1. Cher Potter talks to Timotheus Vermeulen

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    About two or three years ago, I was interviewed by Cher Potter for Tank Magazine. The interview used to be online on Tank’s website, but since it no longer is, I thought it might be nice to republish it here. There are 10 questions and answers in all - the interview continues after the break.

    1 MM is a declaration of independence from Postmodernism - but rather than a punked out two fingers, it’s a sorry-we’ve-grown-apart. As a way of explaining MM, what does the necessary transition tell us about our generation?


    I would say that it tells us that twenty-somethings have come to the realization that the critical and creative vernacular with which their parents tried to intimate and influence what was going on around them is no longer sufficient to capture, let alone change, their experience of the world today: a world in all sorts of geopolitical, economic, ecological turmoil, where ‘left’ and ‘right’ are suddenly actual categories again, where jobs are scarce, and where melting icebergs are no longer a projection but a reality. Today’s students have learned all about postmodernism, they understand its critical value, but they find it difficult to relate to it. Politics doesn’t end with Lyotard, art doesn’t stop with Derrida. Jeff Koons’ critique of consumerism, Brett Easton Ellis’ interrogation of mediation, Todd Solondz’s play with white, middle class suburbia; they suddenly seem anachronistic, out of place in the frustrated, contorted face of capitalism 4.0, populism and so forth. Self-indulgent is another phrase that comes to mind. What a lot of people long for, I think, is not only to deconstruct the vernacular of their parents, but also to reconstruct an idiom that enables them to put into words alternate relationships. It is important to understand here that the language they reconstruct is not a new language, but a language that signifies anew. It is a language where grand narratives are as necessary as they are problematic, hope is not simply something to distrust, love not necessarily something to be ridiculed. The metamodern generation re-appropriates the language of postmodernism in order to conceive of almost modern ideals, oscillating between a postmodern doubt about the sense of it all, and a modern desire for sens: for meaning, for direction.

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  2. I did an interview with the brilliant philosopher Rosi Braidotti for Frieze. We talked nomadism, materialism and speculative realism. You can read it - after registering - here. Excerpt below:

    What is important to understand is that the nomadic is a navigational tool, not a concept. It is intended as a way of navigating the conditions of the present, of advanced capitalism. I always say that there are three components to it: the analytical, the normative, and what I call the programmatic or utopian. The analytical part consists of a critical cartography. It tries to map what it means to live at this particular moment in time. These parameters of advanced capitalism can be characterized best, simply put, as those of displacement and mobility. We are all displaced, we are all mobile. Some of this displacement and mobility may be experienced positively, such as through Skyping and Erasmus exchanges. But much of it is disruptive. Just think of the uprootedness and homelessness many refugees and migrants have to endure; or think of the banality of commuting. 

    I take the nomadic to be normative in so far as it describes, or should describe, an ethics. The cartography of an earlier stage of capitalism could be drawn up along the lines of dualities: self and other, master and slave, culture and nature. Hegel and Marx therefore developed a normative and increasingly a programmatic ethics of dialectics, an ethics premised on the principle of duality, of the two, the binary, thesis and antithesis. We have now moved from the dualistic system they describe, however, to a monistic one. One that is continuous and coterminous with itself. We must accept that capitalism will not break. It may bend, but it will not break. As Deleuze and Guattari pointed out, it is flexible, capitalism is able to adapt to any given state formation, to Dutch social democracy as easily as to Chinese authoritarianism. This does not mean that we cannot fight capitalism, but rather that we need to adopt adequate techniques to do so. The perverse political economy of controlled mobility and opportunism calls for new analytical tools. If we want to navigate, let alone manipulate this system, we therefore need to change our ethics, fight negativity with affirmation, inertia with creativity. The result is a subject that is multiple and becoming, constantly in flux. Just as the dialectical subject was the subject thought fit to overturn a dualist system, the multiple, processual one is the one able to pervert the flexible system.

    Let me be clear here: I do not wish to suggest that we should accept capitalism. Contrary to what some old neo-Leninists have suggested, nomadic politics is no defeatism. I see it as working from within the belly of the beast, opening up spaces of alternative. I am of this world; there is no other. So I cannot just wait for another kind of future to arrive. If the analytic allows us to identify our own belonging in the very structure that we’re trying to undo, the normative tells us that with humility, acumen and a little bit of help from your friends we can go about reterritorialising it.

