Between the Avant-Garde and the Everyday

Between the Avant-Garde and the Everyday: Subversive Politics in Europe from 1957 to the Present

Timothy Brown
Lorena Anton
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 312
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Between the Avant-Garde and the Everyday
    Book Description:

    The wave of anti-authoritarian political activity associated with the term "1968" can by no means be confined under the rubric of "protest," understood narrowly in terms of street marches and other reactions to state initiatives. Indeed, the actions generated in response to "1968" frequently involved attempts to elaborate resistance within the realm of culture generally, and in the arts in particular. This blurring of the boundary between art and politics was a characteristic development of the political activism of the postwar period. This volume brings together a group of essays concerned with the multifaceted link between culture and politics, highlighting lesser-known case studies and opening new perspectives on the development of anti-authoritarian politics in Europe from the 1950s to the fall of Communism and beyond.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-079-1
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Detlef Siegfried

    By investigating the relation between the “personal” and the “political,” this book makes a valuable contribution to the debate on how protest movements and subcultures of the 1960s and 1970s changed our understanding of politics. Protest phenomena such as the campaigns against the Vietnam War or the squatter movement did not achieve their impact just by contributing to a generalized mood of upheaval, but by focusing on the creation of new lifestyles and cultural norms with profound political implications. The book’s chapters on avant-garde formations such as the German “Gruppe Spur” demonstrate that the subcultures of the 1960s and 1970s,...

  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)
    Timothy Brown and Lorena Anton

    “We are concerned not with thecoup d’etatof Trotsky and Lenin,” wrote Alexander Trocchi in 1962, “but with thecoup du monde.” Just as “Trotsky seized the viaducts and the bridges and the telephone exchanges and the power stations,” so “the cultural revolt must seize the grids of expression and the powerhouses of the mind.”¹ Thus did the Scottish Beat poet signal the emergence of a new paradigm according to which old distinctions between art and daily life, between “politics” and “culture,” were no longer adequate. The transition from Old to New Left—a move away from the conceptual...

  6. Part I. Avant-Gardes
    • Chapter 1 The Gruppe Spur: Art as a Revolutionary Medium during the Cold War
      (pp. 11-30)
      Mia Lee

      In January 1959, the Munich-based art group Spur co-organized an art exhibit titled “Realists-Extremists” at the Museum for Ethnology. Flyers for the exhibit advertised that the highly esteemed German philosopher Max Bense would deliver the opening night lecture.¹ On the evening of 23 January, a large, well-dressed audience congregated at the Museum for Ethnology to hear Bense.² They were thus duly surprised when 23-year-old Spur artist Hans-Peter Zimmer walked to the podium and switched on a tape recorder. A voice purporting to be Bense apologized for unforeseen hindrances and proceeded to deliver a talk on a wild mix of concepts...

    • Chapter 2 In Pursuit of the Invisible Revolution: Sigma in the Netherlands, 1966–1968
      (pp. 31-44)
      Niek Pas

      The cultural revolution of the 1960s drew heavily on the art and politics of an international cosmopolitan intelligentsia rife with utopian and romantic ideas about the new man and new society of tomorrow.¹ Blueprints for society were developed in art and in the avant-garde: Cobra, Lettrisme, Fluxus and the Situationist International defined a radical critique of everyday life (often based on neo-Marxist assumptions) in postwar Western society. This chapter will investigate one offspring of this international avant-garde: Sigma. Both an international cultural project and a radical critique of society, Sigma was developed between 1964 and 1968 in Great Britain and...

  7. Part II. Spectacles
    • Chapter 3 “The Brigade Is Everywhere”: Violence and Spectacle in the British Counterculture
      (pp. 47-57)
      Samantha M. R. Christiansen

      This populism was overshadowed, however, by the explosive tactics the group employed. While no fatalities or major injuries resulted from any of the Angry Brigade’s bombings, their use of violence positioned the Angry Brigade alongside other better-known militant revolutionary groups of the period such as the Weathermen and Red Army Faction, and led sensationalist tabloids to declare such incendiary headlines as “Dropouts with Brains tried to launch Bloody Revolution.”² Yet the Angry Brigade has received surprisingly little scholarly attention, especially when compared with groups like the Weathermen and the Red Army Faction. The work that has been done on the...

