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EN2K7/EN3K8 Twentieth Century Avant-Gardes: Culture, Politics, Contestation

TUES 3-4:30

Convenor: Prof. Michael Gardiner

This module looks at literary and artistic avant-gardes of the twentieth century, within broader contexts of social and political action. Its 'contestation' concerns, broadly: Euro-American political-economic-cultural-linguistic hegemony on the ‘global’; a class hegemony within Europe and the Anglosphere, and the response of ‘provincial’ modernism; a hegemony of liberal democracy, answered by various kinds of revolutionary modernism (Futurism, Eisenstein, Brecht, Situationism); social and sexual hegemony, queer writing and surrealism; hegemony of literary form and its power bases. The module considers modernist formal departures as more than mere banal innovation, but also a reconfiguration of the relationship between the aesthetic and social. However, it can be taken as a ‘twentieth century culture’ module, or an 'alt-modernism' module, or an introduction to political and theoretical issues in C20-C21 culture.

Each week there is a (usually one) set text and suggested texts - read suggested texts if you can, but not compulsory. Set texts should be bought, where they are not already online. Paper books are preferred to e-books. All texts are fairly readily available, and we will talk about availability from week one. Weeks Two and Three look complicated, but aren't - they involve a relatively few pages which are all linked below. You should not rely on the library for set texts - they may have them, but there will be pressure on copies and you may not get them at the right time. Please make sure you have the text specified below - this does not always match the text provided by Talis Aspire. Try to look ahead and take care of the longer texts. There are also short videos, by both MG and Prof. Daniel Katz, made during the pandemic but still hopefully useful introductions. Seminar tutor will also briefly introduce the text each week and there will be a brief student intro to the set text(s) (which will not take much preparation time and is not to be worried about) - we will distribute these in week one of each term.


EN2K7 - non-finalists: 1 x 3,000 word essay + 1 x 4,000 word essay

EN3K8 - finalists: 1 x 3,000 word essay + 1 x 5,000 word essay

Weighting of essays is 40-60

Essays are submitted through Tabula. Write on at least one text from the relevant term. You can add any other text(s) you like, from within or outwith the module, but you don't have to. Writing on one set text is fine. Bringing together two or more set texts is fine. Bringing together a set text and non-course text(s) is also fine. Term One, Since the first deadline falls relatively early, Weeks Nine and Ten texts (Tanizaki, Resnais), can be written about in the first and/ or second essay, but don't write on the same text(s) for both.

On this module you make your own titles, which you're welcome to check your title with your tutor, but this is not compulsory. (Note that for the second essay, enquiries should be made within term-time). Seminar tutor(s) can also okay a general idea, but not a detailed structure or argument. The titles that work best will be both original and simple-and-concrete - 'Theme A in text b and text c' or similar. They will often tend to see set texts in an unexpected way, in relation to surprising extra texts, or with close textual attention to comparison between texts. Please start research from module booklists, rather than searches on JSTOR or search engines (though these may form part of your search) - the danger with this is that you end up with random-looking, unrelated 'critical' sources. Don't feel you have to stay narrowly within the realm of the 'literary'.

This is a Pathway Approved Option for the World and Comparative Literature Pathway and one of the Distributional Requirements for the English Pathway. Can also be selected as an option under the remaining Pathways

Syllabus 2022-23


W1: Introduction: no preparation required

W2: Manifestos I. SET:
Marx and Engels, Communist ManifestoLink opens in a new window; from Nietzsche, The Will to PowerLink opens in a new window (pages 7-27); Freud, "Repression" (available on Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing, or Standard Edition, volume 14, or simple online search); W. E. B. DuBois, 'Of Our Spiritual Strivings'Link opens in a new window from The Souls of Black Folk.
Michael Bell, 'The Metaphysics of Modernism', in ed. Levenson, The Cambridge Companion to Modernism (1999/ 2011);
(useful for whole module: eds. Kolocotroni et al, Modernism: An Anthology of Sources and Documents (EUP, 1998); eds. Alys Moody and Stephen Ross, Global Modernists on Modernism (Bloomsbury, 2020) (electronic through library))
. How do big ideas of the turn of the twentieth century influence modernism and early avantgardes?;
. how does the view of the self change at the end of the nineteenth century, and how is a 'split self' registered in literature?;
. what are the modern lacks that modernism address?


