The art of politics / the politics of art. 1968 and the Italian neoavantgarde magazines
In the last few years, the intersection between avant-gardes, protest movements and revolution in the 1960s and 1970s has received new critical attention. A number of publications, including Alex Coles and Catherine Rossi’s The Italian Avant-garde 1968-1976 (2013), Ana Longoni’s Vanguardia y revolución (2014) and, more recently, Boris Gobille’s Le Mai 68 des écrivains (2018) have explored the interconnections between art, writing and politics in those decades. Within this context, art and literary reviews have significantly contributed to produce and spread ideas which set the ground for the social revolution of 1968 and beyond. At the same time, they were also the place where politics was translated into action. The attack on bourgeois institutions and capitalism, and in particular the critique of individualism, specialisation and separation, led to the rethinking of the concepts of ‘authorship’, ’artistic work’, ‘intention’, ‘artistic subject’, ‘referent’, ‘arts’ and ‘disciplines’ towards a utopia of radical democratisation of the artistic practice. In Italy, we count over 400 neoavantgarde reviews. Yet, to date, they have remained largely unexplored by critics. By focusing on a small selection of these publications – including Antipiugiù, Linea Sud, Ana Etcetera, Geiger, Uomini e idee, Amodulo, and Continuum – I will examine the role they played in the Italian cultural transformation of the 1960s, leading to the events of 1968 and beyond.
Roland Barthes in 1968 Reviews
This paper will look at Roland Barthes’ essays published during the 60’s and
will undertake a comparative study of two essays of the period interrogating
the notion of identity of the author in literature.
The first essay is the seminal “The Death of the Author” published in 1967.
The famous essay, which champions the disappearance of the author, was
first published not in French, but interestingly as an English translation.
“The Death of the Author” was in fact commissioned for the Avant-Garde
American magazine Aspen and translated by Richard Howard. It therefore
exists primarily in a language which is not that of its author.
The second essay by Roland Barthes that this paper will consider is “Drame,
Poème, Roman”, published in Critique in 1965. The essay is a review of
Philippe Sollers’ novel Drame, where Barthes shows how the traditional
personal pronouns je and il cancel each other so as to destroy the author
himself and reveal a new indirect form of writing. This essay was published
again in 1968 in a special edition of Tel Quel literary review entitled Théorie
d’Ensemble, a collection of the most notable essays written between 1963
and 1968. The collection features Michel Foucault’s “Distance, Aspect,
Origine” and Jacques Derrida’s “La Différance” alongside Barthes’ essay,
and introduces the three as key pieces of writing of the period. On the
occasion of this second publication, Barthes revised the essay by adding new
footnotes to his own text. In doing so, the author is, just like Montaigne
before him, entering in conversation with his own text, and ultimately
making himself visible.
Blanchot after 1968: Fragmentary Writing and the Destitution of the Subject
Writer of fiction, literary critic, and thinker, Maurice Blanchot (1907-2003) is often misread as a solitary figure disinterested in the events and debates of his time; his involvement in the events of May 1968 demonstrate that he was anything but an isolated hermit. Blanchot, who had worked as literary critic since the 1930s, was a member of the Comité d’action étudiants-écrivains; most of the anonymous texts published in this group’s magazine Comité were, according to Dionys Mascolo, written by Blanchot. This paper will examine the impact of 1968 on Blanchot’s work, most notably the shift from traditional literary reviews to the fragmentary idiom which characterises his writing from the end of the 1960s onwards. I will focus on the echo of this politically significant event in Le Pas au-delà  and in ‘Qui?’ . What speaks in some of the fragments in Le Pas au-delà is not the human but piles of rubble which are a sort of defence or resistance: when refusal ceases to be subjective, it becomes dehumanized in a positive sense. After the events of May 1968, the subject gives way to an uncontrollable mechanism: fragmentary writing. In sum, this paper will relate the impact of the events of May 1968 to the development of a fragmentary idiom in Blanchot’s writing which outplays the human and is radically open to the other, which could be human, animal, insect or thing.
Souffles and Morocco’s 1968: Towards A Poetics of Post-Colonial Revolt?
