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Avant-Garde, Neo-Avant-Garde, Modernism: Questions and Suggestions Author(s): Miklós Szabolcsi Source: New Literary History, Vol. 3, No.08/2013 12:56 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, re searchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org. . The Johns Hopkins University Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to New Literary History. http://www.jstor.org " id="pdf-obj-0-2" src="pdf-obj-0-2.jpg">

Avant-Garde, Neo-Avant-Garde, Modernism: Questions and Suggestions Author(s): Miklós Szabolcsi Source: New Literary History, Vol. 3, No. 1, Modernism and Postmodernism: Inquiries, Reflections, and Speculations (Autumn, 1971), pp. 49-70 Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

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Avant-Garde, Neo-Avant-Garde, Modernism: Questions and Suggestions Author(s): Miklós Szabolcsi Source: New Literary History, Vol. 3, No.08/2013 12:56 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, re searchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org. . The Johns Hopkins University Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to New Literary History. http://www.jstor.org " id="pdf-obj-0-32" src="pdf-obj-0-32.jpg">

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Avant-garde,Neo-avant-garde, Modernism:

Questions and Suggestions

Mikl6sSzabolcsi

I

HE LITERATURE

of recent years and, not to the least extent,

the various literary and artistic phenomena of our days and

the

increasingcomplexity of their development call for a pro-

everything we understand by the terms

The

followingattempt is the outcome

answer all the

found and criticalrevision of

"modern" or

"contemporary."

of such considerations,without, however, claiming to

questions it raises.

II

We shall discuss the set of phenomena we understand by the term

"avant-garde,"meaning by it one of the trends, one certain group

of

incidentsin the more recent development of literatureand art. The

term itself is, of course, like so many othersin the field of

to

argument.

A few words about its

history: Originally it

in a military sense and the first journal so named is a

fromthe period of

art, open

was used

military one

the French Revolution, launched in 1794. As a

political term it seems to appear around 1830 in Republican circles

and

more

among the opposition

of

the monarchy in general.

It becomes

popular in Utopian Socialist terminology; the

Saint-Simonite

Emile Barrault is probably the firstwho uses it in 183o, then around

  • 1845 it appears in the works of G. D. Laverdant, disciple of Fourier,

and about the same timein

Proudhon's writings,too, already as a label

forsocial progress, forsocialist ideas and the collectiveefforts of artists.

By the second half of the

the stock

century the "avant-garde"

becomes

part

of

phraseology of politics; in France

between 188o and 191o

countless newspapers,periodicals and publications bear it as a title, and its novelty is worn offin politicalslang. Naturally, in most cases

50

NEW LITERARY HISTORY

it is used to designate"progressive," "leftist," radical, freemasonicor

Jacobin movements; sometimes it can even acquire

an anarchist

accent, as when in 1878 the followersof Bakunin chose it for the title

of their review published

the termsoon

grew

anti-Semiticand

in Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. However

right-wing,anti-liberal,

was used in those

so elastic that it admitted

nationalistic interpretations and

senses,too, fromthe i88o's onward. In the firstdecade of the twentieth-

century the use of "avant-garde" with a political meaning grew less

frequent, and turned up again

mostly

in the 1920os to mark, at least in France,

Socialist and Communist attitudesin politics.

The termwas applied to the phenomena of literatureand art quite late. Even Baudelaire used it in its politico-military sense. It was

towardsthe end of the 19th and early in the 20othcentury that it

began

to denote literary and artistic trends; fromthat time onward its use

was

gradually

restrictedto the field of literatureand art, at least in

scholarly and critical terminologies. The politicalmeaning of the word,

however,acquired a new charge

in the movementsof

the i96os.1

III

Side by side with, or instead of, the termand concept of

the majority of literary and art historiansuse the

ernism,"

"modernness"

"avant-garde"

expressions "mod-

or "the Moderns," meaning the period in

Rimbaud, and

The term"modernism" (or "modernness")

literature beginning with Baudelaire or, in some cases,

comingup to the present.

has,

for some of the

Marxist critics, the pejorative secondary mean-

ing of bourgeoisdisintegration, decay, decadence;

erately,apply it to literaryphenomena

realism and that reveal,

others, more temp-

that fall outside the line of

attempt

to find

as an essential feature, an

refuge in the increasing isolation of the artist; later, just an aimless,

anarchist revolt.2 Similarly,literary scholarship

in

English-speaking

generalizing

countriesand in France uses the term "modernism"in a

sense,usually understanding by it every trendthat is in sharp contrast with the previousperiod, that of Romanticismand realism.

