Articulations of Anarchist Modernism: Putting Art to Work Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Matthews, Carrie
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English and Comparative Literature
  • This dissertation connects literary modernism’s treatment of time to the historical and theoretical framework of anarchism. I show that anarchism’s identification of time as a political problem informs modernist experimentation with temporality and that we should look to literary texts’ conceptualizations of time to understand the relations of modernist genres like the prose poem and avant-garde manifesto to political concerns. By situating the work of Charles Baudelaire, Gertrude Stein and Tristan Tzara in juxtaposition to André Breton’s surrealism and in a historical context that has been largely obscured, I am able to delineate an anarchist modernist poetics. This anarchist modernism proposes a specific kind of work for the artwork that counters three conceptions of literary modernism: as uncritically embracing newness and novelty; as indicative of a division between art and life; and as concerned with the individual genius over and above collectives. My project reads literary modernism’s appropriation of the manifesto and development of the prose poem as formal experimentation yoked to inherently political sensibilities. As modernist genres, both the prose poem and manifesto look back to nineteenth-century Paris and a historical context of failed revolution in important ways. Yet while scholars routinely hear echoes of the 1848 Communist Manifesto in aesthetic manifestos’ call for revolution, few discern the complementarity between the Baudelairean prose poem and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s anarchist analysis of 1848. My work argues that as genres, prose poems and manifestos come apart at the seams, even bleeding into one another. Yet as two ideal types of literary modernism’s attitude towards time, prose poems and manifestos offer a historically viable and theoretically useful way to clarify two very different politics of time, one of which-- the anarchist modernist retemporalization of form found in Baudelaire, Stein, and Tzara-- has not been widely explored. My contribution to this area of scholarship is to offer a counterpoint to neo-Marxist readings that privilege the genre of the manifesto, futurity, and international revolution through a perspective that prioritizes the prose poem, artworks that work with and in the present, and a transnational task of re-infusing temporality with difference.
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  • McGowan, John
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