European School of Governance, position paper # 211219-1 by Adrian Wagner
Black Forest Metamodernism addresses the existential underneath of the traumata of modernity. It realises the red thread leading out of the meaning crises, out of the postmodern labyrinth. It explores the hidden connection of fear and care in Heidegger’s philosophy and the marriage of instrumental rationality and romanticism ultimately leading to the traumatisation of modernity. It follows the postmodern angst of the labyrinth, rejecting any red thread leading into irony and the contemporary meaning crisis. Yet, going deep, realising the existentiality of love as an existential choice provides an opening of transcendence dissolving the traumata not only of modernity.
The postmodern labyrinth
‘Post Post what?’
‘Pozt Poztmodern Angzt Dizorder. It iz quvite common. Ur zymptoms r quvite clazzic.’
‘What are you talking about, Doc?’
‘U r experienzink—or rather, continuouzly re-experienzink zhe Poztmodernizt Angzt ov zhe Labyrinth.’
(Postpostmodern Angst Disorder – Metamodernist Poetry, M. H. Frost)‘
Modernity betrayed us. It broke the promises of progress and lead straight into the culminating catastrophes of the Second World War and the Holocaust. And when that was over, we were left in the void, in a maze of a thousand questions. It is the postmodern labyrinth, an essentially posttraumatic response to modernity’s failure. It is a place where we have not overcome the modern condition and at the same time are trapped in the post-postmodern angst disorder not knowing what comes after it. It is a void that evokes a horror vacui, a fear of that very void.
To understand this struggle and the meaning crisis of the 20th century, we have to go to a dark place, literally the Black Forest. To dissolve the trauma of modernity, we have to start with the most controversial German, if not western, philosopher Martin Heidegger and the most important Jewish-Hungarian poet after Auschwitz Paul Celan. The silence between them, the absence of dialogue is our entry point into the void of the labyrinth. The work of Martin Heidegger can be seen as a bottleneck between modern and postmodern philosophy. His book ‘Being and Time’ defined the tone for many philosophical traditions afterwards. His influence can be traced in phenomenology, hermeneutics, existentialism, deconstructionism, or literary theory, all of which dominated the postmodern discourse. With the death of God and the death of traditional, metaphysical philosophy, Heidegger’s work is a crucial starting point of the postmodern age, conceived, radicalised, and written in his cottage in the Black Forest.
Heidegger’s existential phenomenology directly confronted the meaning crisis at the beginning of the 20th century. In Heidegger’s view, we are not beings with an essence. We are essentially beings with no essence on a continuous quest through questioning to live into being. For Heidegger the only certainty is death. We are thrown into the world – into Dasein– we are ‘being towards death’ in time. What do you care for? This is the question that defines your being in the world towards death. You have to choose how to spend your time to become aware of being. Otherwise, you fall into meaninglessness, your life framed by instrumental rationality. This is the existential threat of our limited existence. Heidegger reflects this threat in the German word Sorge. It translates into English as worry, anxiety or care.
The world, following Heidegger, is suffused with and built on fear. Care is built on fear. It is this realisation that marked a threshold of the meaning crises: No mythical, or metaphysical, or religious red thread can lead you out of the labyrinth.
The community of care
‘My azzociate, Herr Daedalus, zuccumbed to political prezzure und twizted reazon und zcience to deztructive purpozez. Zhis created zhe unbalanze und gave birth to zhe Minotaur.’
(Postpostmodern Angst Disorder: Metamodernist Poetry von M. H. Frost)
National socialism was a community of care. National socialism was in a certain way an ideology of Sorge. On one side of the coin ‘anxious’ of the other, the jew, the homosexual, and the impure. On the other side full of ‘care’ for its own people, the land, the community, the Volkskörper. The Nazi’s ultimate concern was to only care for the German race and its survival, constantly feeling the threat of defeat by (imagined) enemies. As pointed out by the metamodern Danish philosopher Hanzi Freinacht, national socialists embarked on a journey of care using progressive ideas, avant-garde art movements like Futurism, taking down social hierarchies, giving workers more rights, and minimum wages. Ultimately, they had an intimate understanding of how to generate mass positive feelings to unite a Volk behind one cause.
Heidegger joined the Nazi party in 1933, attempting to become a thought leader of the fascist regime. His participation has something fundamentally to do with his own philosophy. From the start, it was always more than a theory. Heidegger’s philosophy was an existentialist project of care (Sorge). Heidegger realised how through philosophy and metaphysics we have lost ourselves in the labyrinth. He dared to let go of those old attempts to find a way back. But on the other side could not handle the void, the horror vacui of the meaning crises, what we call the labyrinth. The existential threats and fears became the only thread there was for him at the peak of the meaning crisis in the last century.
Fear is a mind killer, don’t confuse it with strength, a strength the alt-right and fascist movements pretend to have. In Europe today 30 000 000 million people voted for Populist right-wing parties as the Austrian linguist Ruth Wodak pointed out in her book ‘The Politics of Fear‘. Too many confuse threat with a thread and navigate by fear. Again, fascism was and is an ‘ideology of care’ (and anxiety). It is ultimately integrated and driven by fear.