  • I myself am in doubt about this

generalizing use of the word: this

"modernism"effaces the fundamentaldifferences and contradictions

  • I See R. Estivals, J. Ch. Gaudy, G. Vergez, L'avant-garde (Paris, 1968);

Holthusen,

"Kunst

Teoria

H. E.

und Revolution," Avantgarde (Munich, 1966); R. Poggioli,

dell'arte d'avanguardie (Bologna, 1962).

  • 2 See mainly Gyorgy

Lukacs' works; for recent detailed elaboration

of subject in

2 vols.

Hungarian criticism, see Istvin Kiraly, Endre Ady (Budapest, I970),

AVANT-GARDE, NEO-AVANT-GARDE, MODERNISM

51

between the various trends and tendenciesit stands for. If we call

everything that in some way or other deviates fromthe principles of

critical realism, fromBaudelaire to the German

revolutionaryactivists,

(no matterfrom but one that

from Apollinaire to the absurd drama, "modernist"

which side), we shall, I

would

think,gain a vague category,

conflate radically differenttendencies. If we label Mallarm6

and Apollinaire alike as "modernist," we disregard

the fundamental

disparity between Mallarm6, the great precursor of the cult of the

isolated

and

in the

Ego,

of the transformationof literatureinto

linguisticsymbols, openness, his deep interestin man and

Apollinaire, who with his

people,

his cheerfulnessand irony and humanismis at the source

of a powerful currentin European poetry,open, impulsive,reconciling

man

with society;between, that is,

the forerunnerof hermeticword-

play of our days on the one hand, and that of the present realistic

poetry on theother.

Similarly the term"modernist" will be applied

to the laterRilke and

early Mayakovsky, to the young

Nezval and the mature Eliot without

vague categories

of

discrimination; which shows that instead of the

modernliterature and modernismwe are to findterms that definethe

individual trends and tendenciesmore

complex

precisely. The trends in the

beginning with 1905, can

think, the

development of literatureand art,

be divided

into groups; one of the principalgroups being, I

avant-garde.

True, the avant-garde

by gradual

waves that

appear around I905 are char-

the very beginning: they are

point, and the avant-garde

acterized

transitionsfrom

linked to previous trendsin more than one

literaturehas a lot in common with that of the end of the

as far as their

century and their attitudesare con-

however,go back

philosophicalbackground cerned. In searching for commonfeatures we could,

as far as the Romantics; indeed more than one trend of the 2 oth

century can be derived from some type of Romanticism-still,

the

time that has

passed since the disintegration of Classicism cannot be

integralperiod.

Earlier criticsof the conservative

or Irving Babbitt, and more recently and on

Walter

Muschg and Hans Sedlmayr in

(respectivelyTragische

Litera-

inclinationtowards

consideredas one

wing like Lasserre

an

evidentlyhigher level,

their historiesof literatureand art

turgeschichte and Verlustder Mitte) have shownan

this conception; in their opinion everything that has happened dur-

ing the last century and a half adds up to one single process of dis- integration: since Goethe therehas been no literatureto speak of.

Where is the place of the avant-gardeamong the literary and artistic trendsof the 20th century?

52

NEW LITERARY HISTORY

This question leads to another that neitherthe Marxist nor the

answered although the problem of trends

recentlybrought up in

our century

bourgeois scholarshave as yet

in 2oth

century world literaturehas been

Soviet criticism.3 The development of the literatureof

is

polymorphous, so manifoldthat unlike almost

of one

all previous periods

single principle of

heading style, one prevailing methodor intellectual concept.

it cannot be included under the

The literatureof the 2oth

century shows a strong

realisticcurrent

that embraces a whole range of different trends, fromthe intellectual

realism

tending to irony (the

type that Thomas Mann

represents) to

plebeian realism (that of M6ricz or Sadoveanu) with a scattering of

nuances and varietiesbetween. It is

duced the

great

works

Brechtto Heinrich Mann,

this realism that, at its best,

pro-

of this eventfuland complicatedperiod, from

from Roger

Martin du Gard to Hemingway. strongest trendsof our century,

There is no doubt eitherthat one of the

gaining more ground everyday, is socialistrealism.