W3: Manifestos II. SET:
Leon Trotsky, Literature and RevolutionLink opens in a new window (chapters 5 & 8 only); Wyndham Lewis, Manifestos from BlastLink opens in a new window (read from beginning to page 43); Filippo Marinetti, 'The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism'; Tristan Tzara, 'Dada Manifesto'; Mina Loy, 'Feminist Manifesto' (links or look for your preferred edition)
Marjorie Perloff, The Futurist Moment: Avant-Garde, Avant-Guerre, and the Language of Rupture (U Chicago Press, 2004), Chapter Three, 'The Manifesto as Art Form' (book not in library, but chapter also published as an article, here: opens in a new window)
. What are the generic markers of manifestos, ie what do they have in common in terms of literary form?;
. what are the political ambitions of the 1910s-30s we have to take into account?;
. how do writers' relationships with the past change in the 1910s?;
. what kind of rupture does the Great War bring?


W4: SET: Hugh MacDiarmid, A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle (Polygon 2008 - get this edition, it has the most helpful glosses)
Scott Lyall, Hugh MacDiarmid's Poetry and Politics of Place (EUP, 2006), Chapter One pp. 34-38 only, and Chapter Five
Robert Crawford, Devolving English Literature (EUP 1992/ CUP 2000), chapter 'modernism as provincialism'
. What kind of strategy is in place in using a 'synthetic' dialect?;
. what place does archaism have in challenging modernism?;
. can nationalism and marxism fit together?;
. why is so much modernism fragmentary in form?;
. does modernism come from the margins?


W5: SET : Bertholt Brecht, The Caucasian Chalk Circle - trans. Eric Bentley, please don't trust Talis if it suggests otherwise; and Brecht on Theatre: 'Theatre for Pleasure or Theatre for Instruction', 131-139; 'Verfremdung Effects in Chinese Acting', 176-185; 'The Street Scene', 203-212; 'Short Organon for the Theatre', 271-308
. What is Verfremdungseffekt, how does it work,
. why is it important, and how influential has it been?;
. why are so many western European modernists interested in East Asian understandings of representation?;
. does modernism (or modernist avant-gardes) kill realism?


W7: SET: Sergei Eisenstein (dir.), The Battleship Potemkin (easily findable but also check library; many possible scores, Shostakovich preferred but not that important); and Eisenstein, Film Form: 'Through Theatre to Cinema'; 'The Cinematographic Principle and the Ideogram'; 'A Dialectic Approach to Film Form'; 'Methods of Montage'; 'The Structure of the FIlm'
How does montage work, and what is it supposed to achieve?;
. why is Soviet cinema of the 1920s-30s so important (and so influential - the 'Odessa steps' scene may be the most influential in film history)?;
. what is the relationship between film and propaganda?;
. why did some countries' early C20 thought leaders embrace film and others largely reject it (Japan, for example)?

W8: SET: Aimé Césaire, Notebook of a Return to My Native Land. in ed. and trans. Clayton Eschelman, Césaire's Complete Poems, also possible to look at the Eschelman edition on Wesleyan UP, 2001, and interesting to compare trans. Mireille Rosello on Bloodaxe Books. Do not trust Aspire if it sends you to anything other than the Eschelman. Parallel translations for this and any other translated texts are extremely useful if you have any of the original language at all.
André Breton, 'Aimé Césaire: A Great Black Poet'
, or other writing on surrealism by Breton
How is surrealism a proactive political strategy?;
. does surrealism 'matter more' in colonies?;
. does Breton use Césaire to drop up a flagging surrealist movement?;
. how is the Caribbean a crucial 'in-between' region?

