Democracy, Law and the Modernist Avant-Gardes

Democracy, Law and the Modernist Avant-Gardes: Writing in the State of Exception

Sascha Bru
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Democracy, Law and the Modernist Avant-Gardes
    Book Description:

    This is the first book to look at the ties between European modernism and democracy in a cross-cultural manner.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-4176-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vi-viii)
  4. Taking Writing to Exception: By Way of Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    In 1942 Lionel Feuchtwanger, German émigré writer and friend of Bertolt Brecht, complained to the New York Times. American officials would not let him visit Brecht as they both intended to commemorate the ninth anniversary of the Nazi book burnings. Assuring American readers that Brecht and he had fled fascism with nothing but praise for America’s democracy since their arrival in the US, Feuchtwanger could not see why they were not allowed to travel more than five miles from their homes, to speak in public, or to go out after 8 p.m. Had American readers misinterpreted their work that drastically?¹...

  5. Chapter 1 The Trauma of Literature: A Promenade through the Archive on the Avant-Garde and Politics
    (pp. 9-40)

    Parfois il faut reculer pour mieux sauter. Whenever we use the words ‘avant-garde’ and ‘politics’, or ‘democracy’ for that matter, in a single sentence, there follows a rustle, a murmur, the sense of a problem. Few aspects of the modernist avant-garde have not, after all, been called political, and with good reason apparently. Intellectual debate during the first decades of the foregoing century in Europe often exemplifies uneasiness over marking the boundaries between literature and politics, the latter then understood as a distinct social realm with a form of behaviour and concern of its own. As a result ‘politics’ is...

  6. Chapter 2 The Party and the Book: Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Futurism and Amateur Democracy
    (pp. 41-86)

    More than a century after Marinetti published his justly famous founding manifesto of Italian futurism in Le Figaro, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s claim that ‘Marinetti is an enigma’ still holds true.¹ Whereas many would agree with Gottfried Benn that Marinetti’s first futurist manifesto was also ‘the founding event of modern art in Europe’,² the (ever-shifting) counter-hegemonic myth subsequently put forth by the Italian writer, performer and impresario of futurism was at times so disturbing and all-embracing that even today it leaves readers wondering about Marinetti’s motives, if not intelligence and sense of reality.³ One of the most discomforting aspects of his...

  7. Chapter 3 The Paper State: Paul van Ostaijen, Expressionism and Constitutional Heterotopia
    (pp. 87-134)

    Expressionism owed much to Georg Büchner. As Paul Celan suggested in his speech ‘The Merdian’ (1960), part of Büchner’s attraction may well have come from the general questions about literature he raised. Büchner’s play Danton’s Death (1835) in particular, a tragedy depicting an activist’s disillusionment with the French Revolution, found a sympathetic reader in Celan. Drawing our attention to the apparently benign character Lucile – Celan calls her ‘die Kunstblinde’ (the one incapable of seeing art) – he quoted the peculiar retort this character utters in the midst of a heated discussion about aesthetics and political revolution: ‘Long live the...

  8. Chapter 4 The Secret Politician: Richard Huelsenbeck, Dadaism and the Redemption of Literature
    (pp. 135-192)

    In ‘The Purloined Letter’ (1845) Edgar Allan Poe described how a woman hides a secret letter. When a guest arrives, instead of concealing the letter in a drawer, she places it upon a table in view. Her guest, much interested in the letter’s contents but initially unaware of its whereabouts, quickly induces from her nervous behaviour that it must be close by. Then, suddenly, he ‘fathoms her secret’.¹ He sneaks the letter out and, once home, repeats the exact same disguise tactic the woman had employed. When the police arrive to comb his place inside out, they begin looking for...

  9. The Law of Literature: By Way of Conclusion
    (pp. 193-204)

    Trauma shows only its after-effects to outsiders. They never fully grasp its causes or core. Perhaps, what we really have before us when we enter the archive of Western European modernist avant-garde writing is a vast collection of texts each testifying in their own way to the trauma of literature in democratically exceptional times. Although I have focused on a mere fraction of avant-garde writers, no doubt many others could have been discussed, who worked within comparable, highly unstable constellations – of the same and other nationalities or regions, politically engaged or not. Democratic instability and war marked many other...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 205-240)
  11. Index
    (pp. 241-256)