At the otherextreme we findthe

obviouslycheap literature, and the

guise of realism) -we

poles?-the "inter-

ultra-conservativeliterature (sometimes in the

can all agree to that, too. And between the two

region" as

Boris Suchkov ingeniously called it?

In this

"inter-region"are, firstof all, situatedthe trendsand

oeuvres

(sometimes of

a conservativeand aristocratic character) that we can

classify under the headings of late symbolism and neo-classicism, from

the late Rilke to Ezra Pound, fromYeats to

Valdry;

the workof Proust

in my opinion, more

than in

can also be classed here. These trendsare rooted,

in the past century,carrying on and perfecting its heritage,

the present. If nothingelse, this must make us wary of calling them

"avant-garde" and identifying them with the trendsthat

being just to challengethem,

were forsome time

came into

even if the careersof some of theseartists

linkedwith the avant-gardemovements, and even

we

usually term "avant-garde" are also

though the trendsand groups

to be

foundin this "inter-region."

Pure and

homogeneous trendsand formations have, of course, never

existed; a multitudeof transitionalforms come into being and, conse-

quently, the above categoriesapply to them only approximately. The

period

itselfis one of transition, and thereis a sectionin literatureand

art that deliberatelyaccepts this transitionalcharacter and assumes

a mutable, flexible, fluid shape.

Another methodological remark: the place of artists,trends, tend-

from being permanently fixed. If we can

encies and schools is far

AVANT-GARDE, NEO-AVANT-GARDE, MODERNISM

53

accept the above outlined

grouping

of the various trends as true to

upon,

we must

draw inspiration from and

everygreat artist pro-

life or at least as a serviceable hypothesis we can work

see that the artists get into contact with,

break with more than one of these groups, and

duces his own

part of a trend, but has a hand in

particularsynthesis even in our century; he is not simply

formulating,maintaining, improving

and surpassing it. On the otherhand the trenditself develops, under-

goes changes

and modificationsas well.

IV

What I understand by "avant-garde" are thusthe trendsand tendencies that possess a definite aesthetical,philosophical, in many cases, political,

program. They usually

in the

crystallize in creativecommunities and appear

Their

first years of our century,starting with Italian Futurism, French

literature, and German Expressionism in

first culminatingpoint

comes in the first

beginning of the and
beginning of the
and

Cubism both in art and in

literatureand

painting.

decade of the 20othcentury, a new wave followsat the

920os (Dadaism, Surrealism,Constructivism), and their aspect

effect markedlychange around 1935-38. We can thus put the first

great period

of the

avant-garderoughly between 1905 and 1938.

Let us go back to the antecedentsonce more. The

appear

avant-garde move-

any prepara-

mentsdid not

suddenly out of the blue, without

tion; the literary, artisticand social process that eventually called them

into existence had started in the

mid-Igth

century. The complex

trends of the end of the century,Naturalism, Symbolism, and Art Nouveau, cannot easily be conceived as the mere close of a period

either-they

indicatethe beginning of a new one as much. The impact

Verhaeren, Laforgue and Rimbaud is

there is no clear

of poets like Whitman and

difficultto separate fromwhat followsafter them:

dividing line

the

betweenRimbaud and Apollinaire. As an antecedentto

organized avant-garde we find the steps "Symbolism-Symbolist

in

nearly every country and

Naturalism-SymbolistExpressionism"

everysphere of art. Still, the thing that begins with Expressionism,

Cubism and

Futurismis so fundamentallynew,

such a total

change

in aims and conceptions, in the relation between the artist and the

world, the subject and the object, thatwe are entirelyjustified in start- ing the history of the 20othcentury avant-garde with them. They themselves emphasized with angry defiancethat they wanted to break with overripe Symbolism, with the civilization of the close of the century. Most trendsin the fine arts emerge in violent reaction to

54

NEW LITERARY HISTORY

Impressionism. A new way of looking at the world and a new system

of codes appear after the year 1905.

In contrast, the years between 1938 and I945 seem to be a period of

the

faltering and fatigue in the avant-gardemovements; they even give

impression of having

I945, however,

exhaustedtheir resources and

dyingaway.

some of them were restoredto life,

and

After

re-invigorated,

dominant

grew strongenough to become, in some countries, the

trend.

