The Avant-Garde Tradition in Literature

By Richard Kostelanetz | Go to book overview

Preface

Our editorial task we have then seen as collating and ordering—not without numerous queries back—reports which were essentially heterogeneous in both scope and purpose, with the aim of composing not a survey, not a meticulously balanced and comprehensive inventory in which the separate entries were controlled and metered and sized to some "handbook" notion of the relative importance of individual writers, but rather a stimulating anthology of distinct but mutually reinforcing accounts.

Malcolm Bradbury and James McFarlane, Modernism ( 1976)

Most of the critical books (and especially the critical anthologies) of modern literature neglect the avant-garde tradition, which I take to be that line of works so radically innovative that they constitute the edge of modernist art. True everywhere, this omission is particularly true in America, where, among other factors, the unparalleled influence of T. S. Eliot kept the prevailing interpretations of modernism conservative. While the less innovative writers have been appreciated and merchandised and studied, the more avant-garde figures have been unjustly neglected, if not forgotten—not only by the literate public but by professional critics of literature. Therefore, the initial reason for doing this book on the avant-garde tradition — the principal reason for bringing these essays together now — is that nothing remotely resembling it currently exists in English.

My principal assumption, here and elsewhere, is that the foundation of experimental literature is a history of formal innovation. From time to time I hear of alternative views, emphasizing some kind of content or some sort of stance (often proposed by a representative of a sociological group making claims for its cultural singularity). Needless to say, I think this "content" emphasis

-xi-

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