New Sincerity

New Sincerity

New sincerity is a term that has been used in music, aesthetics, film criticism, poetry, literary criticism and philosophy, generally to describe art or concepts that run against prevailing modes of postmodernist irony or cynicism.


New sincerity in music

"New Sincerity" was used as a collective name for a loose group of alternative rock bands, centered in Austin, Texas in the years from about 1985 to 1990, who were perceived as reacting to the ironic outlook of then-prominent music movements like punk rock and New Wave. The use of "New Sincerity" in connection with these bands began with an off-handed comment by Austin punk rocker/author Jesse Sublett to his friend, local music writer Margaret Moser. According to author Barry Shank, Sublett said: "All those new sincerity bands, they're crap."[1] Sublett (at his own website) states that he was misquoted, and actually told Moser, "It's all new sincerity to me. . . . It's not my cup of tea."[2] In any event, Moser began using the term in print, and it ended up becoming the catch phrase for these bands.[1][3][4]

Nationally, the most successful "New Sincerity" band was The Reivers (originally called Zeitgeist), who released four well-received albums between 1985 and 1991. True Believers, led by Alejandro Escovedo and Jon Dee Graham, also received extensive critical praise and local acclaim in Austin, but the band had difficulty capturing its live sound on recordings, among other problems.[5] Other important "New Sincerity" bands included Doctors Mob,[6][7] Wild Seeds,[8] and Glass Eye.[9] Another significant "New Sincerity" figure was the eccentric, critically acclaimed songwriter Daniel Johnston.

Despite extensive critical attention (including national coverage in Rolling Stone and a 1985 episode of the MTV program The Cutting Edge), none of the "New Sincerity" bands met with much commercial success, and the "scene" ended within a few years.[10][11]

Other music writers have used "new sincerity" to describe later performers such as Conor Oberst[12], Will Oldham, Cat Power, Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsom,[13] and Idlewild,[14] as well as Austin's Okkervil River[15] and Leatherbag.[16]

New sincerity in Russia

In Russia, the term new sincerity (novaia iskrennost) was used as early as the mid 1980s[17] or early 1990s by dissident poet Dmitry Prigov and critic Mikhail Epstein, as a response to the dominant sense of absurdity in late Soviet and post-Soviet culture.[18] In Epstein's words, "Postconceptualism, or the New Sincerity, is an experiment in resuscitating "fallen," dead languages with a renewed pathos of love, sentimentality and enthusiasm.[19]

This conception of "new sincerity" meant the avoidance of cynicism, but not necessarily of irony. In the words of University of California, Berkeley professor Alexei Yurchak,[20] it "is a particular brand of irony, which is sympathetic and warm, and allows its authors to remain committed to the ideals that they discuss, while also being somewhat ironic about this commitment."[18][21]

Nowadays New Sincerity is being contraposed not to Soviet literature, but to postmodernism. Dmitry Vodennikov has been acclaimed as the leader of the new wave of Russian New Sincerity.[22]

New sincerity in film criticism

Critic Jim Collins introduced the concept of "new sincerity" to film criticism in his 1993 essay entitled “Genericity in the 90s: Eclectic Irony and the New Sincerity.” In this essay he contrasts films that treat genre conventions with "eclectic irony" and those that treat them seriously, with "new sincerity." Collins describes

the 'new sincerity' of films like Field of Dreams (1989), Dances With Wolves (1990), and Hook (1991), all of which depend not on hybridization, but on an "ethnographic" rewriting of the classic genre film that serves as their inspiration, all attempting, using one strategy or another, to recover a lost "purity," which apparently pre-existed even the Golden Age of film genre.[23]

Other critics have suggested "new sincerity" as a descriptive term for work by American filmmakers such as Wes Anderson, P. T. Anderson, Todd Louiso, Sofia Coppola, Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman, Zach Braff, and Jared Hess,[24] and filmmakers from other countries such as Lars von Trier, the Dogme 95 movement, Aki Kaurismäki, and Pedro Almodóvar.[18] The "aesthetics of new sincerity" have also been connected to other art forms including "reality television, Internet blogs, diary style 'chicklit' literature, [and] personal videos on You-Tube. . . . "[18]