V

How can we characterizethese avant-gardewaves, and the avant-

garde movementin general?4

Several kinds of descriptions and approaches to the question are We would like to introduce a

sociological approach first,

philosophicalnature, too.

possible.

which naturally involvessome criteriaof a

If we adopt this angle,

trendsis thedissolution of the

and

the public.

tion, theexistence of artistand

we shall findthat the common basis for these

relationship betweenthe writer or artist

Literatureand artcannot fulfill their traditional func-

artbecomes precarious, its justification

challenged in the rapidlychanging, more and more complicated and

incomprehensible world.

The

process

had startedearlier but became

really menacing in the early 20oth century."Generally speaking, the

4

Expressionism, Dadaism, Surrealism,

classics, dealing

with the whole of

artistichedel Novocento (Milano,

1900oo-945 (Geneve, 1965).

Fewer

literaturas de

avanguardia

that of R. the recent litterariein

Poggioli,

Teoria dell'arte

comprehensive studies let us

(Milano, I967).

Europa Literaria, Studie e

(New York, 1968); Luchterhand, 1962);

H.

(Paris, 1968);

"Avantgarde.

XI (1966).-Finally

let me list here

dam, 1969), pp. 319-37,

and

5

and, from another

aspect,

P.

my

For further reading about the respective trends of the

 

avant-garde,

i.e.

rich

documentary

and critical material is

 

the

avant-garde art,

among

from Herbert Read,

The

 

and

Mario de Micheli, Le

avanguardie

sidcle.

Dimensions du XXe

attempts

have

been made

to sum

up

the

1962). From among

mention that of B.

Goribly, Le avanguardie literairnejavantgarde,"

Chvatik, Strukturalis-

available. There is also a vast list of reference books, already counted

Philosophy of Modern Art (London, 1950)

1959) to R. Delevoy,

literaryavant-garde: the fullest account is that of G. de Torre, Historia de las

(Madrid, 1925; Madrid, 1965), the most thorough,

d'avanguardie (Bologna,

See also M. Bakos, "O

dokumenty, No. 9 (Bratislava, 1966) ; K.

H. Lefebvre, La vie quotidienne

Geschichte und Krise einer Idee,"

mus und Avant-garde (Miinchen, 1970); F. Kermode, "The Modern," Continuities

Kofler, Zur Theorie der modernen Literatur (Neuwied,

dans le monde moderne

Gestalt u. Gedanke,

litteraireet

own attempts: "L'avantgarde

du

Ve Congrds

de

artistique comme phenomhne litteraire," Actes

l'AILC (Amster-

Yel is kidltds (Symbol and Outcry) (Budapest, 1971).

See A. Hauser, Sozialgeschichte der Kunst und Literatur, II (Miinchen, 1968),

"Disposition esthetique et competence

Bourdieu,

artistique," Temps Modernes ( x 971 ), 1345-78.

AVANT-GARDE, NEO-AVANT-GARDE, MODERNISM

55

artist, the writer, can no longer see the function,aim, meaning and

place of his work; consequently, he has to find new ways and means; he wants to bring about a radical reformin art or, if necessary, in

society itself.

This radical reform-whetherwe speak of a consciouswish for the new and a deliberate activity for achievingit, or of panic and hesitation at the sight of the changes in society-results in the dissolutionof the

relationship between person and object, between the representer and the represented, the artistand his subject-matter. The subject-matter itself changes; it acquires multiplemeanings and becomes incompre- hensible. The artistis no moresatisfied with the superficialappearance,

the familiar image of reality; he wants to penetratethrough the surface of everydayreality, he fights the mechanical reflexes, routineand habit.

Instead, he wantsto expose unexploredconnections, to

findthe Essence

of things-either with the help of a passion that seeks out the essential or with intellectual insight,by way of ecstasiesor speculations. This

basic sociological

public,

situation, this sense of a break between artist and

art and the consumer, the consciousnessof the artist's crisis,

etc. are common featuresin the "fin-de-siecle"trends and the avant-

garde. What distinguishes the avant-garde fromthe formeris

that it

not only faces, enduresand registers this crisisbut also triesto master it, to find the way out, to get the upper hand. That is, it wants to

restore, to recreate the unity of art and public, and bring

about a

radical change in art and society, even if these attempts at a solution

are sometimes utopian and anarchic.

