Essay

What Comes Next: The World After Postmodernism

By: Adam Wan

Postmodernism—a cultural, philosophical, artistic, literary, and architectural movement that emerged in the latter half of the twentieth century, and twenty or so years into the twenty-first century, the movement has laid down the very foundation of contemporary society, influencing contemporary thought, fiction, philosophies, cultures, and even popular culture. People can see this on modern television, movies, video games, and even the way we speak and think about our lives, including the political and the personal. Breaking the fourth wall, metafiction, self-awareness, irony, intertextuality: they can all be seen in the world around us, the easiest example being the memes posted on the internet every day. Series like Stranger Things utilize these too, and even video games like There is No Game, or movies like Deadpool. No matter where we look, Postmodernism had somehow laid its mark onto the fabric of our contemporary reality, leaving a profound impact on the world since the end of the Second World War which devastated and shook the very core of human society, affecting billions around the globe.

The society and the world we have now is the product of several generations of thought, several generations of movements, from the Renaissance period, to Romanticism, to Realism, the period of Enlightenment, Modernism, and finally Postmodernism. Human thought has evolved over long periods of time, ever since the beginning; from drawing onto cave-walls, to sending texts to someone from the other side of the global, or maybe even a silly sticker or emoji; from Essentialism to Existentialism, from animism to monotheism and atheism. We’ve come a long way, and we’ve carried almost every one of our past ideas with us into the present, changing, learning, rejecting, accepting, believing, and, forevermore, reaching further ahead. Tragedy has shaped humanity again and again, from the Plague to the World Wars. And so has our mistakes, which continue to haunt us to this very day, from slavery to genocide to every war humanity has ever fought and all the blood that has ever been spilt. The number of people have increased to the billions, the literacy rate had risen as well, and so has the complexity of human technology from sticks and stones to mobile phones. Our medical equipment and expertise have evolved far as well, and through the internet we may be more connected than ever. But then came Covid-19.

Throughout the past few decades, Postmodernism has faced several critiques and has been criticized over and over again for the tenets and ideologies behind it including its rejection of universal truth and that any truth is merely relative. David Foster Wallace himself has talked about Postmodernism in his the essay E Unibus Pluram and urged literary authors to progress beyond irony and metafiction, stating that, though entertaining and effective, these elements are the agents of great despair and stasis in American culture; and, from my perspective, literary culture in general. He urged for something new, what he called “New Sincerity,” for writers to rebel against the ideas that have kept society in stagnation and push forward in bravery, without the fear of being ridiculed, the ideas of sincerity and connection, even at the risk of being judged as sentimental, soft, and sappy. Postmodernism has again and again shown that humans are flawed, hammering the idea in countless times over and over, and has dealt with the existential crisis people often confront in the face of an absurd, meaningless world and how absurd, or ironic, that search for meaning is. But I think it’s time to move away from that. Yes, we now fully acknowledge our flaws, but that doesn’t mean we should try redeem ourselves; it’s time to connect, to be sincere again, to open ourselves up for judgment which may well be the very thing people fear now. It’s the very reason why people use irony in every day speech too; we are afraid of openly saying what we feel, we are afraid of being ridiculed and judged. And that’s pulling us even further apart, and I think the Covid-19 pandemic has shown that.

So, the question is, what’s next? What’s next after Postmodernism? I’m not trying to propose a something big here; I’m not trying to touch on large topics and cast as big a range Postmodernism has in a single essay. I’m only proposing a single thing—sincerity. Throughout my time as a writer, I’ve come to realize that Postmodernism, though important in the shaping of our current society, is no longer compatible with everyone, not anymore. Many of us are tired of the irony, of the cynical, and we want to feel a sense of true human connection again; and ever since the pandemic, this couldn’t be any more true. The pandemic has not only torn us apart, but it has exposed the deep chasms that have formed between us without our knowledge. Large divides separate us, and yet we continue to hide behind the mask in fear of showing our true selves, of forging closer bonds and connections. Postmodernists may call this wanting of ours absurdist, but this isn’t something to find irony in anymore. Emotions aren’t a joke, and Postmodernism has strayed us away from becoming closer. Postmodernism has steered away from emotion, it’s too sincere.

I’m not saying we should abandon the idea of breaking narrative convention, I’m not saying we should return to the conventions of the past and create more conventional stories. I’m not saying we should stop creating wild stories or that we should only write certain types of them. No, I’m not saying that at all. What I am saying, however, is that we should start being honest again, being sincere again. I’m only proposing one thing, and that is the opening of our hearts and the sharing of our feelings. The books we write should be a connection between our hearts and the reader’s again. At least, that’s how I feel. We’ve become so far apart, so disconnected, surrounded but still so alone, yearning for earnest connections with others in spite of everything the world throws at us. We shouldn’t care about being called high or low art, high or low culture—because they’re all human. Pornography is human, and so is intimacy. Embrace popular culture, as they’re all a part of what it means to live. Ed Sheeran’s Beautiful People, video games like The Last of Us or That Dragon, Cancer—whether they’re high art or low, if certain things from popular culture mean something to you, they do. So in writing, we shouldn’t fear any longer of how people think or judge us, if we’re too sentimental or too soft, or if our human wants are ‘absurd,’ we’re all human, and we want to feel connection too. Overthinking has the capacity to make everything superficial. And that’s all philosophy is sometimes, overthinking. And intimacy shouldn’t be one of them.

I don’t consider myself a Modernist, or a Postmodernist. I consider myself the next step forward; me, and the generation stepping forward with me. We may not have a name yet, but that’s no matter. It’s time to step forward.

Categories: Essay, Literary criticism

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