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DRAMA 583 A: Analysis of Dramatic Texts

M 2:30pm - 4:50pm / HUT 150
W 3:00pm - 4:50pm / HUT 150
Stefka Mihaylova
Stefka Mihaylova

Syllabus Description:

The New Avant-Gardes

Drama 583 A

The New Avant-Gardes: US Avant-Garde Performance after World-War II

Winter 2019


Class meeting times: Monday 2:30-5:30

Location: Hutchinson 155


Instructor: Dr. Stefka Mihaylova

Office Hours: Friday 10:30-11:20; Hutchinson 112C




Since the 1960s, when the so-called historical avant-garde began to be seriously examined, scholars have proclaimed the avant-garde dead on many occasions. Equally frequently, other scholars have countered that the death of the avant-garde has been announced prematurely. Yet, the optimism of the second group may stem from the fact that performance that theorists such as Martin Puchner or Kristine Stiles would consider radical or experimental has been perhaps imprecisely described as avant-garde. This course examines the conditions under which avant-garde aesthetic has emerged in the US and elsewhere since WWII. Key moments include the Paris student riots of 1968, which many critics have endowed with the status of the first neo-avant-garde performance, and 9/11, which others view as the beginning of a conservative avant-garde. This course is particularly interested in the intersections among avant-garde art and performances of gender, race, and religion.



  • James Harding, Cutting Performances; Mike Sell, Avant-Garde Performance and the Limits of Criticism; Mike Sell, The Avant-Garde: Race, Religion, War; and Talal Asad, Wendy Brown, Judith Butler, and Saba Mahmood, Is Critique Secular?

Assessment                                                    Due

Response Papers         20%                             weekly

Two Presentations      20% (10% each)         times vary

Research Paper           60%                             Dec 9

  • Abstract and bibliography Oct 28



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. These are informal papers; hence they do not need to be formatted like a term paper. Response papers are due every Monday.

Presentations: Each student should lead discussion once during the course for the first half of the class session. Based on the readings assigned for the class, prepare a list of learning objectives and assignments to achieve them. The assignments may include a discussion based on a few (up to three) strong questions; analysis of documents or videos; acting demonstrations, or anything else you that will help you fulfill your learning goals. The assignments will engage with theoretical, methodological, and/or historical issues. While the presentation should be engaging primarily with the readings for the specific class, you are encouraged to make connections with topics and 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. Your bibliography should include at least eight secondary sources.


Class Schedule (by week number):


Week One

Sept 25 Introduction: What is Liberalism?

Optional reading: Introduction and chapter one from The Gender of Freedom (2004), by Elizabeth Maddock Dillon


Week Two

Sept 30 Peter Buerger’s Theory of the Avant-Garde

Read: Peter Buerger, Theory of The Avant-Garde, 35-95. Electronically available at; and Mike Sell, “Introduction: The Revolution Will Not Be Theorized,” in Avant-Garde Performance and the Limits of Criticism (2008)


Week Three

Oct 7 May 1968, Paris

Watch: Le fond de l’air est rouge (Grin without a Cat) on youtube

Read: The Situationist Manifesto: Jean Baudrillard, “Requiem for the Media,” (1972):; and Martin Puchner, chapter 12 and 13 from Poetry of the Revolition (2005) (electronically available through UW library website)


Week Four

Oct 14 Allan Kaprow’s Happenings

Read: Allan Kaprow, “Happenings in the New York Scene” (1961), in Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life (electronically available at; Judith Rodenbeck, excerpt from Radical Prototypes, Allen Kaprow and the Invention of Happenings (2011)  


Week Five

Oct 21 The Living Theatre

Watch in class: Paradise Now

Read: James M. Harding, “Dissent behind the Barricades: Radical Art, Revolutionary Stages, and Avant-Garde Divisions,” in Contours of the Theatrical Avant-Garde (2000); and Mike Sell, “The Connection: Cruelty, Jazz, and Drug War,” in Avant-Garde Performance and the Limits of Criticism (2008)


Week Six

Oct 28 Feminist Artists and the Avant-Garde

Read: Chapters one, five, and six in James M. Harding, Cutting Performances (2012); also read the description of Carolee Schneemann’s 1975 performance piece Interior Scroll on the web site of Tate Modern: Some images are available at

Watch: a five-minute Clip from Schneemann’s More than Meat Joy (1964) on youtube:

Abstracts due today!


Week Seven

Nov. 4 Feminist Artists and the Avant-Garde, cont.

Read: Rebecca Schneider, Introduction and chapter one from The Explicit Body in Performance (1997) (electronically available through UW library website); and Peggy Phelan, chapter seven, in Unmarked: The Politics of Performance (1993) (electronically available through UW library website)  


Week Eight

Nov. 11 Veterans’ Day. No Class


Week Nine

Nov. 18 A Black Avant-Garde?

Read: Mike Sell, part three, “The Black Arts Movement,” in Avant-Garde Performance and the Limits of Criticism, 215-89; (if you haven’t read it) Amiri Baraka, Dutchman (electronically available) (A full film version is available on youtube, too.); and James Edward Smethurst, chapter two, in The Black Arts Movement: Literary Nationalism in the 1960 and 1970s (2005)


Week Ten

Nov. 25 Avant-Garde, Radicalism, and Religion

Read: Talal Asad, Wendy Brown, Judith Butler, and Saba Mahmood, Is Critique Secular, from the beginning to p. 130.


Week Eleven

Dec. 2 The Avant-Garde and Religion; Conclusion

Read: Chapter two in Mike Sell, The avant-garde: Race, Religion, War (2011)


Catalog Description: 
Analytic approaches to dramatic materials, concentrating on semiotics, Marxism, feminism, or a related critical theory.
Last updated: 
August 2, 2019 - 9:13pm