     

  3. Some time ago the artist Diango Hernandez asked me whether I wanted to contribute to a catalogue he was publishing in cooperation with the Landesmuseum Linz, Austria, and Distanz Verlag. The delicately designed catalogue has recently been published and is on sale here. Diango also just made my text available here. Please scroll down to see pictures of some of the very special works included. Below, as always, is a small excerpt from the text. It is the penultimate paragraph of a piece that talks, amongst others, of Don Quixote, Michel Foucault, fruit, encrypted maps, and Czech borders. It addresses the culture of the gym.

    Imagine a society which values physical strength as a sign of moral virtuousness—this shouldn’t be too difficult. In this scenario, members of a gym perform ideology. After all, they are all training their muscles. At the same time, however, congregating in gyms may put in motion subplots that run against ideology, or parallel, or divert: perhaps the performances make people aggressive, perhaps sweat induces hunger, perhaps weightlifting causes deafness, etc. The moment you perform ideology, you are simultaneously performing numerous other possible relationships as well. Each being, human or non-human, organic or synthetic, alive or dead, is immersed in a wide variety of relations, each of which activates another face and function, presupposing another ontological status. As philosopher Graham Harman has noted, cotton bears a significantly different relationship to us humans than it has to fire, or water, or insects. The thought experiment Hernández has initiated here, one that I have tried to develop further here, is to think of what nature produced by ideology performs other than that ideology. He sets out on a journey to discover all the subplots that have been activated that run against or parallel to or divert from ideology—all the subplots, that is, that unexpectedly and effectively express agency.

    Image: Diango Hernandez, Socialist Nature. Installation view.

     

  4. On September 25th, 2014 The Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam organises a symposium on Metamodernism. Speakers include Francis Fukuyama, Nina Power, Adam Thirlwell, Sarah Rifky, Birgitta Jonsdottir, Jorg Heiser, Michel Bauwens, Camille de Toledo and many, many others. I have pasted the description below. You can register by sending an email to reservations@stedelijk.nl. Do come!

    The Stedelijk Museum’s Public Program is proud to present  Metamodernism: The Return of History. Structured as a marathon (from 11:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m.), this large-scale symposium invites such internationally renowned speakers as Francis Fukuyama, Camille de Toledo, Nina Power, Michel Bauwens, and Adam Thirlwell to reflect on the discourse of a generation: from the historical fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, moments of global (financial and/or political) crisis in 2008 and 2011, to the present moment we collectively call contemporary.  Looking at the turn of events, what precisely constitutes a historical moment and/or rupture? What defines this generation that was born in the 1980s? The symposium draws on the concept of metamodernism, which seeks to galvanize the questions, experiences, and anxieties of a generation born in the 1980s. But what is this metamodern state of mind precisely? As the speakers inside the Stedelijk debate these questions and more, actor Shia LaBeouf will embark upon an actual (#meta)marathon around the perimeter of the museum.

    SYMPOSIUM OUTLINE

    In 1989, social theorist Francis Fukuyama published an influential article in the National Interest titled “The End of History?” In the article he anticipated the fall of the Berlin Wall and that with subsequent demise of the Soviet Union, History with a capital “H”—the narration of humanity’s sociocultural evolutionary process—had ended. The battle had been fought and the only one left standing was liberal democracy. Some twenty years later, in 2012, Fukuyama wrote another article on the subject of History. Published, tellingly, in Foreign Affairs, it was entitled “The Future of History.” Here, Fukuyama wrote that heralding the end of History may have been, in retrospect, slightly premature. 

    According to Fukuyama’s 2012 essay, the alleged victory of liberal democracy was a tenuous one. Liberal democratic governments all over the world have increasingly failed to deliver on their promises: most national economies have not proliferated but have stagnated or undergone recessions; political extremism is on the rise; the middle classes, the traditional stronghold of democracy, are shrinking; and the recent Twitter lawsuits, WikiLeaks, and the Snowden files have problematized 20th century notions of freedom of speech. In addition, new governance models have been revealed: China’s state regulated market system, Russia’s crony capitalism, Brazil and India as rapidly developing economies where the idea of democracy is established and nominally enacted. Meanwhile, global warming is causing increasing concern, as is the politically more suspect issue of overpopulation. In other words, there are plenty of “big questions” left to answer. History may have, to use John Arquilla’s apt expression, “bended,” but it has certainly not come to a halt. It is, as it has always been, ongoing.

