Physicalities: Mass Culture and the Avant-Garde

This project will trace resonances of mass cultural multiplication mechanisms in avant-garde, experimental modernist, and subcultural phenomena of the timespan from 1910-1930. Reading American and European poetry, visual art and conceptual writing as well as theoretical deliberations on modern culture in journalistic outlets as one interconnected corpus of modernity, the project will try to establish new relationships between cultures of modernity that have traditionally been seen as divergent.

Particular attention will be paid to the processes of visual accumulation (in mass entertainment) and multiplied distribution (in the mass press) which avant-garde writers and artists responded to and reflected on in a continuous, intra-public discourse. Examples of these relationships include: Mass movements like the Weimar Republic’s athletics cult and its self-conceptualization, echoed in physicality poetry by New York writers Mina Loy and Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven; the lineage of Weimar proto-critical theory journalistic writing by Siegfried Kracauer and Walter Benjamin not only in Marxist theory but in early modernist experimental writing; and the avant-gardes’ (Dadaist, Futurist, Surrealist) attitude towards the contemporary mass press, which wavered from embrace to disavowal within individual, localized movements and was continuously renegotiated instead of fixed and consistent.