avant-gardes in Mars & Medak 2019
rge, in order to become ‘a powerful vehicle
for troubling troubled times’ (Berlant, 2016: 394-395).
The trajectory of radical gestures, discontinuities by re-invention, and creative
destruction of the old have been historically a hallmark of the avant-gardes. In
what follows, we will revisit the history of the avant-gardes, claiming that,
throughout their periodic iterations, the avant-gardes returned and mutated
always in response to the dominant processes and crises of the capitalist
development of their time. While primarily an artistic and intellectual
phenomenon, the avant-gardes emerged from both an adversarial and a coconstitutive relation to the institutions of higher education and knowledge
production. By revisiting three epochal moments along the trajectory of the
avant-gardes – 1917, 1967 and 2017 – we now wish to establish how the
structural context for radical disruption and radical transformation were
historically changing, bringing us to the present conjuncture where the library
and the university can reclaim the legacy of the avant-gardes by seemingly doing
its exact opposite: refusing innovation.
1917 – Industrial modernization,
In his text on ‘Modernity and Revolution’ Perry Anderson (1984) provides an
axis of life the content of works’ (Bürger, 1984: 49)
While capitalism was becoming the dominant reality, the freedom of art was
working to suppress the incursion of that reality in art. It was that distance,
between art and life, that historical avant-gardes would undertake to eliminate
when they took aim at bourgeois art. With the ‘pathos of historical
progressiveness on their side’ (Bürger, 1984: 50), the early avant-gardes were
thus out to relate and transform art and life in one go.
Early industrial capitalism unleashed an enormous social transformation
through the formalization and rationalization of processes, the coordination and
homogenization of everyday life, an
uctive forces and global
expansion of capitalist relations made the humanity and the world into a new
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horizon of both charitable and profitable endeavors, emancipatory and imperial.
The world became a project (Krajewski, 2014).
The avant-gardes around the turn of the 20th century integrated and critically
inflected these transformations. In the spirit of the October Revolution, its
revolutionary subjectivity approached social reality as eminently transformable.
And yet, a recurrent concern
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