It is certainly unusual for a lot of liminal web-heads & post-postmodern sociologists to be on the same side as the notoriously misguided and corrupt American Oscar Committee.
Has metamodern art finally broken through?
Well, of course, that depends on what you include within this genre. Bo Burnham's Inside
? Rick and Morty
? Infinite Jest
? Everything David Lynch does?
Obviously smart, weird things that exceed genres and discover the sincerity-on-the-other-side-of-irony have their niches, moments & waves of popularity. And metamodernity itself is often considered as a kind of open-ended art style. (Plus who doesn't love a James Hong movie... Big Trouble in Little China,
anyone?) But what can we learn from this cultural moment?
Does this Best Picture tell us anything about the bigger picture?
The question is not so much about what makes this film metamodern (see Greg Dember's article
for that) but rather about how the film clarifies the essence of this emerging cultural attitude and the forms of cognition and values that accompany it. If this film was your Bible, what would its message be?
Here's one take:We have to learn to live coherently within plurality.
Whether or not the multiverse turns out to be physically real (as many physicists actually assert) it nonetheless describes the nature of humanity within the condition of digital planetary civilization. We now find multitudes everywhere & alternatives within. Choice. Branching. Contrasting worldviews. Paradox. Contradiction. Diversity. A symphony of selves.
The fear is that this will trap us in a relativistic flatland without a way to organize our inner values or coordinate productively with the rest of our civilization. Yet we should remember that Einstein's so-called Relativity Theory was actually a theory of how to productively integrate
relative calculations into higher accuracies.
So let's have the metamodern confidence
to believe that the Sprawling Plurality is simply a kind of ecological niche in which we must (and can) adapt.
Our strategies, identities & virtues can be deepened, enriched and regenerated within the intercontextual manyness of the transcultural, multi-pathway reality. But we will have to enter that reality with our hearts open.
Jobu, the villain of the film, exhibits a classical nihilistic response to the plurality. She feels that nothing matters. The traditional and modern constraints that were formerly used to organize our sense of meaningfulness are lost into the between space of an expanding multiplicity. Yet what is the climax of the film? Not a reversal of this condition but, rather, a transformation of the significance of this open-ended in-between.
The great moment comes when the mother Evelyn non-naively embraces her monstrous daughter and heals the cosmos precisely BECAUSE nothing matters. The Buddhist saints of Emptiness do not return to the world in the mode of nihilistic destroyers. They return in the mode of loving-kindness
The metamodern does not reject or replace the structure of the postmodern/pluralistic insights -- but it does transfigure the significance of those insights... BONUS QUESTIONIf you've seen the film -- what do you think it means that, in order to access the power of our other/alternate selves, we need to do something odd, out of character or cognitively dissonant?