vol. 5 No. 1 June 2021

The Presencing Tendency: French and American Avant-Garde Strategiesunder the Formal Subsumption of Art
Author:Ben Libman    Time:2021-09-22    Click:

The Presencing Tendency: French and American Avant-Garde Strategiesunder the Formal Subsumption of Art

Ben Libman

Page 070-079


Abstract: Whether what we call the avant-garde in literature ended sometime in the last century or, conversely, persists to this day is an open question. But rather than coming down on one side or another of the issue, this essay concerns itself with what the avant-garde looks like when, in Bourdieusian terms, it feels its very position to be at stake in the field’s struggle for domination, both internally and externally, with the field of power. Either by historical coincidence or, more intriguingly, by something as nefarious as influence, both the French and the American avant-gardes of the 1950s and 60s witnessed the development of a similar aesthetic tendency in response to encroachments upon the restricted production of their respective literary fields by external forces. This tendency, which I call a “poetics of presence,” is a gambit for textual immediacy—what Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht terms presence effects,” as opposed to “meaning effects.” Through readings of theoretical works by Alain Robbe-Grillet, on the one hand, and poems by Frank O’Hara and John Ashbery, on the other, I demonstrate the character of the poetics of presence in the French and American contexts, concluding ultimately that in both cases such strategies function to preserve a formal subsumption of artistic labor under conditions of restricted production, as against the threading incursions of the real subsumption of that labor to which external forces—capital, politics—would subject it.

Keywords: avant-garde, nouveau roman, presence, poetics, New York School, Pierre Bourdieu, Theodor A. Adorno


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