The Perennial Avantgarde by Gerald Sykes
New Jersey : Prentice-Hall, 1971. Hardcover. 239 pages ; 25 cm. $6.95 dust jacket with light foxing to front and verso. Pages are clean and unmarked. Binding is firm.
Listen, reader, the money you've got in your pocket was put there by an AVANT-GARDE economist. The clothes on your back have been refabricked by AVANT-GARDE scientists. Your heart may pound a few years longer because some AVANT-GARDE characters helped it along. Your teeth were saved by AVANTGARDE dentists. Your eyes have been opened by Kandinsky. Your ears have been cleaned by Stravinsky. You are a prefab of the AVANT-GARDE, reader, and it is time you met your maker.
The avant-garde remains one of the most marketable of commodities in today's product-happy America. Yet this book offers a box seat at a modern tragedy— the corruption of the avant-garde. It could be called the "lowdown on the far out."
Each chapter tells a story that actually, with a few disguises, happened in a most advanced sector of the art wars. Each chapter also offers an interlude of commentary, direct or indirect, on the action that has just taken place.
Until well into the twentieth century, Europe had a monopoly on the avant-garde. Picasso, Joyce, Stravinsky, Klee, Kafka, Shoenberg, experimented, improvised and revolutionized their respective art forms. By World War I, however, the avant-garde in Europe had started to decline into a babel of private languages. After the war, it had to face competition that relegated its already faltering freshness to library shelves and museum walls. From the United States sprang a powerful new force in music, architecture, fiction, and painting that injected a pulsing vibrance into the bloodstream of the creative world. This new avantgarde thrived in America—until today.
Now, points out Mr. Sykes, we Americans, our education hastened by our spiralling technology, are as immersed in the art wars as Europe ever was. For decades we have been influencing the rest of the world with our jazz, our skyscrapers, our tough-guy fiction, our action painters, our Pop Art. Nevertheless, our colleges still graduate large classes of compulsive avant-garde men who cling babylike to an earlier mystique and refuse to recognize its present sad "pop" state of affairs.
But what then of the future? "An intelligent interest in the avant-garde," says Mr. Sykes, "in the part that innovation has played in making us what we are and what we may become, is now, whether we like it or not, essential to survival." For it is only through an understanding for the talented people who are working in the arts today, followed by a disregard of a faith that has "gone and died," that we shall see The Perennial Avantgarde in full bloom again.
Gerald Sykes is the author of THE COOL MILLENNIUM, THE HIDDEN REMNANT, THE NICE AMERICAN, THE CENTER OF THE STAGE, THE CHILDREN OF LIGHT. He is also the editor of ALIENATION: THE CULTURAL CLIMATE OF OUR TIME, which, with THE HIDDEN REMNANT, was a choice of the Book Find Club and The Seven Arts Society.
He has contributed extensively to The New York Times Book Review (where his first thoughts on the art wars appeared), Book Week, Partisan Review, The Nation, The New Republic, The New Leader, Harper's, and many other publications. He has taught at Columbia, the Salzburg Seminar in American Studies, the University of Algiers, • the New School for Social Research. Mr. Sykes has also served as a Public Affairs Officer in the Foreign Service.
"Reader, pray give him the mature attention he deserves of you; he won't let you down." —From the Preface by LAWRENCE DURRELL
"I think there is probably no one alive better fitted than Mr. Sykes to introduce a reader to the rules, scorecard, and numbers of all the players of this New York modern arts and letters game. He writes with a fine art of his own, highly sophisticated, knowledgeable, appreciative —and with a wicked wink." —JOSEPH CAMPBELL
"Extremely readable. With good sense and undogmatic assurance it touches on many subjects in regard to humanity and the arts. It is certainly on the side of angels—and good-natured for all that." —HAROLD CLURMAN
"An absorbing book . . . piercing insights into the profanation of the arts in America. ... He has restored dignity and meaning to that now almost completely debased word, avant-garde." —ROBERT RYAN
"An incisive, engaging book of considerable relevance to the world of finance and business. . . . Could well prove to be as helpful in establishing a framework for the American decisionmaker of the 70's as Servan-Schreiber's The American Challenge' was for the European industrialist of the late 60's." —JOHN WESTERGAARD President, Equity Research Associates, Inc.
"I've read it with pleasure and sympathy. It's a most humane book and sure to do good It is a noble task that has been undertaken here- and we should be thankful for it. . . ." —ALFRED KAZIN
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