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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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Acknowledgements

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The present volume is the result of the productive discussions and encounters among many of the contributors, starting with a panel at the EAM (European Network of Avant-Garde and Modernist Studies) in Helsinki in 2014 and continuing at Bard College Berlin. The editor wishes to thank all the contributors to the volume for their enthusiastic and original work, as well as for their support through the process of development of the volume. Many thanks to Caroline Patey for initiating the project, and to the research group “Writing 1900” for many inspiring discussions on transnational exchanges.

The editor also wishes to thank the anonymous reviewer for the helpful suggestions, Bard College Berlin for the financial support received, and Daniel Reeve and Lisa Vogel for the editorial work on the manuscript. Finally, special thanks to Egidio Marzona, who kindly granted the editor access to his wonderful archive of modernist and avant-garde art, for his invaluable insights, and for agreeing to the reproduction of Thayhat’s drawing, which graces the cover of this book.

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