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John Cage’s Avant-Garde Piano Theatre of the Early 1950s

2 June 2022

Alexandra Huang-Kokina, The University of Edinburgh

The musical avant-garde is more than a style of difficult and complex music in the twentieth century. Its potency in reconstructing our modes of perception in the modern world has been increasingly underscored[1]. At the mid-point of the twentieth century, the musical avant-garde finds its foremost expression in John Cage’s experimental pianism. From the dramaturgical overtones of Music of Changes (1951) to the “theatre piece” Water Music (1952), Cage’s experimentation with the modern grand piano indicates a profound interlinking with Modernist theatre. This article argues that Cage’s mid-century pianism epitomises an avant-garde “piano theatre” par excellence through his ingenious use of rhythm and contingency. Rather than explicitly using the piano in defined theatre events, Cage’s two piano works embody the corporeality of Modernist theatre practices within the perimeter of live pianistic performance. Continue reading “John Cage’s Avant-Garde Piano Theatre of the Early 1950s”

Book Review: Modernism and Food Studies: Politics, Aesthetics, and the Avant-Garde

2 October 2020

Eilish Mulholland, The Queen’s University of Belfast

(eds) Jessica Martell, Adam Fajardo and Philip Keel Geheber, Modernism and Food Studies: Politics, Aesthetics, and the Avant-Garde (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2019)

Within literary studies, the topic of foodways and narrative subjects has been largely confined to culinary moments within texts. Often relating to specific foodstuffs or instances of culinary metaphors, this narrative is not beyond the realms of modernist thought. Works such as Cather’s Kitchens: Foodways in Literature and Life (2002)  by Roger and Linda K. Welsch, Tasting Modernism: An Introduction (2015) by J. Michelle Coghlan and most recently the collected volume Gastro-modernism: Food, Literature, Culture (2019) have shown a shifting attitude to contemplating modernism and its relationship with food as something more than an exercise in passive consumption. Continue reading “Book Review: Modernism and Food Studies: Politics, Aesthetics, and the Avant-Garde”

Book Review: Form and Meaning in Avant-Garde Collage and Montage

1st September 2020

Alexandra Chiriac, Met Museum

Magda Dragu, Form and Meaning in Avant-Garde Collage and Montage (New York: Routledge, 2020)

Interdisciplinarity is increasingly an academic buzzword, yet successful attempts to master it are still infrequent. Magda Dragu tackles this issue by slicing up a cross-section of modernist production and investigating its every layer, journeying through art, music, film, and literature in an attempt to classify and differentiate the techniques of collage and montage. Continue reading “Book Review: Form and Meaning in Avant-Garde Collage and Montage”

Art’s Revenge upon Intellect: Reading Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood beside Susan Sontag’s ‘Against Interpretation’

4 August 2020

Nimaya Lemal, Keble College, Oxford, and Middlebury College

Despite its provocative title, Susan Sontag’s ‘Against Interpretation’ (1964) does not renounce artistic interpretation wholesale. The interpretation at fault, for Sontag, is that which ‘digs “behind”the text, to find a sub-text which is the true one’, excavating elements for application within an analytical theory.[1]This ‘curious project for transforming a text’, she writes, essentially ‘translate[s]’ the work, a process which undercuts the integrity of the work itself.[2]Sontag’s essay rejects ‘that a work of art is its content’, yet she does not necessarily prescribe formalism, despite what some readers have suggested.[3]Her critique lies specifically with interpretative approaches that bypass form because they are content-focused, and hence engage in translational (usurping) analysis.[4]Sontag does advocate for alternative critical action, however. Throughout the essay, Sontag speaks to a kind of interpretation that is, at its core, ‘sensual’, ‘erotic’, and/or ‘loving’ in appreciation of a work’s form and beyond.[5]She closes her essay with the line: ‘In place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art.’[6] Continue reading “Art’s Revenge upon Intellect: Reading Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood beside Susan Sontag’s ‘Against Interpretation’”

Book Review: The European Avant-Gardes, 1905-1935: A Portable Guide

Robert Brazeau, University of Alberta

Sascha Bru, The European Avant-Gardes, 1905-1935: A Portable Guide (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2018)

Sascha Bru’s  The European Avant-Gardes, 1905-1935: A Portable Guide offers a highly readable, consistently informative, and, it should be said, unerringly successful description of the rise to prominence (if that is the right word) of an ersatz group of artists and writers who set out to either make sense of, or fundamentally critique, a Europe that was undergoing considerable historical, cultural, geographical, economic, and, perhaps above all, political transformation in the early decades of the twentieth century.  Scholars who are relatively early on in their engagement with the avant-gardes could not ask for a better place to start their research, and those who have been working in and around this field for many years will find much that is new, edifying, and energising in Bru’s eclectic and expansive approach. I cannot imagine a reader of this book who will not learn a considerable amount about the field under consideration, and I cannot imagine a writer better than Bru, whose career to date has been steeped in a critical exposition of the avant-garde, to guide us through this tangled, multi-media, vaguely networked and always arresting field of inquiry.

Continue reading “Book Review: The European Avant-Gardes, 1905-1935: A Portable Guide”

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