Sound Commitments: Avant-Garde Music and the Sixties

By Robert Adlington | Go to book overview

1
Avant-garde
Some Introductory Notes on the
Politics of a Label

Hubert F. van den Berg


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Since the 1970s the term “avant-garde” has served in certain sections of the historiography of the European arts as a common designation—a more or less fixed name—for a set of divergent, heterogeneous phenomena that together form some sort of a single entity, a historical ensemble or configuration. In other words, “avant-garde” is treated not just as a theoretical construction or interpretative model ex posteriori, but as a historical, once real, now past entity, also regarded in its historical time as—to some extent—a historical unity.1 The term “avant-garde” itself is far older and was already introduced in the cultural field somewhere in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. It first developed into a regularly utilized denomination only in the late 1930s and 1940s, and became a more fashionable designation for innovative and experimental movements in the arts even later, in the 1950s and 1960s. It was later still that the label “avant-garde” became a common term in historiography. It is remarkable that, on the one hand, the existence of “the avant-garde” (sometimes plural: “avantgardes”) as such a unity is claimed or supposed by many authors, not least as a presupposition for all kind of reflections on “the avant-garde(s),” but, on the other hand, very little consensus seems to exist concerning the question of who or what has to be regarded as “avant-garde(s),” even in a double or triple way.

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