What filled the void of the labyrinth in 1933 was the unleashing of the beast in the labyrinth: The marriage of cold rationality and idealistic romanticism. This was giving the Nazi regime technological and scientific powers never seen before and a deep sense of meaning and community. While idealism in its origin was a brave attempt, and to some extent succeeded to challenge cold rationality, in the end, it led towards a spiritual bypass, a form of escapism, and a backwards-oriented ideology: an ‘absolutism of feeling’ and interior states over rationality. Neither the objective-external experience of empiricism as the only valid form of perception nor the subjective-inner romanticism proved a way out of the labyrinth. The minotaur was born and, as the Greek myth goes, the beast was hungry (not only) for young men.
The existentiality of love
‘Yez: zhiz vill not be eazy.
Zhe ztate ov dizcomvort zhat iz zhe Poztmodern Angzt can become zhe comvort.
Und u vace zhe pozzibility ov dizcoverink zhat u r not zhe Dheseus u zhought u vere,
und zhat zhe vactz r var more bloody und horrible zhen u know.’
(Postpostmodern Angst Disorder – Metamodernist Poetry, M. H. Frost)
To arrive at Black Forest Metamodernism, we need to understand this ontological frozenness of postmodernity. After Auschwitz, the Algerian-born French philosopher Jacque Derrida, one of the most influential figures of postmodern philosophy, finally ushered in a new way of being in the labyrinth. Rather than working to find a red thread, he deconstructed the idea of it. Where Heidegger demands a decision, confusing thread with threat, Derrida sticks with what is in-between being and ‘beings. Heidegger’s difference of being and beings evolved into Derrida’s ironic différance. While Heidegger demands a decision towards being through facing your anxiety and looming death, Derrida stays in the no-man’s land, precisely in-différant. It is the birthplace of postmodern irony. The sincerity of the fundamental existential decision is postponed – the discomfort of modern angst becomes the postmodern place of comfort.
As Black Forest Metamodernism we assume another possibility: One that takes courage, the ability to see through the distortion of fear or distress and to act accordingly. It is the courage to let yourself fall into love. It is in a way a decision for love as formulated by the Jewish scholar and philosopher Michael Chighel in his commentary on Heidegger. The root of it is a non-cosmic vertical alignment, the ability to enter through existentialism not with Sorge but with love as a structurally transcending force. The only real one there is. As outlined by the Austrian Jewish and Israeli philosopher Martin Buber in his Hebrew humanism, it is not built on mythopoetic metaphysics but the I-Thou relationship inherent in the experience of human beings. Where Heidegger moves into the isolation of being to find some form of freedom, the decision we take is to realise the love inherent in nothingness itself. The void that Heidegger and postmodern thinkers opened gives way to the existentiality of love as a new option and red thread in the labyrinth.
The existential underneath
‘How can that thread help me now? I’ve long since lost that thread.’
‚Und zhat iz zhe problem. Ve muzt re-dizcover zhat dhread!‘
(Postpostmodern Angst Disorder – Metamodernist Poetry, M. H. Frost)
The decision of love today is not easy. Our collective traumatised memories come more and more painful to the surface. We collectively have to numb this pain, to dissociate from it in one form or the other. Trauma is not the enemy, on the contrary, the trauma patterns helped us to survive collectively. Unfortunately, today collective trauma memories stand in the way. And yet they might be the best teachers to enter the existentiality of love to ground metamodernism in being.
Paul Celan’s poetry here was and still is an entry point, a practice of a certain sensibility. He was able to give language to the atrocities in a way that made poetry after Auschwitz possible again. A core quality of his art, as well as good art in general, is to stay with the numbness and absence of the collective until it moves creatively into a cultural artefact, enabling resonance with the frozenness inside of us, sometimes violently breaking or gently melting the ice around our minds and hearts. He was not interested in transcending but to become a lighting root of the pain through his particular art form. To stay with the absence, to presence the absence is key. Today we need to sense what is missing between the trauma of modernity and post(traumatic)modernism.
For Black Forest Metamodernism this is as much an artistic practice and process as it is a contribution to metamodern philosophy. To oscillate between presence and absence, to become aware of the traumatised collective memories we embody might give each one of us a new piece of the red thread. Polyvagal theory gives us today powerful insight into the importance of embodied love. Our nervous system is grown through co-regulation. Interpersonal neurobiology shows us that we are not only living in relationships but are defined by relationships even biologically. We are wired to have beautiful relationships with ourselves, others, and life itself. With love, beautification can be found even in the trauma of the meaning crises. Love is a structurally transcending force. It dissolves what comes into its way.
After all, it was the lover of Theseus in the minotaur myth that gave him the red thread. We cannot find this thread alone; it grows from one heart to another heart. Black Forest Metamodernism is therefore not the cultural in-between, the political after, or the mystical beyond. Black Forest Metamodernism addresses the existential underneath. It makes the invisible visible. To dissolve the trauma of modernity means to ground, compost, and heal the post-postmodern angst disorder together collectively. In the end, Black Forest Metamodernism is about realising the existentiality of love.