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DRAMA 585 A: Seminar in Dramatic Theory

Meeting Time: 
W 2:30pm - 5:50pm
HUT 150
Stefka Mihaylova
Stefka Mihaylova

Syllabus Description:


Drama 585 A

The Historical Avant-Garde

Fall 2018


Class meeting times: Monday, 2:30-4:20 and Wednesday 2:30-4:50 pm

Location: Hutchinson 150


Instructor: Dr. Stefka Mihaylova

Office Hours: Friday 1:30-2:20 and by appointment; Hutchinson 112C




This course examines the historical avant-garde, focusing on three major media—the manifesto, performance (including theatre and cabaret), and film—and three major contexts—Paris, Berlin, and Moscow. Case studies include the Dadaist Cabaret Voltaire, Meyerhold’s biomechanics, and Dziga Vertov’s TheMan with the Movie Camera,among others. We will start by examining the major early scholarship about the avant-garde: by JoséOrtega y Gasset (1925), Hans Magnus Enzensberger (1962), Peter Buerger (1974), and Matei Calinescu (1987). These theorists are largely responsible for the most enduring narrative about the historical avant-garde: a culturally marginal movement unified by artists’ radical critique of the past, uncompromising commitment to social change, and the dream of a utopian future. We will also read the alternative narratives of more recent historians who have searched the archives in order to establish the actual reception of avant-garde.


Books (buy your own copies): Martin Puchner, Poetry of the Revolution(also available electronically through the library), Kimberly Jannarone, Artaud and His Doubles (also available electronically through the library); and Antonin Artaud, The Theatre and Its Doubles.

Stefka will provide pdf copies of texts that are not electronically available.

Films on youtube:Man with a Movie Camera, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and Un chien andalou.


Assessment                            Due

Response Papers         40%     each Friday noon

Presentation                 20%     times vary

Research Paper           40%     Dec 12

  • Abstract Nov 14



Weekly Response Papers: These are two-to-four-page reflections on the readings and/or in-class discussions. Reflections should be connected to your own interests and explore ideas that may be extended into your final paper. You may address questions that arise in class discussions or questions that you would like to discuss but were not addressed in class. Your first paper should be a reflection about how you, personally, imagine the historical avant-garde; your last one, a reflection about how you think of it after having taken the course.

Presentation: Each student should lead one class discussion once in the course. Based on the readings assigned for the class, you should prepare at least three strong questions. These questions may engage with theoretical, methodological, or historical issues. While the questions should be prompted by the readings for the specific class, they may extend to material studied in previous classes.

Research Paper: This twelve-to-fifteen-page paper should analyze in further depth one of the topics studied in the course or explore a related topic not covered in the course. The response papers should help you identify your topic and develop it. While I will be providing continuous feedback through my comments on your response papers, you are also welcome to discuss topics with me in office hours.


Class schedule (by week number):


Week One

Sept 26, Wed. Introduction

In class: Discussion: What is the avant-garde? A preliminary definition


Week Two

Oct 3 First Attempts to Theorize the Avant-Garde; the Myth of Ubu



Week Three

Oct 10 Origins of the avant-garde: Saint-Simonianism and Bohemianism; Cabaret


  • Mike Sell, “Bohemianism, The Cultural Turn of the Avant-Garde, and Forgetting the Roma,” TDR2 (2007): 41-59 (electronically available);
  • Donald D. Egbert, “The Idea of Avant-Garde in Art and Politics,” The American Historical Review2 (1967): 339-66 (JSTOR).
  • Introduction and chapter 7 in Petar Jelavich,Berlin Cabaret(2009) (ebook);
  • Oliver Double and Michael Wilson, “Brecht and Cabaret,” The Cambridge Companion to Brecht(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 2006) (ebook);
  • Nicholas Hewitt, “The Artistic Cabaret,” in Montmartre: A Cultural History (2017) (JSTOR).

