Initial reflections on a ‘Metamodern’ Flaneur

Text: Bill Psarras © 2015

Tendencies: The Modern and the Postmodern

Across cities, architecture, philosophy, arts, literature, politics, culture and economics; their approach has been part of wider theoretical frameworks – tendencies – what it is known as modernism and postmodernism. Modernism (19th-20th century) has been concerned with Reason, Science and the objective knowledge – the one universal truth – and in this way the Self is existent, coherent and independent of socio-cultural factors. On the other hand, Postmodernism was a reaction to Modernism and it aimed to challenge modernist views. For Postmodernism, Reason and Science are ideological – constructed by man. The universal and true feeling is not apparent on Postmodernism, as every truth exists within cultures. For Postmodernism, there is ‘no eternal truths, no universal human experience, no universal human rights, overriding narrative of human progress‘ (Faigley, 1992: 8). The postmodern way of thinking has been characterized by deconstruction, irony, subjectivism and relativism as the Modern “one” and “true” is always under suspicious lenses.

Acknowledging the oscillating: Towards Metamodernism

During 2008-2009, two young cultural theorists from Netherlands; Dr. Timotheus Vermeulen and Dr. Robin van den Akker proposed the term ‘metamodernism’, of which an influential paper entitled ‘Notes on Metamodernism‘ (2009) was published in the Journal of Aesthetics and Culture. The discourse on what’s next or what follows the Postmodern has been endless at least the last 10-15 years. Yet, what is the reason for discussing Metamodernism?  Metamodernism is the concept of the early 21st century which refers to the post-Postmodern era.  The prefix ‘meta’ stands for metaxy (Greek: μεταξύ) to describe the oscillation of things. Therefore, as Vermeulen and Van den Akker note, ‘the metamodernism oscillates, swings back and forth, between the global and the local, between the concept and material, between postmodern irony and a renewed modern enthusiasm. It yearns for a truth – but – it knows it may never find, it strives for sincerity without lacking humour – it engages precisely by embracing doubt‘ (Discussing Metamodernism exhibition text, online, 2012). To understand perhaps metamodernism, one should think of it as a pendulum – it oscillates between romanticism, sincerity, irony, enthusiasm – it is not utopian although it finds itself into a yearning for possible utopias. Following some recent clarifications of Vermeulen and Van den Akker (June 2015), it is easy to describe metamodernism as a movement, a philosophy or an aesthetic framework, but according to them it is not. Metamodernism seems to be something else; a structure of feeling. Raymond Williams (1977) first used the term ‘structure of feeling‘ to describe the lived experience of a quality of time at a particular time and place – a common platform of perceptions and values produced by a particular generation (also Bourne Taylor, 1997: online).

Berndnaut Smilde - Nimbus II (2012) ©

Berndnaut Smilde – Nimbus II (2012) ©

The hybrid nature of 21st century flaneur: Towards a Metamodern Flaneur?

Metamodernism combines both modern and postmodern bringing them into a third platform of oscillation. I have analyzed in previous posts (see also here) that the potential flanerie in the 21st century globalized city has gone hybrid through a number of performative “turns”: the spatial, the sensorial, the socio-technological (also Psarras, 2015). This is apparent in the walking-based artworks and practices of Francis Alys, Simon Pope, Christina Kubisch, Gordan Savicic, Christian Nold, Janet Cardiff among others (see also Walking Artists Network). Such artists have brought together poetic, metaphorical, political, sensory and technological threads of walking in the city. They cannot be labeled as flaneurs and flaneuses based on what the early 20th century flaneur was but their practices and intentions have gone hybrid – revealing emerging hybridities.