    Fukuyama’s proclamation of the “End of History” and the many notions that emerged in close relation to this moment – the end of ideology, the end of the grand narratives, the end of Art, the end of the subject, of the real, of truth – are often associated with postmodernism. Now that History has returned and many of the postmodern discourses on society, culture, and the arts feel increasingly outdated, cultural theorists Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker have proposed abandoning this term for another: metamodernism. In light of recent socio-economic changes and contemporary forms of artistic production – such as the New Engagement in the arts and the New Aesthetic in design, the New Sincerity in literature and the New Weird in music, Quirky Cinema and Quality Television – they theorize metamodernism as a structure of feeling that emerged around the turn of the millennium. For them, the 2000s – seen as a historical period rather than a temporal decade (and ranging from the late 1990s to 2011) – served as a passage from late capitalism to a fourth and global stage of capitalism and from a postmodern cultural logic to a metamodern one. 

    In response to these developments, Metamodernism  seeks to map the consequences of the end and the return of History for the generation that came of age in the meantime, particularly as seen through the lens of the arts. Promised a life of peace and plenty, of consensus and comfort, the generations born in the 1980s and 1990s are now confronted with an increasingly uncertain existence. Confident and confused, assertive and anxious, isolated and connected, pampered and poor, they try to come to terms with this rather unforeseen reality and the not-so-foreseeable future. To what extent was 9/11 a Historical Event? How does nationalism relate to Utopian desires? How did the financial crisis influence the arts? What effects did Web 2.0 have on narrative? And what about P2P and the Grand Narrative?

    Structured in four clusters – referencing the years 1989, 2001, 2008, 2011 –  Metamodernism seeks to draw a cognitive map of our present in order to grasp the changing contours of our everyday lives. The symposium kicks off with a keynote lecture by Frances Fukuyama in which he will reflect on the events since 1989 that have led him and others to reconsider the relation between History and our times. Then, three panels, each focusing on 2001, 2008, or 2011, reflect on the developments that have shaped the 2000s and continue to shape the 21st century.

    Meanwhile, Shia LaBeouf will create a work of performance art in the spirit of metamodernism, in collaboration with Luke Turner and Nastja Säde Rönkkö.

    PROGRAM

    The full program of the symposium Metamodernism will be announced shortly.

    Speakers:

    1989 – NOW: Keynote lecture by Francis Fukuyama (Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Stanford University, California).

    2001: Speakers include: Camille de Toledo (writer and artist, Paris) and Jonas Staal (artist and writer, Amsterdam).

    2008: Speakers include: Nina Power (senior lecturer in philosophy, University of Roehampton, London), Ewald Engelen (professor of financial geography, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam), and Zihni Ozdil (historian)

    2011: Speakers include: Adam Thirlwell (writer, London), Sarah Rifky (curator at Beirut, Cairo), Birgitta Jónsdóttir (activist, politician, and writer, Reykjavik), and Michel Bauwens (cyber-philosopher and founder of P2P Foundation, Bangkok).

    SUPPORT AND SPONSORS

    Erasmus University College Rotterdam ‑ Liberal Arts & Sciences 

    Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen - Algemene Cultuurwetenschappen, Faculteit der Letteren

    The John Adams Institute, Amsterdam

    Atlas Contact Publishers

    - See more at: http://www.stedelijk.nl/en/calendar/symposia/metamodernism-marathon-the-return-of-history#sthash.ULmYfmn7.dpuf

     

  5. The Journalism, Creative Writing and English Literature postgraduate students at the University of Strathclyde are organising a research symposium uniting emerging work in the arts and humanities to explore the concept of metamodernism. This event is open to PGR and ECR scholars working in any area of the arts, humanities, information sciences or social sciences. The full description can be found here.

     

  6. Some months ago I wrote a short essay for Frieze documenting some of the most despicable and unsuccessful politicians currently on TV. You can read the essay in full here. I have copy-pasted a teaser below.

    It seems no one takes representative democracy seriously any more. Elected politicians are seen either as unscrupulous, opportunist cheats or as ignorant imbeciles, while parliaments are taken to be lobbyists’ whorehouses. This dissatisfaction is particularly visible in a spate of current television dramas, where the worst human beings make the most successful politicians, idealism is a bad career move, and nothing ever gets done that will change the electorate’s life for the better. With the recent return of HBO’s political satire Veep (2012–ongoing) to the small screen for a fourth season, it seems a pertinent moment to take a look at some of the most odious political characters on TV today.

    Few small-screen politicians are, or have ever been, as cynical and self-serving as Frank Underwood in House of Cards (2013–ongoing), a contemporary American reimagining of the 1990 BBC series set at the end of the Thatcher era. Underwood – played by Kevin Spacey – murders his opponents, manipulates and undermines his colleagues and friends, and plans political manoeuvres exclusively for his own advancement. In one particularly painful scene, he sacrifices a friendship of over 20 years (his only true friendship, in fact) to save his political career. Most appallingly, Underwood’s tactics pay off: over the course of two seasons he crosses the road from the House of Representatives to the White House and into the Oval Office. House of Cards presents politics as a game that is won by the most cunning politician. The worst hand of cards you can be dealt includes idealism, empathy and moral principles.

