Turtles All the Way Down
Psychedelic Country and Relational Metaphysics
Psychedelic Country and Relational Metaphysics
Engagement, affect, and storytelling
Sturgill Simpson is a metamodernist.
Metamodernism is an intellectual and cultural movement alive in the world today, otherwise called post-postmodernism or psycho-Buddhism. Like postmodernism it moves beyond "modern" obsessions with final answers and self-proclaimed 'universal' perspectives; but unlike postmodernism it also moves beyond "postmodern" obsessions with self-reflexivity and irony, where everything revolves around a suspicious mind who interrogates the world from an ironic point of view. Metamodernism moves beyond irony and turns to engagement, affect, and storytelling; and in this respect it is very much like country music -- or, perhaps better, psychedelic country: that is, country music that combines a psychedelic imagination with down-home stories about being alive on planet earth.
Multi-Dimensionality and Compassion
In the hands of Sturgill Simpson, metamodernism goes further. It moves into an intuition that we live in a world of inter-becoming and pure connectedness; that the soul is on a journey that extends beyond this life, and that, even as we might rightly enjoy out of body experiences, our calling in this life is to love one another with our whole selves. This vision of things is what, in the world of process theology, we call relational metaphysics. It is relational because it highlights the fact that relationality itself -- things being connected with one another in obvious and surprising ways -- is at the heart of reality.
In this metamodern sensibility, there may be a place for religion, but not the kind of religion that divides and conquers, or claims to be the only way, or suffocates people with unnecessary guilt, or hides from pain in light of false optimisms. Nor the kind of religion that is frightened by novelty and allergic to all things alien. Relational metaphysics is open to the comforts of friends, family, and local community, and also to "reptile aliens made of light who cut you open and pull out your pain."
In the craziness of this metamodern sensibility, there is a strange kind of sanity which offers hope, because it knows that love is the only thing that can save a life. Who knows, this new sanity may find a place in a metamodern Christianity or Islam, Judaism or Sikhism, Hinduism or Buddhism. There are seeds of metamodernism already in those traditions.
But religions evolve through time as inspired by shamans from within and without -- that is, by people who glimpse a distant horizon that is more open than ordinary ways of looking at things.
Jesus was a shaman of this type, whose own message, so Sturgill Simpson suggests in the song, was wrongly reduced to nursery rhymes and fairy tales of blood and wine. For my part, I think there is wisdom in the nursery rhymes, too, whether from Torah or the New Testament or the Qur'an. Wisdom did not begin with metamodernism. But today this wisdom needs liberation from the constraints of restricted imagination, which too easily domesticates healthy religion and neglects its spirit of adventure.
Country music -- liberated from its own thematic constraints of heartache and drinking -- may offer some shamanic guidance. It can be, in its own way, an invitation to heal the world -- tikkun olam -- one turtle at a time.
-- Jay McDaniel
"I just reached a point where the thought of writing songs about heartache and drinking made me incredibly bored with music."
I just reached a point where the thought of writing and singing any more songs about heartache and drinking made me feel incredibly bored with music. It's just not a headspace I occupy much these days. Nighttime reading about theology, cosmology, and breakthroughs in modern physics and their relationship to a few personal experiences I've had led to most of the songs on the album.
"Turtles is about giving your heart in love
I've seen Jesus play with flames in a lake of fire that I was standing in
Met the devil in Seattle and spent 9 months inside the lions den
Met Buddha yet another time and he showed me a glowing light within
But I swear that God is there every time I glare in the eyes of my best friend
Says my son it's all been done and someday yer gonna wake up old and gray
So go and try to have some fun showing warmth to everyone
You meet and greet and cheat along the way
There's a gateway in our mind that leads somewhere out there beyond this plane
Where reptile aliens made of light cut you open and pull out all your pain
Tell me how you make illegal something that we all make in our brain
Some say you might go crazy but then again it might make you go sane
Every time I take a look inside inside that old and fabled book
I'm blinded and reminded of the pain caused by some old man in the sky
Marijuana, LSD, psilocybin, and DMT they all changed the way I see
But love's the only thing that ever saved my life
So don't waste your mind on nursery rhymes
Or fairy tales of blood and wine
It's turtles all the way down the line
So to each their own til' we go home
To other realms our souls must roam
To and through the myth that we all call space and time
What is metamodernism?
In 2010, cultural theorists Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker proposed metamodernism as an intervention in the post-postmodernism debate. In their essayNotes on Metamodernism, they asserted that the 2000s were characterized by the return of typically modern positions that did not forfeit the postmodern mindsets of the 1980s and 1990s. According to them, the metamodern sensibility "can be conceived of as a kind of informed naivety, a pragmatic idealism", characteristic of cultural responses to recent global events such as climate change, the financial crisis, political instability, and the digital revolution. They asserted that “the postmodern culture of relativism, irony, and pastiche" is over, having been replaced by a post-ideological condition that stresses engagement, affect, and storytelling.
Many people are trapped between an obsession with nostalgia and obsession with technology. Metamodernism moves beyond it.
"I read this essay that a guy Seth Alverson wrote about metamodernism and trying to figure out where the world is after the postmodern age. It goes on about how society now is completely obsessed with nostalgia and everybody's running around in suspenders looking like they hopped off a hobo train. At the same time, technology is moving faster than ever. So you have this really harsh juxtaposition that we're all stuck in, trying to find identity. And from my world, you can look at these blogs or articles, and there's so much polarization and separation between people arguing senselessly over what is or what isn't country. And I just got so sick of it all.