Friday, March 26, 2010

Poetry of the Revolution: Marx, Manifestos, and the Avant-Gardes

Puchner, Martin. Poetry of the Revolution: Marx, Manifestos, and the Avant-Gardes. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006.

Puchner’s critical study examines the manner in which Marxism, the manifesto as a genre, and the avant-garde art movements of the twentieth-century operate in conjunction with one another. In addition to claiming that Marx and Engles' Communist Manifesto was the first “proper” manifesto, and subsequently, the template for all future manifestos, Puchner also forwards the argument that Marx realized that “it is their [manifesto’s] form, not their particular complaints and demands, that articulates most succinctly the desires and hopes” (2). One of the key, conceptual touchstones for Puchner’s study is the manner in which manifestos enact both Austin’s theory of performativity, as well as theatricality. To this extent, the author believes that, traditionally, “speech acts” must battle and conquer the threat of theatricality in order to become speech acts”; but manifestos, being inherently theatrical in nature, “speech acts occur in an unauthorized and unauthorizing context.” As such, the language therein “tries to exorcise its own theatricality by borrowing from an authority it will obtain in the future” (25). After his introduction, Puchner systematically demonstrates how the “art manifesto had split off from the main branch of political manifesto” (69) with the advent of the Futurist movment. Yet, the split was not absolute, as evidenced by Marinetti’s ties with the Fascist Party in Italy. Puchner then narrates the art manifesto’s history and its ties with the avant-garde from Vorticism to Dada, Surrealism, and the “neo-avant-garde” movement of the Sixities. Within each section, Puchner articulates both the similarities and differences between the individual movements and the ways in which they each employed the manifesto genre for their own ends. The study concludes with Puchner challenging writers such as Burger and Perry Anderson who believe that the avant-garde and their corresponding manifestos are either “dead” or historically specific to the early twentieth-century; while he does disagree with these other thinkers, Puchner does vocalize concern that “the poetry of the revolution has been co-opted by the poetry of capitalism, a capitalism so rampant that it leaves no place from which to launch a manifesto that would be unattained by it” (243). In the end, the author calls for “a new, instrumentalist manifesto” (262) that relies upon “repetition and replacement” (261).

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