Sunday, February 10, 2008


Lots of BS to slog through from the debate about post-avant over on the Harriet Blog.

As anyone who's ever read this blog knows, I'm very interested in aspects of the historical avant-garde: the permutational/cosmopolitan aesthetics, the attempt to invoke mass culture (in difference to practically all contemporary American poets who tend to take a puritanical, elitist attitude) etc.

But clearly I realize that I am talking about a historical time and place different from my own. Lots of proponents seem to have forgotten this. One guy for example argues that Breton, if alive today, would write like Andrew Joron. A ridiculous notion, as Breton is from a totally different situation.

But for me it sums up so much about American discussions about avant-garde: most of all the nauseating concept that Breton would be an American (of course, welcome to the EPcot Center of the World!).

I am annoyed at the way "avant-garde" is used in a lot of these conversations - to restrict poetry. What is the true avant-garde? There never was one avant-garde. Both Fence and Krupskaya have the right to exist, which doesn't mean that everyone has to like both of them.


Blogger Amish Trivedi said...

"If Betsy Ross were making flags today, she'd be a 13 year-old Laotion boy."

-America: the Book

11:17 AM  
Blogger Fran├žois Luong said...

If Breton had come of age in the 21st century, he'd be Canadian, Scandinavian or Brazilian. Or all three of them. Or he'd want to be all three of them.

11:22 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

I'm also annoyed at the privileged place given to Breton by these contemporary Americans. I prefer Artaud, Bataille or, later, Michaux.

12:05 PM  
Blogger mark wallace said...

I think Breton becomes the name-check reference for Surrealism and the European avant gardes more broadly because of his polemical, organizational activities. I agree that other writers of his context are more interesting as poets. But he often had center stage in his own era as provocateur, not to mention kingmaker and the one who purged dissenters within the group.

The name-checking phenomena takes on a life of its own at a certain point: Langston Hughes comes to be the reference for the Harlem Renaissance, Eliot/Pound as Modernism, Charles Bernstein or Ron Silliman for language poetry etc. It's a sort of classification disease that catches and hangs on.

I'm not sure I get your statement that contemporary American avant garde poets are puritanical and elitist; it seems to me like that's just the sort of generalization your post is otherwise speaking against.

5:57 PM  
Blogger mark wallace said...

I'm sorry for the misreading (function of switching to the comment box and not seeing the original post in front of me); your claim I see was about contemporary American poets generally, which still seems a claim that goes against the rest of your post.

6:01 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...


you're right, that "elitist" is perhaps too strong. Just this prevalent idea that it's us vs them.

5:48 AM  
Blogger CLAY BANES said...

"Fundamentalist" would probably be too strong a word too. I think about it constantly.

10:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

actually my opinion of breton is similar to my opinion of ron silliman...i guess that i'll save that opinion for another day though............................i agree that breton is grossly overrated...i prefer surrealism's rejects artaud being the best and brightest...

8:47 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home