From Avant-Garde to Para-Garde: The About Marika

Antti Salminen

Abstract: It seems today that the avant-garde has become domesticated and that its radical tendencies have been tamed. There is apparently no rival for the avant-garde —no way to reformulate radical so that it may depart from the premises from which it emerged in the early twentieth century.1 How then can the avant-garde, as a social, political, and theoretical position and practice, revitalize itself in contemporary ? I argue that in the field of experimental art, we are gradually shifting from the legacy of the avant-garde to a mind- called para-garde. My theoretical discussion of both the historical avant-garde’s legacy and the para-garde is tied to an experimental Swedish project entitled Sanningen om Marika (The Truth about Marika; 2007) which provides an example of the emerging para-garde ethos. Marika constructs a in the interstices between the vanguard and that eludes classic avant-garde definitions and .

The first pure critique of the avant-garde ethos emerged in the political and cultural situation of 1968. The creative crisis of 68 drove the forces of the avant-garde onto the streets, but according to Peter Bürger’s influential (and nostalgic) , the date also marked the wane of the vanguard project (in Theorie der Avantgarde, 1974). In his 1977 Five Faces of , Matei Calinescu argued that the historical avant-garde had been so successful that it had become a “chronic condition” of art, since the rhetoric of destruction as well as novelty had lost their former heroic appeal (2003: 146-47).2 Along the same lines, the neo-avant-garde (which ranges from neo- to neo- ) can be deemed a reactionary label. For the most part it conserves the avant-garde inheritance, which is a fate worse than death for the champions of anti-art for anti-art’s sake—to quote ’s Dadaist formulation. In his summary of Bürger’s theory of the neo-avant-garde and its negative achievements, David Hopkins underlines the sense of loss felt in post-1968 (2006: 6). This melancholy never fully dissipated since, by and large, the 214 Antti Salminen neo-avant-garde was unable to achieve the utopian goals and artistic- political revolutions that were outlined by the historical avant-garde. And to mount a Bürgerian critique, the neo-avant-garde reversed the vanguard’s original project, recouping it for the art industry. The concept of the postmodern avant-garde remains flawed for the same as does that of the neo-avant-garde. First, the term “” has become hackneyed to the point of being devoid of content. Second, the prefixes “post-” and “avant-” are still bound to the modernist project, as well as to its and cultural . Third, if the avant-garde is understood to be a reflection on modernity, its cutting edge, or even its unconscious —as Renato Poggioli suggested in The Theory of the Avant-Garde (1968: 141)—what we actually face is an anachronistic oxymoron. The avant-garde is inseparable from the phenomenon of modernity, and it therefore cannot proceed to any “post” phase without relinquishing its ties to . Surely it could be argued that in one way or another we remain in historical modernity, but this Sunday-of- argument cannot explain the crisis that the avant-garde has faced since the 1960s. There are two ways of responding to the death of the avant-garde. One would proclaim the demise of the avant-garde project along with modernism, while the is eager to perpetuate the vanguard’s legacy by new means. Representative of the first strain is Paul Mann’s The Theory-Death of the Avant-Garde:

The death of the avant-garde is old news, already finished, no longer worth discussing; but those who think so have not yet even begun to think it. There is no post: everything that it claims to be so blindly repeats what it thinks it has left behind. Only those willing to remain in the death of the avant-garde, those who cease trying to drown out death’s silence with the noise of neocritical production, will ever have a of hearing what that death articulates. (1991: 141)

The second can be attributed to a contemporary artist, the Neoist Stewart Home, who writes in his , “The Palingenesis of the Avant-Garde”:

The task of the avant-garde then, is to carry on as before by providing those still trapped within the old modes of with a that will deconstruct itself. What is as yet particular must become general, that is to say we require the social construction of a new subjectivity so that, once is recognised as ‘our’ enemy, it becomes possible for everybody to step outside the frames of reference provided by art,