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The Czech Avant-Garde Literary Movement Between the World Wars

edited by Ondrej Sládek and Michael Heim

Thomas G. Winner

Edited By Ondrej Sládek and Michael Heim

The Czech Avant-Garde Literary Movement Between the Two World Wars tells the little-known story of the renaissance of Czech literary arts in the period between the two world wars. The avant-garde writers during this period broke down the barrier between the elite literary language and the vernacular and turned to spoken language, substandard forms, everyday sources such as newspapers and detective stories, and forms of popular entertainment such as the circus and the cabaret. In his analyses of the writings of this period, Thomas G. Winner illuminates the aesthetic and linguistic characteristics of these works and shows how poetry and linguistics can be combined. The Czech Avant-Garde Literary Movement Between the Two World Wars is essential reading for courses on modern Czech literature, comparative literature, and Slavic literature.
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Chapter Two. The Proletarian Movement and the Evolution of Poetist Theory

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·CHAPTER TWO·



The Proletarian Movement and the Evolution of Poetist Theory

Preceding the establishment in 1918 of the Czechoslovak republic, the question of national identity and all its ramifications had become a dominant issue encompassing considerations of language and ethnic tradition as well as self-determination and freedom from the control of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. Czech nationalist traditions came into conflict with socialist or anarchist internationalist attitudes that were circulating in Europe. The question of the appropriate attitude to adopt towards the nation was intensely debated. Some poets, Machar and Neumann among them, objected to what they considered Czech patriotic flag waving. On the other hand, many intellectual leaders who were to play a major role in support of the artistic avant-garde in the twenties, such as František Xaver Šalda, saw themselves as vigorous Czech patriots, and initially resisted internationalist trends in Czech literature. Thus Šalda was initially critical of Josef Čapek and of other members of the group called Tvrdošíjní (The Obstinates) for the stubborn modernity of their paintings, for their defense and practice of Expressionism and Cubism, and for their opposition to Czech and Slavic jingoism. Šalda also censured the liberal Czech journalist and literary critic, Ferdinand Peroutka (1895−1978), who in 1924 became the founder and editor-in-chief of the extremely influential cultural weekly Přítomnost (The Present Time) (Matejka 1985: 9−10). Šalda’s nationalist and anti-avant-garde views were aired in the ultra-conservative daily Venkov (Countryside), the official...

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