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Poetry of the Revolution

Poetry of the Revolution: Marx, Manifestos, and the Avant-Gardes

Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Poetry of the Revolution
    Book Description:

    Poetry of the Revolutiontells the story of political and artistic upheavals through the manifestos of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Ranging from theCommunist Manifestoto the manifestos of the 1960s and beyond, it highlights the varied alliances and rivalries between socialism and repeated waves of avant-garde art. Martin Puchner argues that the manifesto--what Marx called the "poetry" of the revolution--was the genre through which modern culture articulated its revolutionary ambitions and desires. When it intruded into the sphere of art, the manifesto created an art in its own image: shrill and aggressive, political and polemical. The result was "manifesto art"--combinations of manifesto and art that fundamentally transformed the artistic landscape of the twentieth century.

    Central to modern politics and art, the manifesto also measures the geography of modernity. The translations, editions, and adaptations of such texts as theCommunist Manifestoand theFuturist Manifestoregistered and advanced the spread of revolutionary modernity and of avant-garde movements across Europe and to the Americas. The rapid diffusion of these manifestos was made "possible by networks--such as the successive socialist internationals and international avant-garde movements--that connected Santiago and Zurich, Moscow and New York, London and Mexico City.Poetry of the Revolutionthus provides the point of departure for a truly global analysis of modernism and modernity.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4412-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. INTRODUCTION Manifestos—Poetry of the Revolution
    (pp. 1-8)

    Karl Marx published these sentences inThe 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparteto explain the failure of the 1848 revolution in France.¹ The revolution failed, Marx tells us, because it was a mere recapitulation of the great French Revolution, a return to a previous moment in history. Marx acknowledges that all revolutions had looked back in this way: Luther’s Protestant revolution had referred to the apostle Paul, and the French Revolution, to Roman antiquity. But while such historical borrowings and regressionsmay have been adequate for Luther and the French Revolution, they are no longer adequate now, in the middle of...


    • 1 The Formation of a Genre
      (pp. 11-22)

      TheCommunist Manifestoinfluenced the course of history more directly and lastingly than almost any other text. The Paris Commune, the Russian Revolution, and the independence movements in the colonial world are only some of the historical events that were inspired and shaped by this document. How could a single text achieve such a feat? To be sure, none of these events are thinkable without the histories of capitalism and colonialism or the effects of the two world wars. And yet, these broad historical forces do not explain why it was theManifesto, and not one of its many rival...

    • 2 Marxian Speech Acts
      (pp. 23-32)

      While the earliest prehistory of the manifesto presents us with a genre steeped in authority, the authorized speech acts of kings, the modern manifesto is formed in the revolutionary challenge to such authority. But how can a modern, revolutionary manifesto fabricate a revolution if it cannot rely on an authoritative position from which to challenge the status quo? Even more troubling, the manifesto wants not only to challenge authority through revolutionary speech but also to turn this speech into an actual instrument of change. How can empty words be turned into actions? To answer this question requires a particular form...

    • 3 The History of the Communist Manifesto
      (pp. 33-46)

      The categories that describe thepoesisof theManifesto, including authority and authorship, theatricality and performativity, reemerge, in altered form, when one turns to this text’s history. Since theManifestospeaks from the point of view of the proletariat, should it not be an anonymous text written, at least symbolically, by a collective, the party, the international Communist League, the entire proletariat? This was in fact the way in which the first edition of theManifestowas published. It omitted the names of its authors and presented itself as an anonymous pamphlet, with no mention of the fact that there...

    • 4 The Geography of the Communist Manifesto
      (pp. 47-66)

      The tension between updating theCommunist Manifestoand preserving its original force, which characterizes the history of the socialist manifesto from Marx and Engels’s prefaces to Hardt and Negri’sEmpire, has not been the only challenge faced by each manifesto after Marx. The other has been the geography on which theManifestois based. Engels’s first revision of theManifestoin 1852 was concerned not so much with the question of history as the question of geography: California and Australia had been neglected. The same type of adjustment happened in Marx and Engels’s subsequent prefaces; the one for the 1882...


    • 5 Marinetti and the Avant-Garde Manifesto
      (pp. 69-93)

      While theManifestocontinued to be revered, supplemented, and adapted to new locales, there emerged texts, circulated in newspapers and magazines, calling themselves manifestos even though they had less to do with socialism or politics and more with literature and art. An art manifesto had split off from the main branch of the political manifesto. Hundreds and thousands of such art manifestos were printed in daily newspapers, often on the front page, and in literary magazines, greeted the passerby on billboards and as flyers, and were shouted at the audience in theaters, at street events, or over the radio. We...

    • 6 Russian Futurism and the Soviet State
      (pp. 94-106)

      In launching futurism, Marinetti had made three crucial decisions: that the language in which to found an avant-garde movement was French; that the best place to do so was Paris; and that the best venue wasLe Figaro, the preferred journal for the artist declarations of the Belle Epoque. In 1909, Paris was still the unrivaled center of the artistic avant-garde, attracting everyone from Pablo Picasso to James Joyce and much of the so-called Lost Generation of U.S. writers. And if Paris was the place to be for painters and writers, it was even more so for those experimenting with...