New sincerity in literary criticism

In response to the hegemony of metafictional and self-conscious irony in contemporary fiction, writer David Foster Wallace predicted, in his 1993 essay "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction," a new literary movement which would espouse something like the New Sincerity ethos:

"The next real literary “rebels” in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels, born oglers who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles. Who treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction. Who eschew self-consciousness and hip fatigue. These anti-rebels would be outdated, of course, before they even started. Dead on the page. Too sincere. Clearly repressed. Backward, quaint, naive, anachronistic. Maybe that’ll be the point. Maybe that’s why they’ll be the next real rebels. Real rebels, as far as I can see, risk disapproval. The old postmodern insurgents risked the gasp and squeal: shock, disgust, outrage, censorship, accusations of socialism, anarchism, nihilism. Today’s risks are different. The new rebels might be artists willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the “Oh how banal.” To risk accusations of sentimentality, melodrama. Of overcredulity. Of softness. Of willingness to be suckered by a world of lurkers and starers who fear gaze and ridicule above imprisonment without law. Who knows. "[25]

In his essay "David Foster Wallace and the New Sincerity in American Fiction," Adam Kelly argues that Wallace's fiction, and that of his generation, is marked by a revival and theoretical reconception of sincerity, challenging the emphasis on authenticity that dominated twentieth-century literature.[26]

New sincerity in philosophy

"New sincerity" has also sometimes been used to refer to a philosophical concept deriving from the basic tenets of performatism.[27] It is also seen as one of the key characteristics of metamodernism.[28] Related literature includes Wendy Steiner's The Trouble with Beauty, Elaine Scarry's On Beauty and Being Just, and Bryn Gribben's 2005 Bodies that Shatter: Ekphrasis, Beauty, and the Victorian Body as Art, and the term was taken up designer/film auteur Brady Becker. Related movements may include Post-Postmodernism, New Puritans, Stuckism, and Remodernism, as well as the Dogme 95 film movement led by Lars von Trier and others.[citation needed]

New sincerity in The Sound of Young America

"The New Sincerity" has been espoused since 2002 by radio host Jesse Thorn of PRI's The Sound of Young America, self-described as "the public radio program about things that are awesome." Thorn characterizes New Sincerity as a cultural movement defined by dicta including "Maximum Fun" and "Be More Awesome." It celebrates outsized celebration of joy, and rejects irony, and particularly ironic appreciation of cultural products. Thorn has promoted this concept on his program and in interviews[29][30][31][32][33] to the point that a scholarly work on Russian post-Soviet aesthetic theory included mention of Thorn as American popularizer of the term "new sincerity."[34] A typical explication of Thorn's concept is this 2006 "Manifesto for the New Sincerity":

What is The New Sincerity? Think of it as irony and sincerity combined like Voltron, to form a new movement of astonishing power. Or think of it as the absence of irony and sincerity, where less is (obviously) more. If those strain the brain, just think of Evel Knievel. Let's be frank. There's no way to appreciate Evel Knievel literally. Evel is the kind of man who defies even fiction, because the reality is too over the top. Here is a man in a red-white-and-blue leather jumpsuit, driving some kind of rocket car. A man who achieved fame and fortune jumping over things. Here is a real man who feels at home as Spidey on the cover of a comic book. Simply put, Evel Knievel boggles the mind. But by the same token, he isn't to be taken ironically, either. The fact of the matter is that Evel is, in a word, awesome. . . . Our greeting: a double thumbs-up. Our credo: "Be More Awesome." Our lifestyle: "Maximum Fun." Throw caution to the wind, friend, and live The New Sincerity.[35]

