The Invention of Politics in the European Avant-Garde (1906-1940)

By Sascha Bru; Gunther Martens | Go to book overview

The Phantom League.
The Centennial Debate on the Avant-Garde and Politics

Sascha Bru

In 1906, for the first time in his life, the onrushing Futurist F.T. Marinetti connected the term "avant-garde" to the idea of the future (Lista 2001: 28). Marinetti later often toyed with images of a distant future, but he also located the future firmly in the present. As did many other representatives of the so-called "historical" or "modernist avant-garde".1 Experimenting with modes of perception, experience and representation in art, the modernist avant-garde held the promise of an alternative to the here and now. From the start it thereby also sounded political overtones. For as a familiar story runs, it was a society rooted in a new aesthetics, founded on other principles than those of official politics, which the historical avant-garde had in mind. And yet, on the eve of the Second World War, W.H. Auden concluded in Another Time (1940) that this project had made "nothing happen".2 For more than three decades, it seems, artists throughout Europe had conjured up designs of other worlds which had remained coterminous to the culture surrounding them without ever coinciding with it. Almost as if they had never been there. In a way, then, the modernist avant-garde is personified by the hero of Aldo Palazzeschi's Il codice di perela (1911). One of few Futurist novels still read in Italian high schools today, this book describes how a man of smoke enters a city where he is appointed to write the law and save mankind only to get killed at the end of his venture. Palazzeschi's tragicomic hero, as an allegorical figure, reiterates a conception of the historical avantgardist, which we are all too familiar with. The avant-gardist has indeed frequently been depicted as a somewhat naïve "new legislator", re-articulating historical identities into alternative visions of

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