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Groups, Coteries, Circles and Guilds

Modernist Aesthetics and the Utopian Lure of Community

Edited By Laura Scuriatti

In the first half of the twentieth century, artists, intellectuals, writers, thinkers and patrons in Europe and the United States created a large number of artistic communities, circles, groups and movements with the aim of providing alternatives to the increasingly conflictual political and intellectual climate; the works and artistic practices of many of these groups were marked by an ethos of collaboration, based on a collective understanding of artistic production, and on the nurturing and exercise of sociability and conviviality. Collaboration, sociability, friendship and collective artistic efforts represented the utopian aspects of the radical experiments carried out by avant-garde and modernist artists; they were also the counterparts of the period’s obsession with the notion of genius and the cult of the artist. This book offers studies of under-researched (and often consciously provincial) avant-garde and modernist groups and authors. Their progressive aims are here read as particular forms of utopia based on the ethics and aesthetics of community.

The essays in this volume analyse the significance (and failures) of literary coteries as spaces of aesthetic and political freedom. They explore the internationalist and interdisciplinary practices of the Porza Group, the abstrakten hannover and the anthroposophical group Aenigma; the utopian efforts of the artists’ communities at Dornach (Switzerland) and Farley Farm, in England; the political and aesthetic implications of collaborative practices of cultural mediation, criticism and translation within the Bloomsbury group, the «Young American Critics», and of single individuals in relation to networks and avant-garde coteries, such as Mina Loy, the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven and Djuna Barnes. The volume offers an evaluation of the roots and ethos of sociability in the Enlightenment, as the basis of modernist utopias of community; it also reflects on the problematic notion of individual authorship within artistic groups, as in the case of the early-modernist Finnish author Algot Untola, who created around forty fictitious author-names.

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1 Utopias of Purposelessness: Sacred and Secular Sociability around (Ulrike Wagner)


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1 Utopias of Purposelessness: Sacred and Secular Sociability around 1800


This essay discusses the topic of sociability in the Enlightenment and Romantic periods from a trans-historical and cross-cultural perspective. More specifically, I concentrate on Friedrich Schleiermacher’s notion of Geselligkeit, show its crucial impact on religious criticism among American Transcendentalists, and bring these late eighteenth- to mid-nineteenth-century considerations of sociability into dialogue with Georg Simmel and a contemporary theoretical approach. This wide-ranging scope brings a crucial aspect of the concept’s historical career into view: notwithstanding the enormous temporal and geographical history separating some of the authors discussed here, what they have in common, I suggest, is their commitment to drawing out an aesthetic dimension of sociability that resists normative assimilations and any form of instrumentalization. It is only through such comparison, I will show, that some of the crucial implications of the concept of sociability for the arts become entirely visible.

Many of the most visionary works of avant-garde and modernist writers, artists, and social reformers gained shape within international networks, circles, salons, and wider artistic or socio-political movements. Theorizations of the concept of sociability constitute therefore a core ingredient of critical research, focused on asking how the modernists’ strong bend toward communal formations interacted with their creative ideals, projects and ideas of social reorganization. George Simmel’s ‘Soziologie der Geselligkeit’ [The Sociology of Sociability], addressed to the first German Sociological Association Congress in 1910, holds a prominent...

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