Week Four

Oct 17 The Manifesto


  • The Communist Manifesto
  • Martin Puchner,Introduction and part one,inPoetry of the Revolution: Marx, Manifestoes, and the Avant-Gardes (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2006) (electronically available)

Abstract workshop


Week Five

Oct 24 Symbolism



  • Jean Moréas, “Symbolist Manifesto” (1886), at
  • Rachilde, The Crystal Spider(1892)
  • Erin M. Williams, “Signs of Anarchy: Aesthetics, Politics and the Symbolist Critic at the Mercure de France, 1890-95,” French Forum, no. 1 (Winter 2004): 45-68 (available through JSTOR)
  • Frantisek Deak, “Symbolists and the Nineteenth-Century Theatre,” in Symbolist Theatre (1993)
  • Elisa Grilli and Evanghelia Stead, “Between symbolism and avant-garde poetics: La Plume(1889-1905), L'Ermitage(1890-1906), and La Revue blanche(1890-1905), in The Oxford Critical and Cultural History of Modernist Magazines, vol. 3 (2009).


Week Six

Oct 31 Italian Futurism and the Russian Avant-Garde

Presenter: Weiyu


  • Marinetti, “The Futurist Manifesto”
  • Berghaus, excerpts from “The Beginnings of a Futurist Performance Art: The Early Serate,” in Italian Futurist Theatre, 1909-1944 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998)
  • Puchner, “Marinetti and the Avant-Garde Manifesto”
  • “The First Working Group of Constructivists,” Russian Art of the Avant-Garde, ed. John E. Bowlt (London, Hames and Hudson, 1988)
  • Olga Matich, “Remaking the Bed: Utopia in Daily Life,” Laboratory of Dreams: The Russian Avant-Garde and Cultural Experiment, ed. John E. Bowlton and Olga Matich (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996)
  • Puchner, “Russian Futurism and the Soviet State.”


Week Seven

Nov 7 A New Medium for the New Society: Dziga Vertov’s Machinism and

            German Expressionism


  • Man with a Movie Camera
  • The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari


  • Malcolm Turvey, “The Revelationist Tradition: Exegesis,” Doubting Vision: Film and the Revelationist Tradition(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008)
  • David F. Kuhns, “Abstraction and Empathy: The Philosophical Background in the Socio-economic Foreground” and “Schrei Ecstatic Performance,” in German Expressionist Theatre: The Actor and the Stage(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997)
  • Thomas Elsaesser, “Caligary’s Family: Expressionism, Frame Tales, and Master Narratives,” Weimar Cinema and After: Germany’s Historical Imaginary (London: Routledge, 2000).


Week Eight

Nov 14 Dada



  • Puchner, “Dada and the Internationalism of the Avant-Garde”
  • Cornelius Partch, “The Mysterious Moment: Early Dada Performance as Ritual,” Dada Culture: Critical Texts on the Avant-Garde, ed. Dafydd Jones (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2006)
  • Theresa Papanikolas, “Deconstructing culture: Revolutionary Anarchism in Zurich and Paris Dada,” Anarchism and the Advent of Paris Dada(Farnham: Ashgate, 2010)

Abstracts due today!


Week Nine !!! Class meets on Monday this week!

Nov 19, Mon. Surrealism

Presenter: Carlos

Watch: Un chien andalou


  • Artaud, ch. 8, 11, and 12 in The Theatre and Its Double
  • Puchner, “Surrealism Latent and Manifest,” and “Atraud’s Manifesto Theatre”
  • Kimberly Jannarone, Introduction, ch. 1, and ch. 2 of Artaud and His Doubles


Nov 21, Wed. Thanksgiving. No class


Week Ten

Nov 28, Wed. Benjamin



  • “Arcades” and “The Flaneur”
  • Tom McDonough, “The Crimes of the Flaneur,” October (Autumn 2002): 101-22 (JSTOR)
  • Susan Buck-Morrs, excerpts from The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project(1989)


Week Eleven 

Dec 5, Wed.Foundational and Recent Narrative about the Avant-Garde


  • Peter Bürger, fromTheory of the Avant-Garde (1974)
  • Matei Calinesu, from Five Faces of Modernity; (1987)
  • Mike Sell, “Introduction: The Revolution Will Not Be Theorized,” in Avant-Garde Performance and the Limits of Criticism(2005)
Catalog Description: 
Major problems in dramatic theory, such as aesthetics, mimesis, and the nature of theatre.
Last updated: 
October 17, 2018 - 9:14pm