Exam List 3: Historical Avant-Gardes

To what extent does the word “avant-garde” help to delineate a field of study? As a historical term, avant-garde names a series of interconnected movements in poetry, prose, music and the visual arts that arose in the period surrounding World War I, generally identified by various “isms” (Surrealism, Dadaism, Cubism, Futurism, Ultraism, Stridentism, etc.), often sharing members or explicitly drawing on each other as sources, and united around literary journals and explicit ideologies of art expressed in the manifestos these journals published. For Peter Bürger, whose Theory of the Avant-Garde broke important ground in the study of the European avant-gardes, the defining aspect of these movements is not to be found by looking at the works themselves, but rather by looking at the relationship these works establish with social praxis and the institution of art: “The European avant-garde movements can be defined as an attack on the status of art in bourgeois society. What is negated is not an earlier form of art (a style) but art as an institution that is unassociated with the life praxis of men.” (49).

Certainly, the multitude of styles that emerge alongside the differing manifestos of the various “isms” do challenge any effort to read the stylistic output of the avant-gardes as any sort of coordinated attack on a particular art form. But Bürger’s definition of the avant-garde poses a challenge to critics insofar as it seems to force attention away from the texts themselves towards the socio-political conditions of production and reception. The object of criticism shifts to the manifesto; if the text is read at all, it is reduced to a mere echo of the manifesto. In Latin America, the avant-garde text begins to be read as an echo of an echo, evaluated in terms of manifestos that are, in turn, constantly compared to their European antecedents.

Without positing a unity of avant-garde style or entirely severing the link between manifesto and literary object, does it remain possible to investigate the formal or stylistic aspects of the avant-garde text as carriers of meaning? Under what conditions? Does this risk reinstating the institution of art on which the avant-garde sets its aim, or does the destruction of this institution depend precisely on a certain kind of reading? How are we to read avant-garde works in their after-life without producing the museum of dead works described by Hugo Verani in his introduction to Narrativa vanguardista hispanoamericana?

This list will investigate the adequacy of Peter Bürger’s Theory of the Avant-Garde both as a historical understanding of the avant-garde movements of the 1910’s and 1920’s and as the basis of a critical methodology for reading the literary output of these movements. Avant-Garde movements from both France and Latin America will be examined through their manifestos, their poetry, and their prose with regards to both their relationships with the institution of art and to the various stylistic strategies put forth in the service of this relationship. In addition to evaluating Bürger’s theory in terms of the European avant-garde which is his object of study, I will consider the relevance of theories of the avant-garde formulated in terms of the European context as tools for understanding the corresponding movements which arose in Latin America.

Primary Texts:


Apollinaire, Guillaume. Selections from Alcools and Calligrammes; “Les Peintres cubistes”

Aragon, Louis. Le paysan de Paris.

Breton, André. Manifestes du Surréalisme; Nadja.

Cendrars, Blaise. “Prose du Transsibérien et de la petite Jehanne de France.”

Éluard, Paul. “Les Nécessités de la Vie et la Conséquence des Rêves”

Jacob, Max. Selections from Le cornet à dés.

Tzara, Tristan. Selections from Vingt-cinq poèmes; “Sept manifestes Dada”

Latin America:

List Azurbide, German. El movimiento estridentista.

Borges, Jorge Luis. Fervor de Buenos Aires.

Fernandez, Macedonio. Museo de la novela de la eterna; “Cirugía psíquica de extirpación”

Girondo, Oliverio. Veinte poemas para ser leídos en el tranvía.

Huidobro, Vincente. Altazor.

Maples Arce, Manuel. Urbe.

Tablada, José Juan. Li-Po y otros poemas.

Vallejo, César. Trilce.

Vela, Arqueles, La señorita Etcétera; El café de nadie.

Selections from Las vanguardias latinoamericanas, ed. Jorge Schwartz:

Other Key Texts:

Marinetti, Filippo Tommaso. “Manifesto of Futurism.”

Secondary Texts

Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction;” “Surrealism,” “The Author as Producer”

Bürger, Peter. Theory of the Avant-Garde, inc. Introduction by Jochen Schulte-Sasse.

Calinescu, Matei. Cinco Caras de Modernidad, esp. “Modernidad” and “Vanguardia”

Poggioli, Renato. The Theory of the Avant-Garde.

Gómez de la Serna, Ramón. Ismos.

Greenberg, Clement. “Avant-garde and Kitsch”

Lyotard, Jean François. “’The Sublime and the avant-garde’”

Ortega y Gasset, Jose. La deshumanización del arte y otros ensayos de estética.

Sarlo, Beatriz. Una modernidad periférica: Buenos Aires 1920 y 1930.
Scheunemann, Dietrich (ed.) The European Avant-Garde: A Reassessment; Avant-Garde/ Neo Avant-Garde.

Schneider, Luis Mario. “Introducción” en El Estridentísmo: México, 1921-1927.

Schwartz, Jorge. Vanguardia Y Cosmopolitismo En La Década Del Veinte: Oliverio Girondo Y Oswaldo De Andrade; “Introducción” in Las Vanguardias Latinoamericanas: Textos Programáticos y Críticos.

Verani, Hugo J. “Las Vanguardias literarias en Hispanoamérica,” in Las Vanguardias literarias en Hispanoamérica; “El Museo de la Vanguardia” in Narrativa vanguardista hispanoamericana.

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3 Responses to “Exam List 3: Historical Avant-Gardes”

  1. Et mnême pas Marinetti? C’est de la rigolade!!

  2. Comment parler de l’avant-garde sans lire les textes de F.T. Marinetti? JPdV

  3. Keep in mind that this list is limited to the French and Latin American avant-gardes. In order to keep the exam structure manageable, I’ve had to exclude important avant-garde movements in Russia, Germany, Italy, and Spain, among others. This is the main reason there isn’t more Marinetti, though admittedly it’s complicated because he did some writing in French and was influential in France. I thought including the Manifeste de Futurisme and something representative of French Futurism (Cendrars’s “Prose du Transsibérien et de la petite Jehanne de France”) would be an appropriate solution, but you clearly disagree. What other texts would you suggest?

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