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  • Introduction:Anarchism’s Modernisms
  • Allan Antliff

At its point of origin, modernism, as Stephen Ross has argued, constituted itself as a critique of modernity, a modernity uniquely shaped by European nationalism, the capitalist restructuring of society, scientific rationalism, industrialism, and an ideological faith in humanity’s progressive betterment through the advancement of modernity on a global scale.1 Ross continues: “I would join an attitude of critique to formal experimentation as the defining nexus of modernism, a nexus that persists among all modernists regardless of their ideological commitments and degrees of complicity with the mass-market culture they often claimed to—and did—deplore.”2

This issue of the Journal of Modern Periodical Studies examines political engagements with modernism in journals where productive comingling gave rise to new modes of anarchism contiguous with modernism, while modernism itself was propelled in new directions. In this instance we have a critical/creative nexus—to paraphrase Ross—keyed to values profoundly at odds with modernity, including its “socialist” guise. Anarchism’s modernisms grapple with such issues as power relations, sexual difference, colonialism, and the economics of art—to name a few—with revolutionary intent. Exiling modernism from modernity so as to de-universalize it and escape its closed logic of hegemony, anarchism’s localized epistemologies are complemented by modernisms that are self-reflexive and generative because the strength of their political efficacy depends on their [End Page iii] capacity to realize new forms of knowledge and activism through aesthetic experimentation. Modernism, then, is conceived as a lived practice that is emancipatory by virtue of its radicalizing agency as a site of social engagement.

The issue opens with Patricia Leighten’s examination of L’Assiette au Beurre, a Paris-based illustrated magazine that provided anarchist artists with an avenue for modernist aesthetics in cartooning and political agitation with a working-class audience in mind. These experiments, in turn, had an impact on painting, creating a stylistic politics shot through with strategies of inversion and transgressive affronts to the status quo. In the United States, Emma Goldman’s Mother Earth journal galvanized modernist aesthetics as a site of subjectivity, inviting readers to reconceptualize themselves, in Kathy Ferguson’s formulation, as participants in art’s transformation along anarchist lines. Mother Earth dispersed its vision through a network of culturally oriented anarchist journals in the United States (notably the Little Review and Camera Work) and abroad.3 Mark Antliff takes up the issue of aesthetics in his study of the Parisian Action d’art journal’s mobilization of an international cohort of artists, anarchists, and critics to defend one of modernism’s most infamous sculptures, Jacob Epstein’s Tomb of Oscar Wilde in 1913. Antliff demonstrates how the codification of an anarchist aesthetic of “contagious joy” synthesized from the individualist anarchism of German theorist Max Stirner and philosopher Henri Bergson’s metaphysics of intuition served as the gay-positive counter-weight to the academic censorship of Epstein’s sculpture on the grounds of indecency (tellingly, Mother Earth also figures in his discussion). Theresa Papanikolas extends Antliff ’s paradigm into World War I and its aftermath (1914–22), when French anarchists marshaled aesthetic politics against factions within the movement that supported the war against Germany and/ or the Russian Communist Party’s seizure of power under Lenin’s leadership in October 1917. Promoting modernist poetics as the site of “cerebral revolt,” however, became a foil for some to reject Stirner’s assertion that anyone could adopt an anarchist outlook in favor of Friedrich Nietzsche’s belief that an artistic frame of mind was the preserve of the privileged few. The ensuing debate in anarchist journals expanded to take in the visual arts and such artists as Pablo Picasso, André Derain, and Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes. The anarchist-modernist matrix takes center stage in Nina Gourianova’s examination of anarchist currents in Moscow during the Russian revolution (1917–21), when major figures in the history [End Page iv] of modernism (Olga Rozanova, Kazimir Malevich, Alexandr Rodchenko, Nedezda Udaltsova, and Vladimir Mayakovsky, for example), committed themselves to the movement. Anarchists argued socialism should be implemented by community initiatives coordinated through a federated system of decentralized autonomous councils directly accountable to their...


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