As a result, in the avant-garde trendsthe traditionaltime factor changes and so does conventional space; time and space amalgamate:

the world seems to be disjointed,continuity turns into discontinuity. The artistfeels compelled to reflectthe disjointed world by giving a

disconnected,fragmentary, patchy effectto his work. Everything is in motion,accelerating, and the artist manages to keep up the pace for

a while, he strivesafter contemporaneity. Then overcome by dizziness he, too, denies the existenceof measurable time and space and wants

to reflectan achronic state, mere quantitativerapports, abstract re-

lations. Character-drawing in the novel and the drama changes:

the

prevailingaspect is the relativity of time and space, the timeless process of innerconsciousness. Literary formsand genreschange, too: descrip- tion and plot are dropped, the characteristicfeature of the work is its

elliptical and fragmentary construction.And the arch-enemy of the artist, the sum of everything that is outdated and petty-bourgeois is

56

NEWLITERARY HISTORY

emotion; he

wants passion

and will

instead, or even better: laughter,

changes in the

rapidly

Age

of

the

ridicule, the grotesque, the "humour noir." All this is an external, secondary index of the

relationship betweenart and society, art and the world. In the

changing world of the second industrial revolution, in the

confusing, surrounded by a nature that,

discoveries grows even more chaotic, art seems to lose

tion and

art void

weight;

in the

age

Technology, in the society that the artist, this solitary rebel of

age

of

imperialism and proletarianrevolutions, findsmore and more

following the recentscientific

its former posi-

of mass culture many an artistfinds his

slang, notions and problems of but it does not stop at that: it

dividing lines

public

and

closerto the

of reason. Art absorbs the

technology, of the city,

modern life, of

wants to destroy the hierarchy of art forms, to effacethe

between "high" and "low," all in orderto

overcome the alienating interestthe avant-garde

speaking,gym wants to do

get

effectof the division of labor. Hence the takes in the circus, the music hall, choral

festivalsand various new types of theatre. The artist

with the dividing lines betweenthe arts, the division

sculpture,poetry and plastic arts: this is at the

away

of architectureand

origin of the "rythme colore" and "poemes-dessins," of visual sym- phonies and literarycollages.

But soon it is art itselfthat the

avant-gardechallenges. The avant-

aggressivespirit:

no

significance

to attain

industry, seeks

garde

trendsare characterizedfrom the first by an

claim

they to speak of.

that,compared withlife and action, art has

Art now aspires to the status of

scientific exactness, technical precision and validity. The artist, if a

painter or a sculptor, wants to

to

adopt its speed,

master technology, if a

writeror a poet,

Long

live

and

exactness and devices. "Art is dead.

Tatlin's new mechanic art"-declined the poster of G. Grosz

Heartfieldas early as 1920.

The art of the

avant-garde is deeply

age.

One index of

influenced by the social and

the artist's helplessness is his

to the "humour

political more and more

forcesof the

frequentresorting to the grotesque,

noir," the desperategrin, angry laughter, vain outcry in poetry,paint-

ing or drama-phenomena

which became

reallyprevalent in our time.

society are expressedby the reduction

accepting

terrorand

anguish to

Alienation,solitude, isolationin the middle the artistwhether he submitsto them and,

of

of human

personality as inevitable, shouts his

the wide world, or

rebels against them and triesto avoid them.

The avant-garde also has tendenciesand

changing the natureof art and

stages that are not satisfied defining the new position

merely with

of the artist,but determinedly striveto transform society in its entirety.

AVANT-GARDE, NEO-AVANT-GARDE,

MODERNISM

57

Avant-garde art is characterized by a feverish quest for the new and

striking, and a hatred for everything that is outdated, retrograde, fossilizedor conservative: two weapons in the struggle to change the

outdated and conservativestructure and elementsof society. Nearly

everyavant-garde trendtries to this New Man is sometimesan

outlinethe featuresof the New Man; utopian, unreal personality, oftenthe

artist himself, but as oftenthe freelydeveloping memberof a new type of society. It is the wish to overcome alienation that formulatesthis

image of man: the ideal of a happy and complete personality, the product, as some artists hope, of a futureclassless Communist society. Throughout the history of the avant-garde we see the fight and alter-

nation of two contrastingtendencies, two extremes, two types of revolt:

the individual and destructiveand the collective and constructive,

respectively. This dichotomy is manifestedin the contrastingpairs of

Surrealism and Constructivism, or Dada

and late Expressionism.

Several groups of avant-garde artistswant to build, to create and also

to forma more or less permanent alliance with revolutionary move-

mentsand the revolutionaryworking-class movement: here we ought

to mentionthe activist wing of

Expressionism, H. Walden's Sturm, the

"au service de la revolution" phase of Surrealism, the Polish Nowa

Sztuka movement, the Slovak DA V, the entire development of the Czech avant-garde or the LEF. The other wing of the avant-garde

(the Dada or the early Surrealism) breaks into an unintelligible and grotesque wail at the sight of war, of irrationality, of the stale social

system;they grab at everything;they ridicule, expose and destroy.

