Raoul Eshelman on Performatism, the Transcendence of Postmodernism.

A definition of Performatism: 

Performatism is explicitly historical, in the sense that it treats the transition from postmodernism to post-postmodernism as an epochal change, as from Baroque to Classicism or from Romanticism to Realism.  Although starting with clear-cut oppositions, the epochal approach recognizes that there is also a great deal of transitional overlap.  Sometimes, elements of both systems coexist uneasily in new works, and the new system usually begins by reworking elements of the old one.

For example, as in postmodernism, the performatist double frame assumes that experience is constructed and not authentic or direct.  Unlike postmodernism, however, performatism uses that constructedness to achieve unified forms of experience that are absolutely alien to postmodernism (the most important involve experiences of love, belief, beauty, and transcendence).  In other words, performatist works start off with a certain norm of postmodernism (that all experience is constructed) and use it for an entirely different end and in a way that is taboo in postmodernism.  You could say, I suppose, that performatism is still “dependent” on postmodernism or “filiated” with it, but this is formal hairsplitting: the values it conveys and the effects it produces are the opposite of the ones in postmodernism.

Also, performatism is not a return to or a repetition of modernism, which is fixated on unmediated experience, innovation, and authenticity.  The driving cause behind the rise of performatism is boredom with postmodernism and not any particular political, economic, social, or media-driven source. Performatism starts, roughly speaking, in the mid 1990s.


Performatism opts for order and hierarchy (and hence gives the new epoch a neoclassical spin), whereas metamodernism “oscillates” freely like a Romanticism.


Post-postmodernism is neither a total break with postmodernism nor its miraculous extension, but rather refunctionalizes the postmodern strategy of constructing reality by aiming it at (at least) three specific goals which are unthinkable in postmodernism: 1) creating positive dyadic relations between humans, 2) suppressing endless postmodern irony through a skeptical, but basically optimistic mindset, and 3) opening up a window of transcendence that holds forth some form of hope (or, if we want to be theologically more cautious, of creating fictive, imaginary horizons that renew us ethically and psychologically).

Individuality is socially constructed, but not deterministic; moral agency is real:

Language use in post-postmodern novels is “a function of relationships between persons” and not deterministic, as in postmodernism; here Timmer cites DFW who is citing Wittgenstein.

The aesthetics of Metamodernism: 

Robin van den Akker & Timotheus Vermeulen: “Metamodernism oscillates between the modern and the postmodern.  It oscillates between a modern enthusiasm and a postmodern irony, between hope and melancholy, between naiveté and knowingness, empathy and apathy, unity and plurality, totality and fragmentation, purity and ambiguity.

The metamodern is constituted by the tension, no, the double-bind, of a modern desire for sens and a postmodern doubt about the sense of it all” (Notes on Metamodernism).

This oscillation is “not a balance”; rather “it is a pendulum swinging between 2, 3, 5, 10, innumerable poles.  Each time the metamodern enthusiasm swings toward fanaticism, gravity pulls it back toward irony; the moment its irony sways toward apathy, gravity pulls it back toward enthusiasm.


History, it seems, is moving rapidly beyond its all too hastily proclaimed end.”


Metamodernism is also said to have a historical horizon that reaches beyond postmodernism.  Vermeulen and van den Akker use the term metaxis to describe this, which they define as “impossibly, at once a place that is not a place, a territory without boundaries, a position without parameters” and as being “here, there, and nowhere.”

Postmodern subject determined by existent discourse: 

I think we can agree that postmodern subjects are determined almost entirely by public discourse that is exterior to them.  Moreover, postmodernism reacts with ironic skepticism to the modernist notion of a private sphere that allows us to experience reality in some special, authentic way.

Sincerity and interiority: 

Den Dulk says that he “regards sincerity as the attitude or virtue of wanting to form a stable self in the world” and that “sincerity is the desire to show yourself in the public domain ‘as yourself’.”  According to den Dulk, whether this sincerity succeeds or not depends on whether the subject interacts successfully with that public domain.


Showing yourself ‘as yourself’ has to appear in quotes because it’s a secondary representation of something that is hidden inside you and that only you know.  But, how do we know that what you are showing us is “sincere”?  As long as a subject can reflect consciously on its own inner, privately accessible state, it can always dissemble.  Secondly, the subject’s ability to achieve sincerity depends on a context that is itself not intrinsically sincere; the potential for corruption is virtually unlimited.

The double frame: 

I don’t use the concept of sincerity at all in my performatist approach.  The crucial concept in performatism is instead that of separation or, more precisely, double separation.


In performatism, separation returns as a literary or narrative device, but in a different way than Levinas conceived it.  The performatist subject is doubly separated, in the sense that it is not only closed off from the public domain as such but also from the discourse that allows the Levinasian subject to break out of its egoistic interiority.

The main distinguishing feature of the performatist separated subject is in fact that it is opaque or inaccessible to us through discourse.  As in Levinas, it is a way of being that is formally separated from totality.  However, unlike Levinas’s notion of self, it does not have any negative transcendental attributes like hedonism or atheism.  On the contrary, the attributes ascribed to it tend as a rule to be positive or worthy of imitation (they serve as a focal point for identification with a character), and they tend to be blocked off from discursive communication or interpretation.

In short, we are presented with subjects that appear to others as they are, as bio-social unities outside of discourse that present themselves to the outside world directly.  By definition, we cannot judge such subjects as sincere or insincere simply because the narrative texts in which they are embedded radically block our access to the workings of their interior life.  In any event, the tables are now turned: instead of outside discourse drawing the separated subject outside of itself into the public domain, it is now the separated self that challenges the public context to focus on its own interiority.

This kind of doubly separated subjectivity is not an end in itself.  This is because radically separated subjects are usually subject to a severe quid pro quo resulting from their special, separate status.  While they do indeed enjoy a privileged kind of privacy and interiority they are usually unable to function effectively in the public domain precisely because of that separation.  Hence, the seemingly impossible task of bridging the gap between public and private without corrupting the positive interior qualities that these characters usually possess.  The bridging of this gap, which requires an event or an act of transcendence, takes place nonetheless in performatist narratives and is crucial to separating post-postmodernism from the postmodern.

Full texts: http://www.performatism.de/Blog

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