Anarchy & Culture: The Aesthetic Politics of Modernism

Anarchy & Culture: The Aesthetic Politics of Modernism

Anarchy & Culture: The Aesthetic Politics of Modernism

Anarchy & Culture: The Aesthetic Politics of Modernism

Synopsis

"Anarchism is generally understood as a failed ideology, a political philosophy that once may have had many followers but today attracts only cranks and eccentrics. This book argues that the decline of political anarchism is only half the story; the other half is a tale of widespread cultural success. David Weir develops this thesis in several ways. He begins by considering the place of culture in the political thought of the classical anarchist thinkers William Godwin, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Mikhail Bakunin, and Peter Kropotkin. He then shows how the perceived "anarchy" of nineteenth-century society induced writers such as Matthew Arnold, Henry James, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky to turn away from politics and seek unity in the idea of a common culture. Yet as other late nineteenth-century writers and artists began to sympathize with anarchism, the prospect of a common culture became increasingly remote. In Weir's view, the affinity for anarchism that developed among members of the artistic avant-garde lies behind much of fin de siecle culture. Indeed, the emergence of modernism itself can be understood as the aesthetic realization of anarchist politics. In support of this contention, Weir shows that anarchism is the key aesthetic principle informing the work of a broad range of modernist figures, from Henrik Ibsen and James Joyce to dadaist Hugo Ball and surrealist Luis Bunuel. Weir concludes by reevaluating the phenomenon of postmodernism as only the most recent case of the migration of politics into aesthetics, and by suggesting that anarchism is still very much with us as a cultural condition." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

The surrealist poet André Breton was also a socialist. a surrealist, also a socialist: Breton himself never ceased to grapple with the problems this formulation posed for his poetry and for art in general. the alchemy of the adverb also led to any number of proclamations and positions, manifestoes and clarifications, appeals and denials. in the long lecture titled "Political Position of Today's Art," the poet's most extensive treatment of the problem, Breton forces himself to accept what is, for him, an unfortunate but poignant paradox: that innovative, progressive art is no guarantee of social progress. the artist who rebels against aesthetic tradition may nonetheless be politically conservative. By the same token, the most reactionary political figures may also be the most receptive to avant-garde art. the adjective "revolutionary" carries with it "a most regrettable ambiguity": it refers at once to the nonconformist innovator who breaks with artistic tradition and to the activist ideologue who "tends to define a systematic action aiming at the transformation of the world." All too often, the revolutionary artist is not revolutionary in the second sense of the word; nonconformity, in fact, implies a paradoxical acceptance of social conditions and abrogates the need to transform them. the bohemian artist, for example, may separate from society without so much as commenting on the condition of alienation caused by the very society from which he separates.

Breton cites a number of examples to strengthen the point that revolutionary art and reactionary politics do not exclude one another. Paul Claudel's technical innovations in poetry do not make him any less of a militarist. the royalist Léon Daudet edits the rightist journal L'Action française but praises the avant-garde Picasso as the . . .

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