Thus if we are thinking in purelysociological termsand not those of art, the avant-garde is an intellectual movement, the action of the

intelligentsia-complete with not a few misconceptions

ideologies,

and false

fromaristocratism to anarchism, so characteristicof "sects"

and "outcasts." And, in its wake, the multifoldand complex distor- tions and restrictionsthat alienation produces. The majority of the adherentsof these movementsdid howevercherish a sinceredesire to see a change both in the arts and in the world of reality. Also it is a

fact that the avant-garde movements challenged the validity of a lot of conceptions that had long been outworn, such as the rigid division

between "high" art and mass culture, the hierarchy in literature, the

rigidity of literaryforms, the glossed-overrepresentation of the facts and so on. They set off a process, took the first step on a road that

could have led to new formsin literatureand art and to the reforma- tionof their entire existence.

58

NEW LITERARY HISTORY

VI

Up to now we have

discussedthe avant-garde froma sociological view-

question

is,

a distinct phi-

uniformly

philosophy,

point-and hinted at its philosophicalimplications.

The

do these tendencies possess a comprehensiveideology,

losophical aspect It is a well-knownfact that

of their own over and above the discussedfeatures.

Poggioli has made an attempt at a phe-

nomenologicaldescription.' The philosophical-ideological basis of the

avant-garde movementsis heterogeneous, and

treated. No

ideology

cannot be

can be said to be exclusively characteristicof

consequently we cannot "ex

them, neither existentialismnor the German idealistic

neither that of Marx nor Nietzsche;

definition" qualify these tendencies as anti-realistand anti-Marxist,

or materialistand Marxist.

They

draw on various

philosophicalsys-

tems and combinetheir borrowings to make up theirown ideology.

The picture is perhaps

a

degree

more unifiedif we considerthe pre-

occupation of thesemovements with psychology or the naturalsciences

and

technology.

We cannot pass over the theory that one of the

wave of the avant-

sources, one of the basic experiences of the first great

garde resultedfrom the covery that the untilthen

findings of the natural sciences, i.e. the dis-

impenetrable substanceis open to the ques-

tioning eye (as biochemistry,physics and, after Freud, psychology demonstrated). The revelationof hithertoinvisible provinces-to see

the hitherto invisible, to learn the hithertounknown without

to resortto mysticism and

is, among the
is, among
the

having

irrationalism-this overwhelmingexperience

avant-garde waves. So, too, is

dreams, fantasies

others, at the source of the

exploration of the hidden domains of reality-the

and illusionsof Surrealism-or, in the case of Futurism,Cubism, and

particularlyConstructivism, the

until now unfathomable operative

system of things. The primacy of the experience versus literarytrends,

the relationship between experience and form,etc., are inquiries where there are still multitudesof questions to answer-this can be a track

we should followin the future.

Finally, can we speak of a specificprosodical, stylistic, or, more gen- erally, a formal-aestheticfeature that commonly characterizesthe entire

avant-garde; is it possible to defineit froma purely formal aspect,by

its poetical accomplishments? I am hardly in the position to answer the question here and now; the detailed work in this fieldstill has to

be done. The chief methodologicalproblem lies in the fact that nearly every single trend of the avant-garde follows a differentaesthetic

AVANT-GARDE, NEO-AVANT-GARDE,

MODERNISM

59

canon, employs a different method, works on a different principle of

construction. They may be similar in some

instance, the revolt against

negative

traits as, for

poetic standards of the 19th century, the

rejection of certain forms, the dissolutionof certain limitations (the

old-type novel structure, metrical forms,types of drama, syntax,etc.)

but these in themselvesare not sufficientto characterizethe trends.