    • 7 The Rear Guard of British Modernism
      (pp. 107-132)

      Trotsky’s observation that the periphery articulates the ideology of progress more clearly than the center helps explain why the futurist manifesto would emerge in Italy and then move to Russia. Futurism reflected the ideology of the advanced industrial nations not just by worshiping machinery and production processes but by capturing the temporality of modernity, the value of the new for its own sake. However, while the rapid proliferation of the manifesto from Italy to Russia adheres to Trotsky’s paradigm, we now have to ask what happens when the genre that captures the ideology of progress like no other returns to...


    • 8 Dada and the Internationalism of the Avant-Garde
      (pp. 135-165)

      The Great War had two divergent effects on the European avant-garde. On the one hand, it intensified the nationalist identifications of Italian and Russian futurism, German expressionism, and English vorticism. Futurist agitation for Italy’s entry into the war was probably the most extreme case of an avant-garde coinciding with war propaganda, but German expressionism and British vorticism were drawn into the war’s nationalism as well.Der Sturm, the primary expressionist journal, supported the war effort in Berlin, and the war issue ofBlast, while shying away from simplistic propaganda, was saturated with nationalist and stereotypical labels and phrases.¹ On the...

    • 9 Huidobro’s Creation of a Latin American Vanguard
      (pp. 166-176)

      The Chilean poet Vicente Huidobro spent most of his life moving back and forth between Latin America and Europe, where he met and collaborated with many avant-garde writers, including Pierre Reverdy, Breton, and Tzara. Best known for his long poemAltazor, Huidobro also formed the poetic doctrine of creationism, which he distributed throughCreación, a traveling journal comparable to Picabia’s391. Huidobro was thus working, as Jean Franco has written, “along the same lines as his French, Spanish, and English contemporaries.”¹ Hidden behind the formulation, however, lies a complicated geographic question of how this Chilean writer dealt with the economic,...


    • 10 Surrealism, Latent and Manifest
      (pp. 179-195)

      No avant-garde collective was more devoted to the revolution than surrealism, and none was more uncertain about what this revolution should be. The first surrealist journal, theSurrealist Revolution(1924–29), envisioned a revolution that was specifically surrealist, a revolution according to the terms set by the new movement. Only a few years later, however, the name of the movement changed from the dominant position to a subservient one when the journal was renamedSurrealism in the Service of the Revolution(1930–33). Now it was no longer surrealism that forced onto the revolution its particular nature and raison d’être,...

    • 11 Artaud’s Manifesto Theater
      (pp. 196-208)

      Artaud’s career as a writer began with a significant shift in genre. Jacques Rivière, the editor of the prestigiousNouvelle Revue Française(NRF), rejected Artaud’s poems but offered to publish instead the correspondence he had struck up with Artaud following their rejection (1923–24). Rivière thus forced onto Artaud a generic shift from poem to letter, which he defended by pointing to the stark “contrast” between the “extraordinary precision” of the program outlined by Artaud in his letters and the insufficiency and “formlessness” of its realization in poetry.¹ Artaud’s poetry was “tormented, unstable, crumbling,” Rivière found, while his letters were...


    • 12 The Manifesto in the Sixties
      (pp. 211-219)

      When the art manifesto split off from the political manifesto in the early twentieth century, different types of manifestos found themselves in a fierce competition, at times seeking to build on their common ancestry and at others trying to establish their independence from one another. Breton, Rivera, and Trotsky’sManifesto: Towards a Free Revolutionary Art(1938) can be seen as one of many attempts to bring the political manifesto and the art manifesto together again. The theme of this widely circulated text, how art should relate to politics, was also a question of authorship, how avant-gardists such as Breton should...

    • 13 Debord’s Society of the Counterspectacle
      (pp. 220-240)

      Of all the second-wave groups documented inBAMN, Genet singled out one that aimed at precisely the conjunction of theater and revolution driving his analysis: the situationists. Incidentally, they were also among the strongest supporters of the Panthers in France.¹ The situationists had emerged from an assortment of neo-avant-gardes in the 1950s, including CoBrA (Denmark, Belgium, Holland), the Lettriste Internationale (France), and the Imaginist Bauhaus (Italy). In existence from the fifties to the early seventies, they came into their own during the May ’68 revolt in Paris by advocating and participating in the occupation of universities and factories. As was...

    • 14 The Avant-Garde Is Dead: Long Live the Avant-Garde!
      (pp. 241-258)

      A few summers ago, I opened the playbill for a show at the Lincoln Center Festival and read on the first page, “Isabella Rossellini’s Manifesto,” followed by an instruction saying, “Write your own manifesto.” An unsurprising command. After all, the show in question was an art circus, an inheritor of the avant-garde’s fascination with the lower theatrical genres, and Isabella Rossellini herself had featured in some undeniably avant-garde films. But just as I was about to take a pen, eager to start writing, I began noticing other things about the page: two images of young women with red lipstick and...

  11. EPILOGUE Poetry for the Future
    (pp. 259-262)

    Writing the history of a futurist genre such as the manifesto is a paradoxical if not outright perverse enterprise. Yet, the search for a new poetry, a new manifesto, a new mode of articulation should be able to profit from similar endeavors in the past, from the history of the manifesto I have been trying to sketch. There is somewhere in this meandering and multiple record of successes and failures a lesson to be learned for the present. This, at least, is what I am going to suggest in a final backward glance and epilogue to this history of the...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 263-294)
    (pp. 295-308)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 309-315)