Avant-Garde Humor and Political Aesthetics I (Panel)


Special Session
Send in the Clowns / World Literatures and Comparative Studies

Leticia Perez Alonso (Jackson State University)
leti@****.com (Log-in to reveal)

This session focuses on the interrelationship of subversive humor and politics in avant-garde artistic production from a perspective that considers the ability of artists and works to challenge acceptable norms and aesthetic genres. The main concern of the avant-gardists was to threaten the establishment by undermining any sense of bourgeois morality and promoting radical reforms that shook society to the core. To this effect, authoritarian discourse practices and models of political correctness were harshly criticized.

This panel explores the interconnection of avant-garde humor with forms of political action that defied conventional art and lifestyles. The significance of the comical aspect centers on a greater understanding of experimental practices as cases that unsettle the establishment. Literally meaning “advance guard” in French, the term holds a military sense that applies to artists and works characterized by their combative nature and their tendency to question the acceptability of norms and traditional aesthetic genres. Avant-garde artists made use of humor as a political weapon that destabilized the status quo by challenging bourgeois values and promoting radical reforms on a sociocultural level. Their main concern was, to quote Jacques Rancière in The Politics of Aesthetics (2004), to alter the distribution of the sensible, “the very manner in which something in common lends itself to participate and in what way various individuals have a part” (12). In other words, those groups excluded from a given community, become visible and audible by engaging in acts of dissidence that disrupt the public sphere. Since avant-garde humor was subversive in and of itself, it served to offer a critical commentary on reality that overturned deep-seated social codes and political correctness. From the Cubist rejection of Euclidean perspective, through the Futurist and Dadaist provocative performance, to the shock effect in Expressionist and Surrealist films, experimental artists have taken advantage of humorous discourses to interfere within political affairs. Abstracts for papers that examine cases of non-normative art are welcome to participate in this session. Topics might include, but are not limited to the following:

—Parody and political aesthetics in the avant-garde soirée.

—The subversive humor of the photomontage.

—Partisanship and irreverence in avant-garde journals, manifestos and political pamphlets.

—The art exhibit as a confrontational gesture against the public.

—Representations of the circus in the avant-garde.

—Women and humor in experimental art.

—The political power of laughter.

—Adaptations and recreations of the harlequin, the clown and the trickster in the avant-garde.

—Cinematic humor and literary characterizations of mainstream filmic figures.

—The grotesque and carnivalesque in verbal and visual experimental production.