Dada, futurism, and Raymond Roussel

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


From the vantage point of Paris, 1922 began and ended with two spectacular failures that both characterized and, at least in part, determined the fate of avant-garde poetry, art, and politics during the interwar period. In January, efforts to organize an international Congress on the “modern spirit” in art and literature ended in a hail of invective and hostility among its organizers. In December, the theatrical adaptation of Raymond Roussel’s 1914 novel Locus Solus incited a public backlash against its outlandish spectacle of living machines, an outburst sustained and exacerbated by the polemical antics of the play’s supporters. At a distant remove from the triumphalism postwar national memory, these failures were at once provocative and generative. Not only did these events signal the emergence of new experimental movements (such as Surrealism, which would later cite 1922 as its inaugural annus mirabilis), but they also testified to the rhetorical and artistic power of avant-garde “failure” as a form of intellectual production. Much like the solipsistic mechanical curiosities depicted in Locus Solus – or, for that matter, the mecanomorphic hybrids featured in Dada collage art – such “celibate machines” could function without successfully making anything. In turn, the sensational excesses of a disrupted event, a polemical outburst, or a public scandal demonstrated the very persistence of avant-garde aesthetics into the domain of their public reception. The avant-garde had been doing this all along.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publication1922
Subtitle of host publicationLiterature, Culture, Politics
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781139629102
ISBN (Print)9781107040540
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


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