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The Passenger or the search for identity (FW31)

The Search for an Avant-Garde, 1896-1930
Transgressing the Borders
The Search for an Avant-Garde, 1896-1930. A history of the British avant-garde . By
Gareth Buckell

‘Fifty odd years hasn’t done so badly in getting an art into the world that fifty more will probably turn into THE art, but now, after somewhat magnificent growth, one feels here is its critical age’.1 So wrote Kenneth MacPherson in his first column in Close-Up, the journal launched in 1927 by himself, the Imagist poet H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) and novelist Bryher (Winifred Ellerman) as an attempt to initiate a culture of avant-garde filmmaking and intellectual criticism in Great Britain.

Across the visual and literary arts, there were various international attempts to establish avant-garde movements, rooted in opposition to artistic traditions. For artists, figurative painting, so popular during the nineteenth century, became redundant after the invention of photography, while many writers believed that cinema would appropriate the exteriorised narratives central to ‘Realist’ literature and so became more interested in exploring internal consciousness, a possibility that believed beyond the reach of the camera.
Formal boundaries had often been challenged, but usually by artists who spontaneously produced single works of striking originality, or organically developed a unique personal style. What was specific to the fin-de-sicle was a heightened awareness of entrenched artistic convention, with numerous theories on aesthetics drafted by diverse writers, such as Tolstoy and Wilde. The radical philosophical questions to rational, post-Enlightenment philosophy asked by Freud, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, all interested in the relationship between art, the individual consciousness and society, often coloured these theories.