Fall 2018

20th- and 21st-century Literary Groups and Avant-Gardes

, 3 pts, UN3819


Prerequisites: FREN UN3333 and FREN UN3334 OR permission of the director of undergraduate studies.

In this course, we will explore the formal, political, and social innovations of avant-gardes and literary groups. If Benjamin lamented the effects of industrialization and capitalism on art, artists in literary groups and avant-gardes investigated everything that made art “mechanical” or “reproducible,” beginning with form itself. From exquisite corpses to blank screens or texts written without the letter ‘e,’ French literature of the 20th century re-invents and re-forms the most basic units of art. This re-production of form went hand-in-hand with a more general consideration of what it meant to be an artist or an intellectual, especially one working in/for a group/movement/community. The predominance of the collective manifesto speaks to the importance of collective practice not only to artistic experimentation, but to political commitment. If surrealists thought that altering form could alter our perception of reality, writers outside of France, such as those of the négritude, played with formal techniques to challenge the political and aesthetic values of hexagonal France.

These collective experiments force us to ask important questions about group artistic practice: what units a group of individuals? A certain form? A mode of sociability? How does collective practice “work” or “happen”? Do these groups write collective texts, use a collective synonym, or share a political project? Is there a gap between a group’s stated goals and its actual practice? And perhaps most importantly, can changing literary form really alter reality or history?

These questions will oblige us to interrogate the relationship between art, collective practice, and political commitment. We will consider how art is integrated into the political sphere at different points in time and how the reception of art affected prevailing notions of collective artistic identity. We will also interrogate the kinds of language that literary criticism has developed to describe collective practice: how do we historicize terms like “formal innovation” or “political commitment”? Does political engagement require formal innovation or vice versa? Can an avant-garde be “apolitical”? And what differentiates avant-gardes, from literary journals, or movements from loosely formed groups, etc.? We will consider precursors to avant-gardes in the 16th-century, the development and blossoming of the avant-garde in the 19th- and 20th-centuries, and finally, the effects of avant-gardism on 21st-century literature, after the supposed disappearance of collective practice. What happens to collective practice after the loss of the group? Can a collective consist of a single author?

Section Number
Call Number
Day, Time & Location
TR 10:10am-11:25am To be announced
Aubrey A Gabel