Avant-Gardes and Avatars: Modernism and Performance
A Prospective Special Issue of Modernism/modernity
Proposed Publication in 2018
Abstracts by 1 April 2016
Completed essay submissions by 1 September 2016
As any science fiction reader can attest, visions about possible futures often precede, if not necessarily predict, the technologies to come. This may be particularly true of modernism and its fantasies of the future on stage. In 1907 Edward Gordon Craig dreamed of a Übermarrionette, an autonomous, synthetic performer who would liberate the theatre from the whims and flaws of human actors. Playwright Karel Čapek wrote the first robot as drama in R.U.R. 1920, and Antonin Artaud was the first to describe a theatre of réalité virtuel in The Theatre and Its Double (1938). Both modernist theater and cinema often served as a space for imaginings of the future.
Not surprisingly then, contemporary scholars have looked often to modernist performances as the foundation for relations among media, performance, and new forms of writing. Lev Manovich, for instance, locates the origins of new media in avant-garde formalist cinema, and historian Tom Scheinfeldt has referred to emerging digital humanities as the “performative humanities,” noting the ways that new technologically enhanced approaches not only analyze but also transform text into performance.
Amid the ongoing discussions of cultural and technological transformation, this issue of Modernism/modernity considers the role of modernist theater and performance and their legacies. Looking critically at the relations among modernism, technology, and contemporary performance, this special issue of Modernism/modernity gathers new work from critical avant-garde studies, media archaeology, and intermediality to consider how modernism across genre—texts, media, and performance—shapes our understanding of a technologically infused present and how emerging critical practices reevaluate writing, film, and performances of the past.