Avant-Garde @ Zero Hour

deadline for submissions: 
January 30, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Barrett Watten / Wayne State University
contact email: 

“Avant-Garde @ Zero Hour:
Destruction and New Meaning”  

My proposed session(s) stem from on-going work on literary and visual modernism at the “moment” of destruction in 1945: Stunde Null or Zero Hour. I focus on the epochal date of 1945 (Stunde Null or Zero Hour, in its divergent forms across the global territories) as both the end of World War II and an inaugural moment of transition to the global order we now live. For one or more sessions at EAM, I propose to recover and theorize the avant-garde to interpret the "zero hour" of 1945 and explore the historical moment of crisis of 1945—of European destruction, the end of colonial empires, the origins of our global order—as progenitor of new forms of avant-garde writing, visual art, and thinking. I want to access key examples, or a larger overview, of how avant-gardes in Europe, the Americas, and globally gained new impetus from several related projects: overturning the cultural violence of fascism; finding an ethical imperative in “bare life” in the forms of destruction; and resisting recuperation into already existing historical and artistic narratives. What was “new” in 1945 was not “new” in the sense of modernist innovation; rather, it was to see the world as it had never been, as a locus of destruction and creation with historical possibility but also with the undoing of progressive narratives. In this sense 1945 is no longer only an epochal date for the avant-garde per se but a defining moment of modernity, at which its aesthetic, ethical, and historical horizons coincide uniquely. Creation and destruction in modernity at 1945 can be comprehended through the work of a number of avant-garde writers and artists, particularly in their dialectic between "particulars," unique and intractable values and forms, and “universals,” values and forms as applicable universally, across languages and cultures. Send proposals for interrogating the work of post-1945 avant-gardes, seen in relation to the form of historical crisis of 1945 and its challenge to progressive historicism, by Thursday, January 30, for submission by Saturday, February 1, to: barrett.watten@gmail.com.