W9: SET : Tanizaki Jun’ichirō, In’ei Raisan/ In Praise of Shadows (trans. Seidensticker, Vintage 2001), or other edition of the Seidensticker translation
Akira Mizuta Lippit, Atomic Light (Shadow Optics) (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005), 21-29 and 107-111;
Michael Gardiner, The British Stake in Japanese Modernity (New York: Routledge, 2019), pp. 104-114 (both of these are available digitally via Warwick library)
Bung-Chul Han, The Transparency Society (London: Polity, 2014)
James Bridle, New Dark Age (London: Verso, 2019)
. Why are shadows important - what do they suggest about knowledge, globalisation, control?
. What kind of intellectual challenge is made by inter-war Japan, for example the Kyoto School?;
. why has inter-war Japanese thinking tended to be called 'ultranationalist'?

W10: SET : Marguerite Duras/ Alain Resnais, Hiroshima Mon Amour (film)
Hiroshima Mon Amour screenplay by M. Duras (any edition)
. What happens to representation in the H-Bomb era, and what can artists do with this problem?
. What are the characteristics of French New Wave films? How might this relate back to Brecht?
. Is there a challenging aesthetic of slowness? Is there a challenging aesthetic of the non-sequitur?
. Does French New Wave film point towards the events of France 1968? Is there an English equivalent?

MG mini-talks from 2020:

Manifestos I:
Manifestos II:
A Drunk Man:
Hiroshima Mon Amour:


W11: SET: James Joyce, Dubliners
SUGGESTED: David Lloyd, Counterparts: Dubliners, Masculinity, and Temperance Nationalism (e-text through Talis Aspire)
(2020 - All seminars mini-lecture--click here.Link opens in a new window)
. What is the relationship between the domestic and the national?;
. how are nations gendered, and what form of political action does this imply?;
. how is Ireland a problem for England, and vice-versa, and what kind of contestations derive from this?


W12: SET: Gertrude Stein, 'Tender Buttons', in Selected Writings
SUGGESTED: Mia You, 'Buttons and Holes: Stein and Picasso at Le Bon Marché.' ELH 20.3 (2020). (available through library portal).
Short excerpt from eds. Andrews and Bernstein, The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Book, 1984
(2020 - Mini-lecture for all groups hereLink opens in a new window)
. Is there a 'literary cubism'?;
. what are the politics of syntatcic dusruption?;
. is there a proactive 'aesthetic of difficulty';
. how do you go about reading a text that resists simple representation?


W13: SET: H. T. Tsiang, The Hanging on Union Square
SUGGESTED: Aaron S. Lecklider, "H. T. Tsiang's Proletarian Burlesque: Performance and Perversion in The Hanging on Union Square. Melus, vol. 26, no. 4 (2011). Link opens in a new window
(2020 - Mini-lecture (all groups) on Tsiang here.Link opens in a new window)
How 'types' are used in political novels

W14: SET Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
SUGGESTED: Isiah Lavender III, "An Afrofuturist Reading of Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God," LIT: Literature, Interpretation, Theory, 27:3, 2016.Link opens in a new window
. How this book relates to the Harlem Renaissance;
. the politics of 'phoneticised' writing;
. forms of sexuality in mid-C20 fiction

(2020 - Mini-lecture (all groups) on Hurston.Link opens in a new window)


W15: SET: Pablo Neruda, from Selected Poems: “Tonight I can write…”; “Weak with the Dawn”; “Ars Poetica”; “Lone Gentleman”; “Barcarole”; “Walking Around”; “There’s no forgetting”; "I'm Explaining a Few Things"; “Discoverers of Chile”; “Ode to Clothes”; “Ode to the Tomato”; "And How Long?"; "Too Many Names"; "The Portrait in the Rock"; "Fiesta's End, xii, xiii"; "The People"; "Poetry."
SUGGESTED: Greg Dawes, "Realism, Surrealism, Socialist Realism and Neruda's 'Guided Spontaneity'" (Cultural Logic, 2003; open access text which can be found on an internet search).
The relationship between marxism and lyric;
. how avant-garde or challenging poetry deals with 'objectness'

(2020 - Neruda lecture here.Link opens in a new window)


