Metaphors of Production: What to Make of the Avant-Garde
My research takes as its premise a theoretical reappraisal of the French avant-garde in its socio-political implications, particularly the works of André Breton, Georges Bataille and Antonin Artaud. My primary concern is to challenge the view that this is a body of work reducible to the specific artistic moment it inhabits, and even more to investigate the tenability of a claim that the works of the avant-garde are more resonant now than ever, as politics becomes more and more an ‘artistic’ enterprise: an industry of images and impressions.
I investigate how avant-garde practice and thought interacts with the socio-economic sphere in ways that have yet to be accounted for, and in doing so draw on both the Marxist tenet of economic ‘production’ as the centre and origin of society, and Jacques Rancière’s theory of the ‘distribution of the sensible’ as the defining context of political subjectivity. Rancière argues that the social order is fundamentally aesthetic, founded on divisions between the visible and invisible – our mode of perception defines our mode of participation. My contention is that the avant-garde figuratively ‘redistributes’ the notion of production with a subtlety that can promote or on the contrary impede a development towards a revolutionary perception and consciousness. Key to this is an examination of the reader/spectator herself under the rubric of production; that is, as a consumer of art, and a subject ‘made’ by the process of artistic reception. In that sense my question is not only what to make of the avant-garde, but also what the avant-garde has made of us.