Metamodernism and Andy Mister’s Liner Notes (Station Hill, 2013)
This is a brief excerpt:
In a sequence of approximately 150 brief, carefully plotted paragraphs which alternate between poetic memoir and non-fictional re-reportage, Mister chronicles what he calls “a catalogue of […] mistakes”: the terse retellings of tragic deaths (often by overdose or intentional or accidental suicide) of figures in the music world, such as Nick Drake, Ian Curtis, and Elliott Smith, as well as personal anecdotes that describe unfavorable situations of varying degrees of severity (“Riding my bike home drunk from a party, I wake up in the emergency room.”)
Liner Notes critiques celebrity idolatry and scrutinizes the mythologized and alluring mystique of — to cite [the gallerist Louis K.] Meisel’s terms — the “troubled and dissolute” lifestyle of the artist/musician. It records what happens once the singing stops, once the collective energy of the audience dissipates into loneliness. “Loneliness isn’t something you feel,” Mister writes, “It’s what you are.”
Liner Notes has been well received by poet/critics of my generation–and rightfully so. Noah Eli Gordon said, “reading this book that’s so informed by loneliness made me feel so much less alone. Hell, it made me feel. That means something.” And according to Jordan Davis, “Andy Mister’s book is an order of magnitude more enjoyable than most recent books filed under poetry.” I–by and large–agree with these reactions and assessments.
Seth Abramson’s review-essay in the Huffington Post, “On Literary Metamodernism” (July 2013), however, had me raising my eyebrow. According to Abramson, Liner Notes is “one manifestation of metamodernism.” While I appreciate Abramson’s sweeping ambition and willingness to account for our complex contemporary moment as well as his enthusiasm for Mister’s text, I found his review-essay to be extremely under-historicized. There is no indication of how Liner Notes is in dialogue with modernism, and indeed, no substantial discussion of modernism in Abramson’s piece.
By contrast, David James and Urmila Seshagiri’s article “Metamodernism: Narratives of Continuity and Revolution” from last month’s issue of PMLA uses the term in a much clearer and useful way in terms of literary history: “Metamodernism regards modernism as an era, an aesthetic, and an archive that originated in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.” In discussing writers such as Tom McCarthy, James and Seshagiri argue that “metamodernist writing incorporates and adapts, reactivates and complicates the aesthetic prerogatives of an earlier cultural moment.” They focus on twenty-first century fiction but I do think there is good work to be done on twenty-first century metamodernist poetry (I’m thinking of a book such as Kristin Prevallet’s Everywhere Here and in Brooklyn (A Four Quartets) (2012), which rewrites T.S. Eliot).
To return to Abramson, I can’t agree that Liner Notes is metamodernist. If anything–because of its proximity to nonfiction, because its insistent use of reportage–it’s metarealist.
~ by Michael Leong on February 3, 2014.