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

By Sascha Bru; Gunther Martens | Go to book overview

communal life that attacked full-frontal hegemonic discourses, only to find that his logo- or imagomachist wager made "nothing happen". Men of smoke or ghosts, their critical endeavour went up in smoke along with them.

This book, far from aiming to be exhaustive, is about some traces this phantom league left us. The avant-garde's politically loaded undertaking has been the subject of critical debate ever since 1906. With a century gone by, this introduction aims to take stock of the debate. What has been said? And what, if anything, is there left to say? Nothing general, at first sight. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the (re)discovery (particularly in the Anglo-American academia) of the avant-gardes in the "Other", Central Europe,3 the epithets "historical" or "modernist avant-garde" have come to denote nearly all European avant-garde movements from the first half of the twentieth century, taking up the North of Europe over Spain onto the Italian peninsula, and the West (Britain included)4 over the centre of Europe into Russia. This considerable geographical span, and the cultural diversity it brings along, leaves little doubt about the synechdochal nature of any statement about the modernist avant-garde. It is a commonplace today that as a whole the modernist avant-garde is "essentially unprogrammatic" (Russel 1985: 25), in the sense that whatever theoretical model we may devise, we will always fall short in uniting all poetics and programmes it put forth in order to ground an alternative society in art. Wholesale claims on the ties between politics and the historical avant-garde, as a result, are most often received with suspicion today. But this is merely where our story ends. In order to determine how this suspicion came about and what kind of rationale underpins it, we need to retrace our steps.


The Work of Politics

First, however, it is useful to enquire what kind of avant-garde works have been found eligible for political analysis in the course of the centennial debate. All contributions to this volume zoom in on one or any number of works as media producing political thought and experience. After all, it is from (a selection of) these works that the debate on the avant-garde and politics has always taken its cue. Our business, in brief, remains first and foremost with the avant-garde's

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