Launched in Rabat in 1966 as a poetry and literature journal showcasing Moroccan writers publishing in French, Souffles was soon radicalising its approach to literature in the wake of the Arab defeat in the 1967 war with Israel. But it was the critique of folklorism that most animated the writers, artists and intellectuals grouped around Abdellatif Laâbi and Mostefa Nissaboury, who, in the pages of Souffles, were by 1968 waging a new war. This new war was against the facile and simplistic representation of Moroccan – and North-African – culture typified by the 1950s writings of Ahmed Sefroui. At the same time, Souffles wanted to get beyond the heroic literature of the anti-colonial struggle (Dib, Feraoun, Kateb, Mammeri), in order to establish an independent and modern Moroccan literature in French written by a younger generation coming to terms with the post-colonial polity. Influenced more by Frantz Fanon and the radical poetry of Aimé Césaire than by the négritude of a Léopold Senghor, the new poetics promoted by Souffles featured work by the Haitian René Depestre alongside the writings of Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine, Rachid Boudjedra, Tahar Ben Jelloun and Laâbi, in what Abdelkebir Khatibi called ‘un terrorisme lyrique, une violente recherche de la culture nationale’. Using the recent publication in English translation of an anthology of texts from Souffles (Stanford UP 2016), this paper considers what happens to the journal’s post-colonial critique of folklorism, in a period of pan-Arabist crisis and the social unrest of 1968 Morocco.
1968 in Romania: How External Conflicts Bring Internal Peace (and prepares a tyranny)
From 1964 onwards, Romania’s cultural and political field at the same time became a battlefield between two dominant critic discourses (the Stalinist one versus the nationalist one) and insulated itself within the larger picture of the Eastern Europe. On the one hand, as the Romanian Communist Party stated its “independence declaration” from the Soviet Union’s direct influence, national debates prevailed within a cultural field too much subordinated to an imposed Soviet agenda. On the other hand, Romanian blunt emancipation gesture had to be embedded in a more diplomatic behaviour towards its neighbours as well as towards all European powerful states In this respect, conflictual echoes, whether internal or external, had to be smoothed down. It would be nevertheless interesting to follow in some of the major cultural Romanian reviews – Contemporanul, Flacara – and the RCP’s official newspaper, Scinteia – echoes from two major political events of 1968: the visit of Charles de Gaulle in May, and Ceausescu’s opposition to the Soviet invasion of Czekoslovakia. The conflictual 1968 was the perfect opportunity for the Romanians to invest their new leader, Nicolae Ceausescu, with the mission of safeguarding the stability of a neutral wannabe Romania.
The Situationist International
The Situationist International (1957-1972) spent the 1960s agitating in favour of precisely the kind of upheaval seen during May. Though frequently mentioned in passing in accounts of the events, their eponymous journal’s contributions to fomenting student unrest in the period leading up to May ‘68 are largely unacknowledged. My paper will address this period, in showing the concerted efforts made by the Situationists to support student activism in Strasbourg and Nantes, before the famous Nanterre occupations. In November 1966, a group of students familiar with the Situationists’ journal were elected to the office of the Association Fédérative Générale des Étudiants de Strasbourg (A.F.G.E.S), a branch of the Union Nationale des Étudiants de France (U.N.E.F). They contacted the Situationists with the intention of using the funds at their disposal for a revolutionary cause and their cooperation resulted in the publication of ten thousand copies of the pamphlet De la misère en milieu étudiant at the expense of the A.F.G.E.S. The final sentence of Khayati’s pamphlet includes the phrase ‘vivre sans temps morts et jouir sans entraves’, which would become one of May’s most cited slogans. The ensuing trial of the students for misuse of funds is recounted in the Situationists’ journal along with a sustained presentation of their goals and methods during the ‘Strasbourg scandal’. My paper will also discuss the Situationists’ belligerent approach to politics and why after May, they only produced a single journal issue (their twelfth) before disbanding officially in 1972.
Mererid Puw Davies
Literature’s Tiny Death Knell:
West German Reviews and Literary Culture, 1968
The genre of the review is a remarkable key to unlocking the most elusive aspects of anti-authoritarian protest movements in the Federal Republic of Germany around 1967-68. My talk will focus on the often misunderstood or overlooked literary and textual cultures of protest in particular, and what contemporary West German journals and magazines of many kinds, from the established and long-lived to the eccentric and transient, can tell us about those cultures. At first sight, and in line with popular and scholarly perceptions, the era’s numerous, competing and now largely forgotten review cultures seem to offer an exemplary illustration of the ways in which primarily youthful activists turned away from the arts and towards other fields of action, as the protest movements were increasingly radicalised. That is, such publications seem collectively to sound the ‘death knell of literature’, as the influential poet, critic, journal editor and anti-authoritarian activist Hans Magnus Enzensberger wrote in 1968. However, on closer inspection, these reviews present a more complex view of literature, both producing and re-defining it in important ways. It is partly for such reasons that, as Enzensberger notes also, the ‘death knell’ sounded for literature in the 1960s is hardly a resounding one. I argue, therefore, that reviews were one of the most emblematic forms of a protest culture which was ambivalent about and yet inspired by (Modernist) literature. In a related way, in terms of their formal characteristics too, these publications are absolutely characteristic of anti-authoritarian textuality. I aim to make these arguments by referencing some emblematic reviews of the period, both canonical and marginal, and so to showcase their diversity and interest.