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VWI invites/goes to...
Zoë Roth: The Jewish Avant-Garde: Transnational Modernisms, 1916-1945

Donnerstag, 13. Juni 2013, 15:00 - 16:30

Department of Finno-Ugrian Studies, Institute of European and Comparative Literature and Language Studies, Spitalgasse 2


VWI goes to Institute for Finno-Ugrian Studies


Despite the large numbers of Jewish artists and writers involved in historical avant-garde movements, such as Dada and surrealism, to date no work has charted their influence in a comprehensive manner. This is partly an effect of their adoption of a cosmopolitan, universalist persona and their deliberate disassociation from their origins, but the diversity of the Jewish avant-garde, extending from European milieus to North Africa, Russia, and the Americas, also defies a syncretic narrative. Moreover, the impetus to situate Jewish artistic praxis within the historical context of European anti-Semitism elides the complex set of relations governing politics and aesthetics in this period, resulting in their works being read through simplistic models of resistance. The attraction of Jews to the avant-garde reflected their liminal social position. At a certain level, however, there was cross-pollination between fascism and modernism, including its more extreme variants, futurism and Dada. By exploring the tension between Jewish involvement in avant-garde discourses and the fascist politics that exploited currents of the same aesthetic movements, this paper aims to demonstrate that this paradox constitutes a central tension not only in the works of such figures, but in the history of modernism itself. In order to explore these ideas, this paper will map the Jewish avant-garde’s transnational topography. It will then explore of the work and intersecting trajectories of Man Ray, Benjamin Fondane, Claude Cahun, and Wolfgang Paalen. I will foreground the way in which these figures eclectic backgrounds and transnational work draw on political anxieties of the time and refute a bounded Jewish identity by calling on radically plural avant-garde aesthetics. In doing so, I assert that Jewish avant-garde artists and writers were literary and artistic pioneers, at the forefront of modernism’s expansion and driving not only artistic, but political and cultural change. Tracing the Jewish avant-garde as a transnational constellation, I will reconsider prevailing Eurocentric notions of the avant-garde and propose an alternative vision of modernism.


Commentary: Wolfgang Müller-Funk


Zoë Roth is a Junior Visiting Fellow at VWI.


Doz. Dr. Wolfgang Müller-Funk is Professor for Cultural Studies of Department of Finno-Ugrian Studies, Institute of European and Comparative Literature and Language Studies at the University of Vienna.


In cooperation with:


The Institute for Finno-Ugrian Studies




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