MEANWHILE

Notwithstanding Wollen's Marxist/Structuralist approach it's possible to position "The Two Avant-Gardes" in the context of Poggioli's liberal humanist model. But Wollen cannot be reconciled with Burger.

Burger's account of the struggle against 'Art', and the social and economic mechanisms involved in the institution of Art provides a convincing theoretical system for understanding the activity of Dada and Surrealism, however the struggle he describes is not Avant-Garde.

The surrealists in particular despised the Avant-Garde :

'An exaggerated respect for art and a mystique of expression has led a whole group of producers, actors and spectators to the creation of a so-called avant garde cinema, remarkable for the rapidity with which its productions become obsolete, for its absence of human emotion, and for the risk it obliges all cinemas to run. Don't get me wrong. When Rene Clair and Picabia made Entr'acte, Man Ray L'Etoile de Mer, and Bunuel his admirable Un Chien Andalou, there was no thought of creating a work of art or a new aesthetic but only of obeying profound, original impulses, consequently necessitating a new form.' 39

Of course, if the Avant-Garde is a valid historical category, then as a theoretician the protestations of my subjects leave me unmoved. But Burger's category doesn't really make sense...if the project of the historical 'Avant-Garde' was to sublate Art, then the Dadaists and the Surrealists could not be in advance of Art, because if they were successful there would no longer be an Art to follow them.
In other words to delegitimise Art as autonomous activity is not to seek a new territory for Art, it is to halt Art's progress. The fact that the anti-Artists of the 1920's and '30's failed to sublate Art and in fact only succeeded in expanding the realm of Art does not invalidate this insight. Moreover despite Burger's recognition of the reactionary function of the "Neo-Avant-Garde" he fails to identify the post 1945 anti-Art tradition which rather than reproducing the techniques and strategies of the Dadaists and Surrealists developed and modified them in a constantly changing liberational struggle, this is the Underground tradition 40 of the Lettrists, the Beatniks, the Situationists, the enrages of Paris '68, the Motherfuckers, the Yippies, the Black Panthers, the Provos, the mail artists, the Punk Rockers, Homocult, Fanny Adams, computer hackers and all the other forgotten or anonymous collectives and countercultural workers.
Burger has not defined the Avant-Garde, he has located the counterculture of the anarchic and subversive UNDERGROUND. In this tradition lies Underground Cinema which is more than omitted from Wollen's 'Two Avant-Gardes', in fact the exclusion of Underground Cinema is essential to Wollen's binary system and to the institutional history of British 'Independent' film and video. Since its bastard provenance Underground Cinema has been suppressed and appropriated industrially, institutionally and theoretically. The significance of Wollen's model, and the significance of the concept of the Avant-Garde, is not what is included, it's what is omitted. To limit language is to limit what can be spoken.

Of the three texts discussed so far only Wollen legitimises his theoretical model subjectively, Burger and Poggioli legitimise their work as objective Science. 41 They are critical scientists. The territory they explore is treacherous and chaotic, no wonder the theoretical analysis of the Avant-Garde is littered with discrete taxonomies, attractive models and charming binaries; the stability of science. Reader we no longer have this luxury, the trajectories I follow are not total, essential or determined. I propose to re-define the Avant-Garde and define Underground Cinema and my legitimacy is purpose, my definition will be true in practice.

 

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