The other theater today is political and ideological theater, in which the question is not at all the continuity of the family, the disclosure of the secret, but a question of choice, of pure choice, and the choice is always in the form of a discontinuity. To come to understand the true choice, the true vision, creates a rupture in the course of the situation.
The paintings of Brian Shields are, in Barthes’ word, idiorhythmic, that is to say a joy of flexible, free, mobile rhythms, quasi-transitory. They are liberated from power-rhythms, those imposed on life, time, maps, speech.
By contrast, the equally anti-minimalist Greek painter Despina Stokou is urban to the hilt and has major gallery representation. Her brash and gorgeous, her raucuous and harshly sensual paintings have forceful exuberance with traces of bewilderment and dissatisfaction.
This avant-garde, this army of Dead Girls, shakes the sun from the sky and replaces it with ornament, “orfebrería,” Art’s insignia (“as Grecian goldsmiths make / Of hammered gold and gold enamelling”?), stretching its own skin painfully up to replace the sky in counterconquest. When Art’s army arrives, it immediately enacts a regime of Anachronism. With and/or logic, it insists both on a dream interval and a fatal interval: this is not going to stop until you wake up so give up. Art performs both massive and trivial transformations—the dead are reanimated (a massive change), while a series of lyric, decorative images are daisy chained to each other with a twist of Art’s, or syntax’s, hand: pájaros become nenas como flores. Thanks to Art’s friable power, every surface is touched, changed, made to host each other, to and/or.
The avant-garde’s “delusion of whiteness” is the specious belief that renouncing subject and voice is anti-authoritarian, when in fact such wholesale pronouncements are clueless that the disenfranchised need such bourgeois niceties like voice to alter conditions forged in history. The avant-garde’s “delusion of whiteness” is the luxurious opinion that anyone can be “post-identity” and can casually slip in and out of identities like a video game avatar, when there are those who are consistently harassed, surveilled, profiled, or deported for whom they are. But perhaps that is why historically the minority poets’ entrance into the avant-garde’s arcane little clubs has so often been occluded. We can never laugh it off, take it all in as one sick joke, and truly escape the taint of subjectivity and history. But even in their best efforts in erasure, in complete transcription, in total paratactic scrambling, there is always a subject—and beyond that, the specter of the author’s visage—and that specter is never, no matter how vigorous the erasure, raceless.
One calls comrade those who went on, even when the cause was lost. Even when there are no good reasons for not giving up. As Asger Jorn put it: the avant-garde never gives up.
The current avant-gardes in contemporary Anglophone poetry make their claims largely by reference to previous avant-gardes. Their status thus supposes a transmission (however garbled) of aesthetic practices or propositions and of self-fashioning performances within the cultural sphere. It is a diachronic account which takes genealogy for history. It understands itself as an art practice (even when styling itself as anti-art) rather than an aspect of an enlarged struggle toward the transformation of basic social arrangements that defines a synchronic or historical avant-garde. This self-identification should not be taken as a failing but as an inevitability in an era wherein such struggles are diminished or neutralized.Herein I use the term “historical avant-garde” in a way distinct from what has become common usage. Rather than denoting certain actually existing avant-gardes from which we are now historically distant, the term here indicates an avant-garde directly engaged with the material conditions of its own historical moment (whenever that moment might be).