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Inheriting the Avant-Garde: On the Reconciliation of Tradition and Invention in Concrete Poetry

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This essay explores the modes in which the relationship between historical avant-garde and concrete poetry is conceptualised by different factions and the ways in which concrete poets position themselves in relation to their literary and artistic ancestors. It investigates selected critical perspectives on the issue as well as declarations put forth by Eugen Gomringer, the Noigandres group, the Wiener Gruppe and Franz Mon, in which the poets situate themselves within and simultaneously position themselves against their chosen literary and artistic tradition. While all of them explicitly designate historical avant-garde poets and artists as their predecessors and acknowledge that they recuperate and draw upon techniques, strategies and concepts retrieved from this past tradition, they also emphasise their originality, claiming that they develop them further and thereby transform and amend the original quest. The tension between tradition and invention and their reconciliation is thus a constitutive factor in the works of the concrete poets.

The concrete poets operate in a radically altered cultural field, against the backdrop of a different historical, technological and theoretical horizon, and draw upon an expanded body of knowledge about signs, the signifying process and communicative structures. It will be suggested that, rather than just repeating and re-staging techniques and strategies developed by the poets of the historical avant-garde, as Peter B?rger claims, the concrete poets instead adapt, modify and extend them further to express and fit their own times, sensibilities and purposes, thereby both continuing and transcending the project of the historical avant-garde.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 1, 2006

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