The First Avante Garde Wave

The First Avante Garde Wave

Dear Team:

Well, it looks like it’s that time again to talk about the roots of my work. To show you that I am part of an artistic lineage that has now been in force for at least a hundred years and that has come in three waves. I am speaking of course about the avante garde movement that broke out in the late 19th century and which mirrored a cultural revolution in the West not seen since the Renaissance. Harvest of Gems and Two Short Stories is part of this powerful legacy and I am proud to be a part of it. So let’s get started. Let’s plunge into this modern mandala and look at it from as many angles as possible.

The first wave of the Avante Garde emerged out of the 18th century enlightenment and into the seedbed of radical romanticism. It reflected a tension between these growing totalizing nation states and these repeated declarations of the rights of the individual. Poets were the first transformers of the avante garde, but artists and musicians would also soon enter this new fray. Poetry became the instrument of change and the change would start in the poem itself. It was all about the very questioning of language and of the poetic structure it was embedded in. Aswell, as a related and all-connecting vision. The avante garde decided to re-invent language and thus many new pasts were fashioned in the process. Multiple mind polarities were being PUSHED and at the core of every true “ modernism “ was the seed of the latest post-modernism.

Revolutions in word, and mind, and the world began to break out within the last two hundred years. The order of the poetic line was challenged. Variety was stuffed into every poetic line too because the UNKNOWN demanded new forms. Free verse finally led to prose poems. Blake, Holderlin, Baudelaire, Rimbeau, Poe, Lautreamont, and Emily Dickenson were artists who were all caught between the old and the new. Dickenson’s recognizable metric was accompanied by a revolutionary sense of off-rhyme and by the use of hyphens/dashes to call her own set rythms into question. Walt Whitman then turned to free and open rhythms in the vernacular language. Something that Wordsworth working in England had advocated earlier. Something that was finally pushed to extremes by Hopkins’ sprung rythms and soundscapes. Mallarme finished the 19th century’s fade-out into an overly aestheticized symbolism that marked the 20th century’s relentless transformations. Indeed, America and Europe cross-fertilized each other. The Shock of the American Civil war foreshadowed the war of the trenches in Europe. Speedy mechanized slaughter would have its own strange momentum and the art world would have to adapt to it.

The collapse was on. After Mallarme, artistic barriers began to crumble swiftly clearing the way for the discovery of these NEW FORMS, the exploration of new kinds of behaviors, and the opening of new literary possibilities. Stein, Apollinare, Cendrars, Reverdy, Jacob, Picasso, Dario, Huidobro, Pessoa, Rilke, and Pound were all bold experimentalists pushing towards a new dispensation, aimed at a drastic change of both poetry and mind. Futurism was followed by Expressionism, then vorticism which culminated in the Dada explosion which in turn attacked all artistic and political movements. Marinetti, Trakl, Benn, Khhlebnikov, Mayakovsky, Pound, Tzara, Arp, Kadinsky, Klee and Schwitters soon followed. By 1922, with the first world war shaking the very foundations of western civilization, Eliot, Joyce, and Rilke broke-out with “ The Wasteland, Ulysses, and Duino Elegies. Revolution and war were shaking up the world and the transient nature of reality was being forcefully felt. Surrealism then followed Dada. Breton, Soupault, Aragon, Peret, Eluard, and Desnos culminated finally with Artaud. Freud’s dreamwork led to a Zen here and now feeling as Pound, Zukofsky and later Olson trail-blazed new literary paths.

Freedom from the canonic past and also from the degraded present was being demanded. There was an urge now to decalcify old literatures, to just strip them of their high cultural gangue and to return/advance them to this new “ spoken language “ ideal. By the 1920’s Avante garde poets began to link themselves more and more with social and cultural liberation movements and often with disastrous results. Lorca, Desnos, Jacob, Wen Yiduo, Radinoti, and Mandelstam were all killed. Hikmet, Akhmatova, Schwitters, Blaga, Sachs, Neruda, and Brecht were all persecuted. Western progress and worldwide power were being seriously questioned. Even colonialism itself was being attacked by colonials with western avante garde literary tools. The Negritude movement in the Carribean exemplified by Cesare is a good example. The western universe was de-centering itself and art was reacting to this historical explosion. Pilfered Asian and African masks which had inspired Picasso, Apollinare, Tzarza and Deran were beginning to start their way home as a global civilization began to now violently stir.

The very boundaries of art were now being questioned. All authoritative “ reality “ began to be deconstructed. Nothing was being taken at face-value. Cultural and artistic elements were being separated and realigned. The art work was experimental, the outcome of the experiment was UNKNOWN, and the process itself quite crucial. Structures, ideologies, materials, and technologies were all being reworked. The artistic experiments of the 20th century would perhaps one day be the realized workings of the 21st century. Language had become a medium . Not just a transparent window towards an ideal reality that beyond itself. Spoken language became the vehicle for personal and cultural transformation. Free verse then led to free words.

The boundaries between poetry and prose were collapsing. This is something I myself know well and approve. Even boundaries between the arts were dissolving thus opening an age of blended media. Words, pictures, action and text had now fused. We are still living with these big developments today. High and low art have merged. Primitive chant and pop song are also merging with verse. This recognition of moveable boundaries has allowed elements in art to become regenerative. Indeed the boldest art works question their own shapes and forms and those that preceded them.

What were the main features of the new artistic revolution?

Deliberate experimentation and reinterpretation of the entire human past.

The breakdown of conventional boundaries between the arts.

Experiments with dream-work and altered states of consciousness.

Poetry as performance.

Language experiments both with sounds and fonts. Abstract poetry and explorations of sub-languages on the fringes of accepted literature.

Ethno-poetics: a broadening of cultural terrains with ancient and underground traditions with poetry at its center.

Shifting social and political conventions.

A sense of excitement and play.

The art of the avante garde was about pushing boundaries until you got into a more open psychic field. Art was reflecting a global and totalitarian speed-up even as the atomization of the individual was also accelerating. A simultaneous fragmenting and unifying was occurring on our planet. Things were spinning faster and art was simply mirroring this. My own development is part of this process. My first works before Harvest and Forty Immutable Parables were radical collage experiments with different typographies, texts and photos. “ Inside the Prince “ and “ The Endless Geisha “ have even been smuggled into China successfully to spread this new style and message.

Today much American poetry has been radicalized and just ignored by conservative academia. Also the very global nature of the various literary avante garde waves has been dismissed and thus a world of endless possibilities has been denied. A global de-centering

is the result of the avante garde’s pushing of cultural boundaries. It has become a series of bold new acts of experimentation with it bold discoveries across the widest range of human cultures.

My own work is also a continuation of these bold avante garde waves. It defines a de-centering that just pushes deeper and deeper into bigger spaces of the mind. In Harvest of Gems and Forty Immutable Parables Tantric Buddhism is the unlikely vehicle that ultimately plunges the reader into strange extra-terrestrial and shamanic landscapes. It could easily have been Hopi or African religion, but the karma turned out differently. The spiritual dimension of this literary odyssey is also lurking in the background.

The violent explosions of the last century have forced every artist to push the limits of his or her medium in order to explore unknown cognitive spaces where answers to today’s serious problems maybe found and thus by doing so forcing the mind to open up to deeper parts of itself. This is the challenge we all face now and I welcome it completely.

All contents of this site © Finberg Books by Michael Arthur Finberg