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Adorno and the Modernist Avant-Garde
Philadelphia, October 2000

Call for Papers
Adorno and the Modernist Avant-Garde
a panel to be proposed for the "New Modernisms II" Conference
October 12-15, 2000: The University of Pennsylvania

Theodor Adorno's Aesthetic Theory begins (to the extent that the text we
have represents his final wishes) by raising the question of the
avant-garde: "The sea of the formerly inconceivable, on which around 1910
revolutionary art movements set out, did not bestow the promised happiness
of adventure.  Instead, the process that was unleashed consumed the
categories in the name of that for which it was undertaken.  More was
constantly pulled into the vortex of the newly taboo; everywhere artists
rejoiced less over the newly won realm of freedom than that they
immediately sought once again after ostensible yet scarcely adequate
order" (1).  For Adorno, the artists who gathered in avant-garde movements
renounced their claim to art and therefore their art doesn't risk being
the broken promise of happiness; avant-garde art merely becomes a fetish
of the ever-new.  Thus, Adorno focuses his attention on a Modernist axis
of (something like) Kafka-Schoenberg-Beckett; but what would occur if we
shifted this axis toward (something like) Breton-Cage-Duchamp?  While
Adorno has spoken elsewhere about his deep troubles with surrealism, is
there something that Adorno mis-reads about avant-garde maneuvers from the
beginning?  Can avant-garde art not also risk the autonomy that Adorno
prizes?  Can Adorno be brought to nuance a version of the avant-garde
which would not fall into the commodity structures that Adorno convicts it

I'm looking for proposals that would engage these questions and, at the
same time, couch the analysis in avant-garde figures.  Please send a
200-300 word proposal and short vita by May 5 to