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The Avant-Garde, Neo-Avant-Garde and Radio: Robert Desnos and Philippe Soupault

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The role played by radio in the progression from the historical avant-garde to the post-war neo-avant-garde is studied here through the particular cases of two members of the surrealist movement, Robert Desnos and Philippe Soupault, and involves consideration of the osmosis between high and low culture.

Desnos was recruited by Paul Deharme, one of the pioneers in France of "l'art radiophonique", to work for his company Information et Publicité. One of his most famous early commissions was the promotion of a radio programme featuring the pulp fiction arch-criminal Fantômas, which became a serious creative work, La Grande Complainte de Fantômas. Another of his important cultural projects was the "Cantate pour l'inauguration du Musée de l'Homme", for which his libretto was set to music by Darius Milhaud. However, some of Desnos's most "cutting edge" work in radio was found in the adverts he devised, e.g. for the Vermifuge Lune.

After the war Soupault "came back from the dead" ( Journal d'un fantôme) and reinvented himself, not so much in programmes designed to make poetry more accessible to the public as in a series of radio plays which display his ability to translate theory into practice in a new genre. Boundaries between highbrow and lowbrow were re-drawn, and the national institution, radio, that was generally hostile to the avant-garde in France between the wars, was brought on board in a neo-avant-garde mode.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 1, 2006

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