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

By Sascha Bru; Gunther Martens | Go to book overview

Dragging Nordic Horses past the Sludge of Extremes.1
The Beginnings of the Icelandic Avant-Garde

Benedikt Hjartarson

When the literary scholar or art historian attempts to sketch out a historiography of the Icelandic avant-garde from the late 1910s into the early 1930s, he faces a series of problems. First of all, the early Icelandic Avant-Garde comprises the works of a couple of artists and writers who – mostly after having studied, lived or simply travelled abroad – picked up aesthetic ideas and concepts from contemporary European avant-garde movements and introduced them into the artistic and literary system in their home country. These individuals did not form aesthetic groups and never sketched out an individual Avant-Garde program either. The advent of the Icelandic Avant-Garde was thus marked by the absence of the radical cultural practices that characterized the project of the historical avant-garde. A second problem has to do with the fact that the reception of the historical avant-garde was not restricted to experimental aesthetic practices of Icelandic writers and artists. Quite the reverse, the beginning of the 1920s saw the emergence of a virulent critique of the avant-garde that preceded avant-garde experiments in Iceland. The idea of an Icelandic avant-garde emerged as an integral part of a nationalistic conception of aesthetic renewal. To a certain extent it could be argued that the Icelandic avant-garde was in fact a political construct. Thirdly, the historian faces the problem that the term avant-garde does not exist in Icelandic. The common term which came to be used as its equivalent, framúrstefna, seems to have appeared only in the 1950s. The absence of the term "avant-garde" in the early twentieth century is not a specific problem of the Icelandic context and may be said to be characteristic for the first half of the twentieth century, as it appears

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