W17: Situationism: SET: Guy Debord, 'One More Try if You Want to be SituationistsLink opens in a new window'. And: Debord, Report on the Construction of Situations...' (1957); Debord, 'Theory of the Dérive' (1958); Situationist International, 'Détournement as Negation and Prelude' (1959); Debord, 'The Situationists and the New Forms of Action in Politics and Art" (1963); René Viénet, 'The Situationists and the New Forms of Action Against Politics and Art' (1967); all from 'The Bureau of Public Secrets'.Link opens in a new window And: Debord, 'Contribution to the Debate "Is Surrealism Alive or Dead?"' (1958) (all short and should be easily findable)
SUGGESTED: McKenzie Wark, from The Beach Beneath the Street, Chapter 3: "The Torrent of History" (ebook through Warwick library).
. Situationism and the lead-up to France 1968;
. what is a dérive, and how does this relate to (for example) psychogeography?;
. to what extent is situationism still influential (and is it the 'final stage' of the avant-garde)?
(2020 - Mini-lecture here!Link opens in a new window)


W18: SET: Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49
SUGGESTED: Robin Blyn, "Beyond Anarchist Miracles: The Crying of Lot 49 and Network Aesthetics."Modernism/Modernity, 27.3, 2020.Link opens in a new window
Paranoia and psychedelics in 1960s America;
. libertarianism and its discontents;
. textual layering
(2020 - Pynchon Lecture here!Link opens in a new window)

W19: SET: Sonallah Ibrahim, That Smell & Notes From Prison
SUGGESTED: Robyn Creswell's "Translator's Introduction" to this edition
. The peripatetic narrative; fiction under police watch;
. prison fiction;
. Egypt and modernist form

(2020 - Ibrahim Lecture here.)Link opens in a new window

W20: SET: Denise Riley, from Selected Poems: 'A note on sex and "the reclaiming of language"'; 'she's imagining her wife'; 'postcard'; 'I heard the water...': 'An infant'; 'You have a family?'; 'hold fast in arms'; 'assume a country'; 'In 1970'; 'Ah, so'; 'No work in Britain; working abroad'; 'Laibach Lyrik: Slovenia, 1991'; 'A shortened set'; 'Shantung'; 'What else'; 'Rayon'; 'Dark looks'; 'The Castalian Spring'; 'Curmudgeonly'; '"Affections of the Ear"'. From The Words of Selves: Chapter 3: "Lyric selves."
SUGGESTED: Samuel Solomon, from Lyric Pedagogy and Marxist Feminism: Social Reproduction and the Institutions of Poetry, Ch. 2: "Denise Riley's Socialized Biology".
the tone of LANGUAGE poetry (or Anglo-langpo);
. representation in 'postmodern' poetry;
. lineation and pagination in experimental poetry, why it might matter and what effect it has;
. modes of feminism

(2020 - Riley lecture here!Link opens in a new window)

Initial Additional Reading - provisional and continually updated (but recommend starting here for essays)

David Ayers, Benedikt Hjatarson, et al., eds. Utopia: The Avant-Garde, Modernism and (Im)possible Life (DeGruyter, 2015)

Ernst Bloch, Bertholt Brecht et al. Aesthetics and Politics (Verso, 1980)

Sascha Bru. The European Avant-Gardes, 1905-1935: A Portable Guide (Edinburgh UP, 2018).

Peter Burger. Theory of the Avant-Garde (University of Minnesota Press, 1984)

Erin Carlston. Thinking Fascism: Sapphic Modernism and Fascist Modernity (Stanford UP, 1998)

Natalia Cecire. Experimental: American Literature and the Aesthetics of Knowledge (Johns Hopkins UP, 2019)

Sam Cooper. The Situationist International in Britain (Routledge, 2017)

Robert Crawford. Devolving English Literature (Edinburgh UP, 2000)

Wai Chee Dimock. Through Other Continents: American Literature Across Deep Time (Princeton UP, 2006)

Laura Doyle and Laura Winkiel, eds. Geomodernisms: Race, Modernism, Modernity (Indiana UP, 2005)

Ales Erjavec, ed. Aesthetic Revolutions and Twentieth-Century Avant-Garde Movements (Duke UP, 2015)

Susan Stanford Friedman, Planetary Modernisms: Provocations on Modernity Across Time (Columbia UP, 2015)

Henry Louis Gates. The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism (Oxford UP, 1988)

