Proto-Forms of the Avant-Garde: Little Magazines as Communities of Print, 1914-2016
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This dissertation offers a new, diachronic study of twentieth- and twenty-first century literary avant-gardes by focusing on little magazines as media that instantiated provisional and dynamic communities. My chapters compare several Anglophone (primarily American) avant-garde magazine-communities: proto-Dada (~1914-1929), proto-conceptual (~1965-1975), proto-Language (~1971-1987), and feminist magazine-communities (~1983-2009), focusing on provisionality, materiality, canonical omissions, and diachronic connections. My ‘proto-form’ concept conceives of avant-gardes as provisional networks of affiliation rather than rigidly demarcated groups. In attending to the dynamics of social inclusion or exclusion, and the materiality of print, this thesis highlights the heterogeneity of practices within avant-garde communities, often absent in canonical critical accounts. Drawing on extensive and original archival findings, I read poetic experiments alongside editorials, typography, correspondence, and social occasions, and I examine how print technologies, such as letterpress, mimeography, xerography, and digital publishing changed how magazine communities could work. Following an overview of the state of avant-garde and periodical studies in the introduction, chapter one posits proto-Dada magazines as self-aware laboratories for typographic, collaborative, discursive, and social experiments in print, experiments that both shaped and contradicted the terms with which we now discuss avant-gardes and little magazines. Chapter two argues for a poetics of the map inside 1960s proto-conceptual magazines that critiqued the ontology of poetry and thus the ‘literary’ magazine. The third chapter discusses Language Writing alongside its fellow-traveller New Narrative, and considers how theory and self-theorisation affected the format of magazines and their communities. Chapter four argues that feminist avant-garde magazines epitomise this dissertation’s revision of avant-gardes by criticising exclusions from the canon and by treating magazines as pedagogical media. The conclusion considers what the concept of avant-garde proto-forms can offer the study of contemporary avant-gardes, arguing that magazines act as barometers for ‘contemporaneity’ and hold lasting symbolic value for poetic ‘communities’ across time.
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