In a September 2009 interview, Thorn commented that "'new sincerity'" had begun as "a silly, philosophical movement that me and some friends made up in college" and that "everything that we said was a joke, but at the same time it wasn’t all a joke in the sense that we weren’t being arch or we weren’t being campy. While we were talking about ridiculous, funny things we were sincere about them."[36]

New sincerity in American poetry

Since 2005, poets including Reb Livingston, Joseph Massey, Andrew Mister, and Anthony Robinson have collaborated in a blog-driven poetry movement, described by Massey as "a ‘new sincerity’ brewing in American poetry -- a contrast to the cold, irony-laden poetry dominating the journals and magazines and new books of poetry."[37] Other poets named as associated with this movement, or its tenets, include David Berman, Catherine Wagner, Dean Young, Matt Hart, Tao Lin, D.S. Chapman, Frederick Seidel, Arielle Greenberg,[13] and Karyna McGlynn.

See also


  1. ^ a b Barry Shank, Dissonant Identities: The Rock'N'Roll Scene in Austin, Texas (Wesleyan University Press, 1994) (ISBN 9780819562760), p. 148–149 & p.271 n.84. (excerpt available at Google Books).
  2. ^ "Jesse's Music Bio" at Jesse Sublett's Little Black Book (retrieved September 18, 2009).
  3. ^ Peter Blackstock, "'is it worth the admission....'", No Depression blog post dated January 15, 2008.
  4. ^ Regarding Jesse Sublett and his band, The Skunks, see Ken Lieck, "Young, Loud, and Cheap: The Skunks, the Band That Broke Austin Out of the Seventies," Austin Chronicle, December 8, 2000, and Jesse Sublett, Never the Same Again: A Rock 'N' Roll Gothic (Ten Speed Press, 2004), ISBN 9781580085984 (excerpts available at Google Books).
  5. ^ True Believers at Allmusic.
  6. ^ Kent H. Benjamin, "Why Should Anyone Care Now?", Austin Chronicle Weekly Wire August 30, 1999.
  7. ^ Doctors Mob at Allmusic.
  8. ^ Wild Seeds at Allmusic.
  9. ^ Glass Eye at Allmusic.
  10. ^ Kristin Gorski, Almost Famous: The Austin Texas Soundtrack Circa 1985, Annabelle Magazine, No. 12 (2006).
  11. ^ Michael Corcoran, "The New Sincerity: Austin in the Eighties", reprinted in Michael Corcoran, All Over the Map: True Heroes of Texas Music (University of Texas Press, 2005), ISBN 9780292709768, pp. 150–156.
  12. ^ The New York Times, "Mr. Sincerity tries a new trick" The New York Times, January 16, 2005.
  13. ^ a b Jason Morris, “The Time Between Time: Messianism & the Promise of a “New Sincerity,” Jacket 35 (2008)
  14. ^ Robert Christgau, "Vibrators", The Village Voice, March 27, 2001.
  15. ^ Kate X. Messer, "Okkervil River: The New Sincerity," Austin Chronicle, March 3, 2000.
  16. ^ Austin Powell, "Texas Platters: deEP end", Austin Chronicle, March 13, 2009.
  17. ^ Mikhail Epstein, "On the Place of Postmodernism in Postmodernity," in Mikhail Epstein, Aleksandr Genis, Slobodanka Vladiv-Glover, eds., Russian Postmodernism: New Perspectives on Post-Soviet Culture (Berghahn Books, 1999), ISBN 9781571810984, p. 457, excerpt available at Google Books.
  18. ^ a b c d Alexei Yurchak, "Post-Post-Communist Sincerity: Pioneers, Cosmonauts, and Other Soviet Heroes Born Today," in Thomas Lahusen and Peter H. Solomon, eds., What Is Soviet Now?: Identities, Legacies, Memories (LIT Verlag Berlin-Hamburg-Münster, 2008), ISBN 9783825806408, p. 258–259, excerpt available at Google Books.