If I can argue for a 21st century flaneur/flaneuse, the concept has shifted from the traditional alienated persona of Benjamin – it has shifted from a mere spatial consumption of the city. On the contrary, hybrid flaneur/flaneuse has gone through an oscillating poetic and practical “orchestration” of co-walkers, technologies, objects and places – rendering him/her the initiator of hybrid poetics. Hybrid flaneur/flaneuse has gone into an emerging sociality, not only walking into places but also with others, becoming an active ear and nose on foot – away from the visually-oriented consumption of the past. Drawing from the collective walks of Simon Pope, Francis Alys, Christina Kubisch and Christian Nold, the attentiveness on the social has made apparent a sensory attentiveness as well, what Myers (2010) calls a ‘sharing of viewpoints and earpoints‘. Hybrid flaneur has shown a spatial turn as well – a fruitful focus on the geographical features and qualities and their alteration through technological aspects of locative media (GPS) and experimental mapping as part of his/her poetics (see also Psarras, 2015).

Within the multiparametric environment of 21st century city, hybrid flaneur/flaneuse acknowledges the postmodern loss of public space, the sameness of things and the ironic image of the artist who goes walking in a city that has been overstimulated and under constraints and sterilities. Hybrid flaneur/flaneuse does not stay in the car but also not only walks into – he/she integrates the multiple surfaces of the city by walking and riding the tube – setting his foot not only on the asphalt but on the escalators and terminals. Hybrid flaneur/flaneuse seeks for a 21st century urban romanticism but not into his/her imagination. On the contrary there he/she inverts the irony and constraints of spaces as parts of his/her tactics. Hybrid flaneur does not seek for the romantic place-bounded belief into the globalized city – he knows won’t find it there. On the contrary, he/she sets his foot into the glocality (see also Meyrowitz, 2005) – acknowledging the 21st century city as a glocal fabric with new threads ready to be activated.

Hybrid flaneur/flaneuse oscillates between multiple platforms of sociality and solitude, sensory tactics and overstimulation, asphalt and immaterial layers, between his body and the technological extension of it. Hybrid flaneur/flaneuse shows a metamodern orchestrator who has changed all the previous metaphors into altered versions of “botanizing”, “weaving”, “tuning” and “orchestrating”. Hybrid flaneur/flaneuse is constantly oscillating between the romanticised view of early flaneur, the radical tactics and political implications of psychogeography and the performative/playful elements of Fluxus/Land Art eras. It is an oscillation augmented by technologies and socio-geographical sensitivities (also Psarras, 2015).

[reflections will be continued in next text]


I would like to thank Dr. Timotheus Vermeulen (University of Nijmegen, Netherlands, Director of the Centre for New Aesthetics) for our recent discussion

On a Hybrid Flaneur (Bill Psarras © 2015)

On a Hybrid Flaneur (Bill Psarras © 2015)


  • Bourne Taylor, J. (1997) ‘Structure of Feeling’ in Payne, M. (ed.) Dictionary of Cultural and Critical Theory, Blackwell Publishing – Blackwell Reference Online [link]
  • Faigley, L. (1992). Fragments of Rationality. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh.
  • Meyrowitz, J. (2005). The rise of glocality: New senses of place and identity in the global village. In Nyiri, K. (ed.) A sense of place: The global and the local in mobile communication, Vienna: Passagen Verlag, pp. 21-31.
  • Myers, M. (2010). ‘Walk with me, talk with me: The art of conversive wayfinding’ Visual Studies, 25(1), pp. 59-68.
  • Psarras, V. (2015). Emotive Terrains: Exploring the emotional geographies of city through walking as art, senses and embodied technologies. PhD Thesis, Goldsmiths University of London.
  • Turner, L. (2015). ‘Metamodernism: A Brief Introduction’, Notes on Metamodernism, 12 January [link]
  • Vermeulen, T. & Van den Akker, R. (2010). ‘Notes on Metamodernism’, Journal of Aesthetics and Culture, vol 2. [link]
  • Vermeulen, T. & Van den Akker, R. (2015). ‘Misunderstandings & Clarifications’ Notes on Metamodernism, 3 June [link]
  • Vermeulen, T. & Van den Akker, R. (2012). Discussing Metamodernism – Exhibition Press Release, Gallery Tanja Wagner, 17/3 – 21/4/2012 [link]
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