Perhaps we may say

that the entire

development of the recent past,

the phenomena, formsand concepts of the 2oth century are comprised

and

the avant-garde.

guage

account;

the

magic

additional

concentrated, as if in culminatingpoints, in the various trendsof

the example of the poetic image. The lan-

its own, becomes important on its own

thing it stands for, the wordsturn into

We can observethis in

begins to live a life of

sign suppresses the

and perfume, the elementsof the literary text become inde-

breaks away fromthe body of the poem to live

pendent; the image

a self-dependent life. The poet's wish to create this independentimage

will produce literary theories and schools that, on

their

part, give

to the writer's endeavors: we witness such

English Imagism

Poetism and

support

fruitfulinterrelations in the well-knowncases of the

and the New Criticism (Eliot, Hulme), the Czech

the Structuralismof the Ecole de

Prague (Nezval, Mukarovsky),

resulting

independence and prominence

or the Spanish and South-AmericanUltraismo and the

theoreticalwork of J. L. Borges. The

of the

image is a phenomenon we

come acrossin the nineteenth century,

in Romanticism, and in other twentieth-century trendsas well.

In Surrealism,however, and in the

as a

succeeding

trends up to the

of the

is so

image

present, it is set up

program: the prevalence

marked that it almost becomes the

construingprinciple of poetry and

replaced by other principles,

area where it is

prose.7 In othertrends it disappears to be

characteristicsof modernliterature and art

and,

by previouslypractised methods. This is perhaps the

most difficultto

distinguish the general development and the general

fromtheir specificfeatures,

for this reason, a sociological classification yields much better

results.

  • 7 For the last treatmentof the question see P. Caminade, Image et me'taphore (Paris, 1970).

VII

We have used the expression "movements"and on this occasion we

shall have to say a fewwords

about the particularity of the phenomena

60

NEW LITERARY HISTORY

that this expression covers. School or currentor trend or style-in

which of these categories should we place

otherwords: what is in

the avant-garde? Or, in

fact the avant-garde?

We are now

treading

the most

dangerous

The

and most controversial

interpretation and appli-

territory of literaryhistory and theory.

cation of "current,trend, style,

etc." is a much debated issue even in

the case of periods whose historicalevaluation

presents less problems;

what then in the case of our complex, polymorphous and changeable

century?

There is a widely held opinion which says that the

avant-garde is an

attitude, a dispositionrather;

and applies the term, whetherwith a tone

ever-presentspirit of innovation,

spasmodic

of commendationor censure, to the

to feverish enthusiasm, to the spasmodic reflectionsof a

age.

I

to

for one cannot agree with such an extensionof the notion, or

be more exact, with a psychological definitionof this kind; in my

avant-garde is a phenomenon that occurs in a certain

one that calls, above

all, for a historical analysis.

either, as so many literary

aspect, an organizational

the "school" in classical

opinion the

historical period;

We cannot consider it as a "movement"

historians do; the "movement"is an outward

frame, a fact of the

sociology of literature, like

trends, or elsewherethe "cenaculum" or the "circle."

And if we insiston

classifyingit,

we cannot call the

avant-garde

of

one specific school or one single

current. A

group of currents, a set

schools rather; and the definitionwill indicate that within the same

trendwe should look for a diversity of aims, styles,philosophical and

ideological backgrounds; what they have in common are just

general features.The

some

realismof the 2oth century, for instance, is such

a group of currents, and so, in my opinion, is the avant-garde.

VIII

The spread of the avant-garde, its appearance in different countries,

and the changes in its shape and function give rise to some peculiar

phenomena of which I should like to pick out two.

  • I) The avant-garde movements undergo a change in function. If it is

true that at the origins of the avant-garde we find the changes in

society, the wish to determinethe functionof literature, and the artists'

search for new possibilities, then we are justified in assuming that in

social systems afflictedwith the same problems thesetrends will appear

in the same manner. In othercountries, standing on a differentlevel,

AVANT-GARDE, NEO-AVANT-GARDEj

MODERNISM

6i

with a different literarydevelopment and

differentsocial conditionsit

may happen that they do not appear at

nificance, and

all, or with a modified sig-

their formal and linguistic innovationsassume a dif-

ferentfunction.8

In Central Europe we witnessthe

change

in functionor the shift

in characterof more than one

examples of the change

avant-garde trend. One of the earliest

development of

in functionwas the German

the Dada; the destructive,desperate, ultra-nihilisticmovement had a

revolutionarywing

that became more and more involved in political

produced the provocative and freshin-

activities and, by the 1930s

gredients of a modern realism (Huelsenbeck, Herzfelde, G. Grosz, O.

Dix).

And,

as we know, the "activist"

wing of German Expressionism

literature Expressionism was the

Owing mainly to

followedthe same course. In Croatian

trendthat brought about the renewal of the whole.

Krleza's activity, it turnedto a