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Authors: Hancock, Austin James
Advisors: RentzouBenhaïm, EfthymiaAndré
Contributors: French and Italian Department
Keywords: avant-garde
Subjects: French literature
Modern literature
Art history
Issue Date: 2022
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation takes the sport of boxing as a paradigm for rethinking the combative aesthetics and practices of the historical avant-garde. Beginning with the foundational theories of Renato Poggioli and Peter Bürger, avant-gardism has long been characterized as an antagonistic effort to violently break with tradition. In recent decades however, scholars have sought new approaches to the avant-garde, recognizing how this focus on muscular rebellion perpetuates superseded narratives of masculine heroics and compounds institutional biases against feminine, queer, disabled, and racially othered subjects who do not meet normative standards of artistic strength. Bridging this divide, I draw upon the cultural history of sport to examine how tensions of gender, sexuality, race, and disability were expressed thematically, and at times, physically, through boxing in avant-garde poetry, cinema, photography, magazines, plastic and performance art. In so doing, this dissertation reconsiders the aggressive postures of the avant-garde’s male “heavyweights” and interrogates barriers of gender, race and sexuality that have typically delimited this cultural arena. My opening chapters examine boxing’s role in shaping notions of gender performance among both men and women of the avant-garde. The first chapter argues that, in publications like Arthur Cravan’s Maintenant and Francis Picabia’s 391, boxing became a crucial element to Paris Dada’s ironic approach to male artistic identity. My second chapter then turns to how feminine and queer artists including Hannah Höch, Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore looked to the boxing ring when confronting dominant narratives of artistic strength, simultaneously adopting and critiquing aggressive postures typically reserved for their male counterparts. The third chapter examines the European avant-garde’s fascination with Black boxers, showing how the sense of kinship that artists like Cravan, Guillaume Apollinaire and Jean Cocteau felt towards these prizefighters both resisted and reaffirmed the objectifying dynamics of the colonial gaze. My final chapter examines the violence of the ring against the trauma of World War I, demonstrating how the avant-garde’s engagement with boxing corresponded to anxieties about the human body’s place in the industrial world. Collectively, these studies reveal a model of artistic resistance which was not only pugnacious, but also vulnerable, contingent and self-consciously performative.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:French and Italian

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