  19. ^ Mikhail Epstein, "A Catalogue of New Poetries," in Mikhail Epstein, Aleksandr Genis, Slobodanka Vladiv-Glover, eds., Russian Postmodernism: New Perspectives on Post-Soviet Culture (Berghahn Books, 1999), ISBN 9781571810984, p. 146 excerpt available at Google Books.
  20. ^ Alexei Yurchak biography at University of California, Berkeley Department of Anthropology website (retrieved February 15, 2009).
  21. ^ Yurchak, at p.259 n.6, further explains this contrast in terms of Susan Sontag's comment that a good writer should "Be serious. By which I meant: never be cynical. And which doesn't preclude being funny." (Citing Sontag as quoted in Jenny Diski, "Seriously Uncool," London Review of Books 29, no.6 (March 22, 2007).)
  22. ^ [1]
  23. ^ Jim Collins, “Genericity in the 90s: Eclectic Irony and the New Sincerity” in Jim Collins, Hilary Radner and Ava Preacher Collins, eds., Film Theory Goes to the Movies (New York: Routledge, 1993) (ISBN 0415905761, ISBN 9780415905763), p. 242, 245.
  24. ^ Brannon M. Hancock, "A Community of Characters – the Narrative Self in the Films of Wes Anderson," The Journal of Religion and Film, vol. 9, no. 2 (October 2005), citing Mark Olsen, "If I Can Dream: The Everlasting Boyhoods of Wes Anderson," Film Comment, 35/1 (January/February 1999).
  25. ^ David Foster Wallace, " E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction," .
  26. ^ Adam Kelly. "David Foster Wallace and the New Sincerity in American Fiction." Consider David Foster Wallace: Critical Essays. Ed. David Hering. Austin, TX: SSMG Press, 2010. 129-44.
  27. ^ Raoul Eshelman, "Performatism, or the End of Postmodernism" in Anthropoetics 6 (2000/2001) . See also his book, Performatism or the End of Postmodernism. Davies Group: Aurora, Colorado 2008.
  28. ^ Timotheus Vermeulen & Robin van den Akker, "Notes on metamodernism" in Journal of Aesthetics and Culture 2 (2010)
  29. ^ Ben Kharakh, "Jesse Thorn, America's Radio Sweetheart" in Gothamist, posted November 2, 2006.
  30. ^ Dennis McCafferty, "Top podcast picks: Favorites from experts in their category," USA Weekend, January 14, 2007. (Thorn's program was the in-print "podcast pick" of comedian Patton Oswalt.)
  31. ^ "Interview: Jesse Thorn, Part 1," The Merlin Show, posted June 4, 2007.
  32. ^ Dan Brodnitz, "An Interview with The Sound of Young America's Jesse Thorn," O'Reilly Digital Media, posted September 15, 2008.
  33. ^ But see Bill Forman, "Müz: The New Ambiguity," Metro Santa Cruz, March 8–15, 2006 (opining that New Sincerity is "just another ironic hoax").
  34. ^ Alexei Yurchak, "Post-Post-Communist Sincerity: Pioneers, Cosmonauts, and Other Soviet Heroes Born Today," in Thomas Lahusen and Peter H. Solomon, What Is Soviet Now?: Identities, Legacies, Memories (LIT Verlag Berlin-Hamburg-Münster, 2008), ISBN 9783825806408, p.258 n.3, excerpt available at Google Books. ("In the United States, the term 'new sincerity' has been popularized since 9/11 by some youth media (for example, by Jesse Thorn, the host of a popular music program Sound of Young America, on New York's National Public Radio station WNYC").)
  35. ^ Jesse Thorn, "A Manifesto for The New Sincerity," February 17, 2006.
  36. ^ Jonathan Valania, "Q&A: With Jesse Thorn, America’s Radio Sweetheart", Phawker, September 15, 2009.
  37. ^ Katy Henriksen, " Drunk Bunnies, The New Sincerity, Flarf: How Blogs are Transforming Poetry," EconoCulture, January 23, 2007.

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