     

  7. STURTEVANT, Finite/Infinite, 2010
, Vierkanal-Videoinstallation / 4-channel video installation 9'42", Farbe, ohne Ton / color, no sound, Dimensionen variable 
/ dimensions variable
Foto /photo: Simon Vogel

    A few weeks ago I discussed Elaine Sturtevant’s impressive solo exhibition at Julia Stoschek for Artblog Cologne. Below is a brief excerpt. You can read the full review here.

    In Finite-Infinite (2012), an impressive and moving nine second video-loop of a dog running from left to right across three panels, Sturtevant makes manifest becoming itself. Since she does not show the dog’s trajectory but only films the animal mid-run, the video registers as a visualization of pure movement. Indeed, as if to emphasize the extent to which each of the dog’s steps is merely the actualization of a multitude of possible steps, the projection falters every other second, dropping the dog back a few inches, forcing it to take the step, perhaps another step, again.

     

  8. Scenes from the Suburbs

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    My latest book Scenes from the Suburbs: The Suburb in Contemporary US Film and Television was published by Edinburgh University Press in 2014. You can order it online here.

    Below is an excerpt:

    As America moves to the suburbs, the motion pictures move with it. In the past two decades there have been more films and television programmes set in suburbia than ever before. Films such as American Beauty (Mendes, 1999), Far From Heaven (Haynes, 2002), Brick (Johnson, 2005), Juno (Reitmann, 2007), and Lakeview Terrace (Labute, 2008), and television shows like Arrested Development (FOX, 2003-2006), Desperate Housewives (ABC, 2004-2012), Weeds (Showtime, 2005-present), and Modern Family (ABC, 2009-present) have won commercial as well as critical acclaim, drawing large audiences to the cinema or the couch, picking up nominations for Oscars and Sundance Awards, Emmys and Golden Globes, and almost without exception receiving glowing reviews. ‘There is’, as the social theorists Douglas Muzzio and Thomas Halper have remarked, ‘nothing odd about this. With most Americans living in suburbs by the mid-1990s – and many more hoping to – preoccupation with suburbia is natural.’[i] Indeed, the only thing that is odd, is that the artistic fascination for suburbs has so far appeared to have gone by media scholars and film critics unnoticed. To date, only a bucketful of books, articles, and reviews have been published that discuss suburban narratives; only a very small percentage of which exclusively concentrates on film and/or television moreover.[ii] ‘In the still-developing history of the postwar United States,’ the historians Kevin Kruse and Thomas J. Sugrue point out, ‘suburbs belong at center stage.’[iii] But they rarely do. This book is concerned with redressing this injustice by looking at the representation of suburbs in late twentieth and early twenty-first film and television across a variety of genres and contexts.

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  9. "Don’t be fooled by the way capitalism co-opts art. It pretends to do it for money, but underneath money is terror. Terror that there might be a different way to live. There is a different way, and it’s not a William Morris utopia, or an Omega workshop niche; it’s a celebration of the human spirit. Art reminds us of all the possibilities we are persuaded to forget. Peace or war, we need those alternatives."
    — Jeanette Winterson, ‘What is art for?’, The Guardian.
     

  10. I reviewed Ilse D’Hollander’s solo exhibition at Konrad Fischer for Texte Zur Kunst. The essay is not online, unfortunately, but you can order it here.

    After her death, D’Hollander’s paintings were stored away for years. The Flemish collector in possession of her oeuvre, a close friend of the artist deeply saddened by her passing, could for some time not bear the idea of sharing the collection with the world. Writing on the artist is therefore sparse. Of the critics who have written on D’Hollander, many have compared her paintings to the work of her compatriot Raoul de Keyser. Certainly, De Keyser unmistakably had an influence on D’Hollander. Like him D’Hollander uses abstraction to evoke a sensation of invisible figuration. Her work does not represent anything or anyone in particular; but it often, through elongated brush strokes or fields of color, intimates forms, gestures and movements we may very well associate with a multiplicity of situations – what Deleuze calls, writing about Bacon, the diagram. What sets D’Hollander’s paintings apart, however, what puts them into a universe of their own is their cautiousness. These paintings give the impression that every line drawn, every color used, was followed by hours if not days of contemplation, of doubting and internally discussing their position, application and function, not merely in terms of materiality but in terms of the world they create. The artist sets out to create a harmony that she understands she cannot create.