This course proposes an examination of theories and illustrations of radical art and politics over the course of the twentieth century in Latin America. A military metaphor that first came into use in literary circles in the 16th century only to find a second life in the radical politics of the Jacobins following the French revolution, the history of the term “avant-garde” is one of migration and contamination between the fields of art and politics, as well as their mediation by a militant vision of social transformation. If, by 1905, Lenin had adapted the term “avant-garde” to refer to the mission and position of the revolutionary party, by the second decade of the twentieth century it referred to any number of experimental styles in literature and visual art. Often associated with the creative destruction of tradition, the idea of the “avant-garde” also implied an experience of time and vision of a future to come that may seem quite foreign to us today and that was most certainly the focus of criticism and reformulation among Latin American authors working in the apparent periphery of capitalist modernity. By contrast, the military term “rear-guard” connotes a stance among artists who refused the imperative of stylistic innovation either in the name of political commitment or a conservative vision of social life integrated with aesthetics through ritual. By articulating theoretical, literary and visual texts, the course aims to trace the ways and contexts in which art imagined its real or metaphorical ability to create a new world, or, on the contrary, to return to or conserve the past. As a senior seminar, the course also encourages students to integrate individual research and writing assignments into class discussions as a way of perfecting these academic skills.
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