    • Chapter 4 Corpse Polemics: The Third World and the Politics of Gore in 1960s West Germany
      (pp. 58-74)
      Quinn Slobodian

      In 1969, West German conservative cultural critic Karl-Heinz Bohrer wrote that “terror no longer designates a state of exception but the everyday.”¹ He saw themes of gore, aggression, and violent death dominating both cultural production and true-life reportage. Bohrer described registering an image inTimemagazine first as a piece of art—”some tomato-red ketchup Pop-picture”—before slowly recognizing it as a photograph of physical carnage from the Vietnam War.² He cited the incineration of three American astronauts in their capsule, the self-immolation of monks in Saigon, the Japanese “suicide-happenings,” and Jean-Luc Godard’s filmWeekend(1967) as “alternately aesthetic and...

  8. Part III. Sounds
    • Chapter 5 Greek Communist Youth Identities and Rock Music in the Late 1970s
      (pp. 77-91)
      Nikolaos Papadogiannis

      Rock music is increasingly being treated by scholars as a key constituent of the “long sixties.”¹ One prominent line of interpretation, revolving around the concept of “Americanization,” emphasizes the role played by the selective appropriation of American popular culture in the making of youth identities in post–World War II Europe.² Another emphasizes the power of popular music to disseminate a new spirit of informality and hedonism that helped to overturn restrictive social norms. The resulting reconfiguration of sexual, gender, and racial norms, it is argued, culminated in the protests of the late 1960s.³ A less persuasive corollary of this...

    • Chapter 6 The Voice of the Other America: African-American Music and Political Protest in the German Democratic Republic
      (pp. 92-108)
      Michael Rauhut

      African-American music represents a synthesis of African and European traditions, its origins reaching as far back as the early sixteenth century to the beginning of the systematic importation of “black” slaves to the European colonies of the American continent.¹ Out of a plethora of forms and styles, three basic pillars of African-American music came to prominence during the wave of industrialization that took place at the start of the twentieth century: blues, jazz, and gospel. These forms laid the foundation for nearly all important developments in popular music up to the present—whether R&B, soul and funk, house music, or...

  9. Part IV. Subcultures
    • Chapter 7 From England with Hate: Skinheads and “Nazi Rock” in Great Britain and Germany
      (pp. 111-131)
      Timothy Brown

      Right-wing extremist rock music—so-called “Nazi rock”—is one of the most problematic of popular musical genres. Emerging from the skinhead youth subculture in Britain at the end of the 1970s and spreading to the continent and across the Atlantic in the following decade, it has served as accompaniment to a rising tide of racist and anti-immigrant violence in Germany, and become a focus of recruiting for the radical right worldwide. Yet as a generic category, “Nazi rock” is inherently unstable. A phenomenon that is at once artistic and political, it sits uneasily across analytical boundaries. The area of overlap...

    • Chapter 8 Punk Jihads: Immigrants, Subcultures and Political Violence, 1955–2001
      (pp. 132-142)
      Alexander Clarkson

      Throughout the last two decades, public, academic, and media discourses involving the social impact of mass immigration have tended to treat immigrants as uniform blocs, exclusively defined by their respective ethnic and religious backgrounds. Despite claims to the contrary, this reductive pattern has shaped policy making in many European states. Major controversies involving immigrants, such as violence between Turks and Kurds in Berlin or terrorist attacks in Britain, are usually analyzed exclusively through a religious or ethnic lens. As a result, state institutions and political parties in Western societies often make demands of entire ethnic and religious communities that their...