Harry Harootunian. Overcome By Modernity: History, Culture, and Community in Inter-War Japan (Princeton UP, 2002)

Alastair Hemmens and Gabriel Zacarias, eds. The Situationist International: A Critical Handbook (Pluto, 2020)

Andrew Hewitt. Fascist Modernism: Aesthetics, Politics, and the Avant-Garde (Stanford UP, 1996)

Yunte Huang. Transpacific Displacement: Ethnography, Translation, and Intertextual Travel in Twentieth-Century American Literature (University of California Press, 2002)

Daniel Katz. American Modernism's Expatriate Scene: The Labour of Translation (Edinburgh UP, 2007)

Rosalind Krauss. The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths (MIT Press, 1986)

David Lloyd. Anomalous States: Irish Writing and the Post-Colonial Moment (Duke UP, 1993)

Tom McDonough, ed. Guy Debord and the Situationist International (MIT Press, 2004)

Alys Moody and Stephen J. Ross, eds. Global Modernists on Modernism: An Anthology (Bloomsbury, 2020)

Michael North. Reading 1922: A Return to the Scene of the Modern (Oxford UP, 2002)

Marjorie Perloff. The Futurist Moment: Avant-Garde, Avant-Guerre, and the Language of Rupture (University of Chicago Press, 2004)

Martin Puchner. Poetry of the Revolution: Marx, Manifestos, and the Avant-Garde (Princeton UP, 2005)

Jean-Michel Rabaté. 1913: The Cradle of Modernism (Blackwell, 2007)

Franklin Rosemont and Robin D. G. Kelley, eds. Black, Brown & Beige: Surrealist Writings from Africa and the Diaspora (University of Texas Press, 2009).

Sophie Seita. Provisional Avant-Gardes: Little Magazine Communities from Dada to Digital (Stanford UP, 2019)

Jeffrey Schnapp and Matthew Tiews, eds. Crowds (Stanford UP, 2006)

Samuel Solomon, Lyric Pedagogy and Marxist-Feminism (Bloomsbury, 2019)

Steven Yao. Translation and the Languages of Modernism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2002)

Delia Ungureanu. From Paris to Tlön: Surrealism as World Literature (Bloomsbury, 2018)

Eric White. Transatlantic Avant-Gardes: Little Magazines and Localist Modernism (Edinburgh UP, 2013).

Laura Winkiel. Modernism, Race and Manifestos (Cambridge UP, 2008).

Term One Essay Ideas:

These are improvised sample titles; they mostly to give you an idea of pitching, and we recommend that you create your own title. If you would like to have a title okayed by the seminar tutor that would be fine, but this isn’t compulsory.


. Characteristics of manifestos as a literary genre

. The politics of Italian futurism

. Futurism and the rise of the automobile

. Futurist temporality and the 2000s victory of ‘retro’

. Text and image in 1910s manifestos

. Utility and beauty in 1920s Marxist aesthetics

. What does twenty-first century Trotskyite culture look like?

. Fragmentation and ’split selves’ in Hugh MacDiarmid’s A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle and Ezra Pound’s Cantos

[Reminder: as long as you have one course text, you can bring in anything else]

. Was Hugh MacDiarmid’s A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle really within the European avantgarde mainstream?

. MacDiarmid and the strategies of the ‘minor language’

. Brechtian strategy and early Soviet communism

. Brechtian A-Effects and [add any French New Wave film]

. The politics of cinema in Battleship Potemkin and the kino-oki movement

. Attitudes to cinema in [one or two course texts]

. The stance on surrealism in Aimé Césaire’s Notebook

. Césaire, Fanon, and the claims of Caribbean modernism

. Was there an ‘East Asian modernism’?

. Montage and Chinese language

. Tanizaki’s shadow and radical non-dualism

. Notes on a ‘counter-Newtonian technology’

. Violence in Alain Resnais’s Nuit et Brouillard and Hiroshima Mon Amour

. Nuclear standoff and the aesthetics of New Wave film

. Sinophilic negotiations in Bertolt Brecht’s ‘Verfremdung Effects in Chinese Acting’ and Jean-Luc Godard’s La Chinoise