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Masterclass with Martin Puchner. The ‘isms’ of the 20th century Avant-Gardes

Alfred H. Barr, Diagramm zur Stilentwicklung von 1890 bis 1935, Fragment des Schutzumschlags des Ausstellungskatalogs Cubism and Abstract Art, New York, 1936 (The Museum of Modern Art).

Alfred H. Barr, Diagramm zur Stilentwicklung von 1890 bis 1935, Fragment des Schutzumschlags des Ausstellungskatalogs Cubism and Abstract Art, New York, 1936 (The Museum of Modern Art).

Time: 02.–04. July 2018
Place: FU Berlin, JK 33/121
Concept: Alexandra Ksenofontova, Anna Luhn

The academic interest in literary schools and movements of the early 20th century has long shifted from the problems of exact classification or periodization to epistemological models and intercrossings between literature and visual arts, aesthetics and politics. The “ism” labels and other similar terms commonly applied to the avant-garde movements have thus become even more vague, as their definitions range greatly throughout various disciplines. Studies that employ the “ism” terms in regard to manifestos, theoretical and critical works, but also literature, theater, film, painting, sculpture or design, might be confronted with problems of finding common ground for these labels across different media and genres.

The master classs offers the participants the possibility to reflect on the use of the “ism” terms, such as Symbolism, Surrealism, Cubism, Dadaism, Futurism, Expressionism etc. in their own research. Instead of focusing solely on the respective definitions, the master class is primarily concerned with following methodological questions: To what extent can we base our understanding of labels on self-designations or externally imposed accounts? In what ways can we critically employ the “ism” labels in studies that cover more than one medium? What are the difficulties of translating the terms and their definitions from manifestos to works of literature and visual arts, or from one literary genre to another? How to face moments of superimposition, intermingling and mutual influence of the different “isms” in our theoretical approach? And finally, do those terms still posses a great added value today, or are they becoming ghosts of the past and should be avoided or replaced with possible alternatives? These and other questions will be addressed in group discussions based on the suggested reading over the span of several days.

Martin Puchner will kindly give support to the discussions with his expertise in the artistic and political avant-gardes, world literature, theatre and philosophy. He is the Byron and Anita Wien Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Harvard University, the founding Director of the Mellon School of Theater and Performance Research and the founding chair of experimental Harvard program in Theater, Dance & Media. The avant-gardes, their interactions and mutual influences, as well as the manifesto as the genre par excellence of the European and non-European "isms" is the focus of Puchner’s Poetry of the Revolution: Marx, Manifestos, and the Avant-Gardes (Princeton, 2006), which won the MLA's James Russell Lowell Award. Puchner is also the author of Stage Fright: Modernism, Anti-Theatricality, and Drama (Hopkins, 2002), The Drama of Ideas: Platonic Provocations in Theater and Philosophy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010) and The Written World: How Literature Shaped Civilization (Random House, 2017).

Department of Philosophy and Humanities
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Dahlem Research School
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