  10. Part V. Spaces
    • Chapter 9 Red State, Golden Youth: Student Culture and Political Protest in 1960s Poland
      (pp. 145-153)
      Malgorzata Fidelis

      In May 1968, two months after a powerful wave of student protests against the communist regime in Poland, the communist youth biweeklyWalka Młodych(The Struggle of Youth) described the leaders of the rebellion in the following way: “A handful of banana screamers came of age; those noisy snobs, who buy their dreams on the garbage ofkomis[a store with used Western clothes]; those who perform their exorcisms over every piece of clothing that comes from ‘over there’ … This is a contempt for the ferocious work of the miner and the worker.” The article ended with a forceful...

    • Chapter 10 In the Shadow of the Wall: Urban Space and Everyday Life in Kreuzberg
      (pp. 154-174)
      Carla MacDougall

      In the days following 1 May 1987, the West Berlin district of Kreuzberg made national and international news, reinforcing an already popular rendering of the neighborhood as the volatile “cradle” of West Germany’s radical, left-alternative scene. Coming out on the streets to celebrate International Labor Day was nothing new for the residents of Kreuzberg, a traditionally working-class neighborhood; however, as the social makeup of Kreuzberg had gradually shifted during the decades of the Cold War, so too did the character of the yearly demonstrations. On that evening in 1987, the annual May Day demonstration escalated into a full-scale riot that...

  11. Part VI. Networks
    • Chapter 11 Between Confrontation and Frivolity? Gender and Militancy in the Czech Alter-globalization Movement
      (pp. 177-190)
      Marta Kolárová

      The protests against the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Prague in 2000 saw the extension of the so-called “anti-globalization movement”—hereafter referred to as the alter-globalization movement—to the newly democratized countries of the former Soviet bloc.¹ Along with the 1999 protests in Seattle and the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas in 1994, the protests in the Czech Republic (CR) signaled the arrival of a new politics aimed at disrupting the advance of neoliberal globalization.² Notable for new forms of organization involving loose networks of activists motivated by diverse concerns, the movement employed new protest techniques occupying a...

    • Chapter 12 Protesting Bodies and Bodily Protest: “Thinking through the Body” in Social Movement Studies
      (pp. 191-200)
      Andrea Pabst

      The body remains surprisingly marginal within social movement and protest research.¹ Even in studies of social movements in which the issue itselfisthe body—e.g., those concerning abortion or gay rights—the meaning of the protesting body has been largely overlooked. This failure to recognize the importance of the body is particularly striking with regard to the street protests that make up the most visible face of the contemporary anti-corporate movement. Here, an elementary commitment of the body takes place: all the key practices—marching or blockading a street, staging theatrical protest performances, undressing to stage the naked body,...

    • Chapter 13 Postmodern Protest? Minimal Techno and Multitude
      (pp. 201-218)
      Andrew Lison

      The mass protest occupies an especially symbolic place in our cultural landscape, offering tangible evidence of an opposition that is grounded in democratic principle yet operates outside of the system of official, ballot-box democracy. This symbolism is not only political, it is artistic; the protest is often associated with a creative practice that ranges from the art-as-protest of a painting likeGuernicathrough the protest music of the 1960s folk revival all the way to the protest-as-art of a Situationist or Yippie intervention like Abbie Hoffmann’s “attempt” to levitate the Pentagon. In more recent memory, however, the link between the...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 219-220)
    Timothy Brown

    What lies, then, between the avant-garde and the everyday? The terrain mapped out in the preceding pages has a number of salient features. It is clear, first and foremost, that the division of “culture” and “politics” into separate domains is no longer tenable for scholars interested in understanding the radical politics of the second half of the twentieth century and beyond. This conclusion applies not only to movements in which popular culture is embraced, or in which the materials of popular culture are employed to explicitly political ends, but more generally, as we have seen, to a range of situations...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 221-278)
  14. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 279-287)
  15. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 288-290)
  16. Index
    (pp. 291-294)