- Surveying the Avant-Garde: Questions on Modernism, Art, and the Americas in Transatlantic Magazines by Lori Cole
During the twentieth century, avant-gardists of all stripes deployed the questionnaire to stake out their positions within an international network of sympathizers and rivals. Ubiquitous in twentieth-century little magazines, the questionnaire has been overlooked as a singular form. Lori Cole's meticulously researched study, Surveying the Avant-Garde: Questions on Modernism, Art, and the Americas in Transatlantic Magazines, capably addresses that neglect, establishing the questionnaire as a meaningful genre. Considering the questionnaire a "literary device," Cole first examines its history, currency, and relationships to its closest relatives—the manifesto and the magazine (27). Four case studies within the "triangulation of the United States, Latin America, and Europe" then reveal the slipperiness surrounding terminology (avant-garde, modernism, and contemporary) and the relationship between place and identity ("America") that concerned writers and artists on both sides of the Atlantic (4-5). Cole posits that the questionnaire embodies the tensions between the international and national that governed avant-garde cultural production. Revealing a "history … written by its participants," she shows that the questionnaire allows for retrospective recognition of the messiness of the development of modernism, from both geographical and ideological standpoints (185). The study confirms the questionnaire, like the manifesto, as foundational to modernism.
Questionnaires embody debates that took place among writers, artists, and intellectuals in cafés, during urban strolls, or in tertulias and salons. Lost to history, these conversations became formalized in the intentionally provocative questionnaires launched by journals, allowing participants to enact position-taking in print and to put uninterrupted soliloquies in dialogue with both like-minded and oppositional peers. Like the magazine, Cole argues, the questionnaire makes visible the fluidity of modernist thought, disrupting the idea of a "singular, dominant discourse" in favor of a "polyphonic field of responses" (185). Allowing for considerable debate despite its seemingly strict formula, the questionnaire underscores the laboratory-like characteristics of print culture, in which contributors debated artistic forms, social issues, and the intellectual's cultural position. As magazines crossed borders, oceans, and other divides, questionnaires allowed for the productive contention that facilitated the circulation of modernism.
According to Cole, "nearly every critic, artist, author, and movement in the twentieth century across Europe and the Americas" deployed the questionnaire (159). In chapter one, "Defining the Questionnaire," she situates the form in a long history and outlines its international scope and open-ended and reflective characteristics. The questionnaire's retrospective and plural qualities, she notes, differentiate it from the aspirational and targeted manifesto. The chapter also explores the questionnaire's close relationship with its vehicle, the magazine, another collaborative endeavor. She calls on periodical studies literature in "centralizing the role of the periodical in the development of modernism," especially in Latin American locations lacking institutional infrastructure (18). Cole cogently argues for the questionnaire as a connective tissue for Western modernists and as a "microcosm" of the periodical itself. Thus underlining the transnational currency of the questionnaire, Cole contributes usefully to the scholarship on global modernism.
In order to harness the "excess of surveys" that filled magazines during the 1920s–1930s, Cole structures the following chapters around case studies that examine questionnaires that circulated in Paris, the Hispanophone world, and the United States (and its expatriate community) and map the allegiances that occurred during this period (4). Magazines posed big-picture questions that echoed throughout a modernist community conscious of Paris's importance but determined to [End Page 601] challenge its dominance. Cole sets up the case studies with thorough histories of the magazines and personalities that drove them, helpful to readers unfamiliar with a given context. In the most useful parts of each chapter, she dives deeply into significant questionnaires posed by the publications, parsing complex perspectives on the issues of the day.
Chapter two, "Picturing Latin America," homes in on the Havana journal Revista de Avance (1927–30). Cole emphasizes the regional perspective in seventeen responses (published over...