Saturday, January 07, 2006

Rethinking the Avant Garde

So one of our classes this semester (with Barrett Watten) is entitled "rethinking the avant garde." I googled that just to see what came up and -- since we are responsible for bringing, or more likely, finding/discovering, our own agendas in terms of that rethinking -- this is the first thing that came up. I'm actually surprised Barrett wasn't at this conference. I haven't really looked at all the paper titles, but it might not be a bad idea to cull some ideas of the field from it, and to question what might be happening since then, as well as think what academia, in its rethinking, inevitably leaves out. That is to say, I think that what exists marginally, necessarily, in the moments we now inhabit, might be approached only retreospectively. Or perhaps we need to question how or whether academia (is there a better word for *us*) can effectively comment on/critique/understand what is being built outside its walls. Are those walls permeable? Is this important to acknowledge or deal with as a premise for our attempts? That points as well in the direction of the temporality of the avant garde....its *uncanniness*...


Thivai Abhor said...

Great question... let me just ask more questions as a member of academia (as we may label it)...

1) Does the term "avant garde" which carries such a loaded conotation from its roots as a military term meaning those that are the front lines... and so historically rooted in the "historical" avant garde artistic movements of the early 20th century... in other words... does is it still a term that is relevant or necessary? It just seems somewhat pretentious ... I say this as someone who would want to be on the frontlines (which is why I am so tortured about the term)

2) When we stick a pin in avant garde is it still alive? Then yes, if we think of academia as a musty profession only sifting through the cavernous archives... then we can only approach it retrospectively... but! perhaps there are some that might want to be on the crest of a wave, or perhaps even paddling in front charting our own course???

3) Academia is but one voice and our our voice is sometimes important and sometimes utter bullshit... we should just do what we believe is important (or better yet work toward a better future)... but then I am just a fucking romantic and thus utterly ridiculous...

4) I worked (and was raised) in construction from the time I was 15 till I was 25. Since then I have been in academia... both professions have taught me (as well as traveling and engaging with life in all its many forms) that all walls/barriers are permeable. Yes, it should be acknowleged, as well as our own constructs we use to fortress our theoretical positions... check this for a my mythical trip into this quest:

Why I should be aware of my position and its movements

5) Yes! acknowledge this permeability and that you are in-between dishonesty, or lying, or terror, or oppression, or exploitation, generally is rooted in a singular, controlling vision.

6) Not really sure what youmean by "uncanny"... it carries to many freudian conotations...

Thanks for the provocative thoughts.

Thivai Abhor said...

the last comment was typed in a passionate rush so should be read with a conscious insertion of pauses and editorial marks ;)

kfd313 said...

I hope the fllowing doesn't come across as rude, Thivai (one never knows or can control the "tone" of one's comments)...

I think discussions around the term "avant garde" are problematic. After all, aren't there a million terms philologically (potentially) rife with historical difficulties? To me the avant garde is a useful term to denote artistic practices that are politically and critically charged. Sometimes they are "ahead" of or (sometimes in opposition to) mainstream culture. (When I put "ahead" in parentheses it's because I don't really think this. I agree with Dave Thomas of the band Pere Ubu that nothing's really ahead of its time, particualrly not art. Gertrude Stein's comments about this are also crucial to my thinking. The way I recall her arguemnt, artistic wrks may not be accepted or liked or understood at their hisotrical moment, but they aren't really "ahead".)

So, ok, There might be a historical continuity to the avant garde in some practices, among some artists, and there might not. It's an avenue then, for us to see how practices, repeat, react, develop against, overcome, utilize, etc. that continuity/knowledge consciously as well as to see how the avant garde might be spinning out globally in unforeseen places and directions. So then, I don't think it's any more problematic to think through, or use the term, avant garde than it is to think you can be sincere or unpretentious by avoiding it.

And I'll just briefly say that I agree in part that academia "is sometimes important and sometimes utter bullshit." I think everyone in academia pretty much thinks the same thing. But I don't think it's as simple as "just do what you believe is important." When I read that sentence every word seems so weighted with potential and danger... What I find exciting and important about academia or intellectual pursuit in general, is the way we can build up an important discourse and new avenue for thinking by tearing that sentence apart. (I like tearing by the way. It's a good thing, in my opinion; plus, it's in my nature!)

Finally, I too spent many years outside the "ivory tower" and so yeah, I agree, it's basically a permeable structure that too often is defensively, and theoretically closed off.

Finally, not sure why the term "uncanny" having Freudian connotations is problematic exactly. Uncanniness, as far as Freud is concerned, is an interesting term in that it carries with it a temporal dimension. Besides that it might clarify matters to admit that I was also speaking indirectly to a friend and colleague who had utilized the term in a paper she presented on avant garde poetics.

I was also thinking of Cathy Caruth's work on trauma. She discusses the uncanniness of the traumatic event as an experience that always happens "too late" or actually ony happnes the second time, in the re-telling,since the experience of trauma is only avalaible in retrospect.

In part then, I am trying to suss out the relationship between the temporality of the avant garde (both historically and in the present) and trauma. Reaching back around to my initial defense of the term, even with its historical connotations, we might actually, usefully, retain its military connotation since it points out the relationship between violence, trauma, and aesthetics, even at-- perhaps especially at -- the level of language itself.

Thanks so much for the food for thought.

Thivai Abhor said...

Not rude at all :)

I think we are very close in our positions, we are just articulating it in different ways.

I'm not a big fan of the word "tearing" perhaps of the violent implications? how about to "unpack"? or the old standby of deconstructing?

More when I have time, new semester starts tomorrow and I'm still working on my film courses--thanks!