One Earth, Four or Five Words. The Peripheral Concept of “Avant-Garde”


  • Per Bäckström Department of Culture and Literature, University of Tromsø



Avant-Garde, Clichés,


Metaphors grow old, turn into dead metaphors, and finally become clichés. This succession seems to be inevitable - but on the other hand, poets have the power to return old clichés into words with a precise meaning. Accordingly, academic writers, too, need to carry out a similar operation with notions that are worn out by frequent use in everyday language. One metaphor that has been hollowed out in such a way, through lax use by journalists and literary historians, is the concept of "avant-garde". In this article, I shall try to shed some new light upon this notion, with the purpose of showing its different national use and heterogeneity of meaning. This pluralism is overlooked today because of the hegemony of English in academic studies, which leads one to believe that a consensus exists in the use of the term "avant-garde", since so many academics write their articles and books in this language. The current analysis is directed towards theoreticians' ways of dealing with the notion in question, by which I meaneverybody who writes or thinks about the notion of "avant-garde". This article is an attempt to recuperate the term to stringent use and gain a deeper insight into the aesthetic movements of modernity and late modernity. I hope to show that, despite the fact that many writers believe that there exists only one recognition of the notion of "avant-garde", the understanding of the Anglo-American "centre" is actually as peripheral as that of other countries - which are normally regarded as peripheries.

Author Biography

Per Bäckström, Department of Culture and Literature, University of Tromsø

Per Bäckström is an associate professor at the Department of Culture and Literature, University of Tromsø, and chair of the membership commission of the European Network for Avant-Garde and Modernism Studies (EAM). He has published studies of the Swedish poet Bruno K. Öijer, the grotesque in the oeuvre of Henri Michaux and experimental poetry. He has published several articles on Mikhail Bakhtin, intermediality, avant-garde and neo-avant-garde. At the moment Per Bäckström is studying the Nordic neo-avant-garde and the crossaesthetic art of Öyvind Fahlström.




How to Cite

Bäckström, Per. 2007. “One Earth, Four or Five Words. The Peripheral Concept of ‘Avant-Garde’”. Nordlit, no. 21 (May):21-44.

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