«Here is, we think, the point. It doesn’t matter for what reason the writer or painter or lover destroys the creation: the real point is that destruction itself, like a gigantic statement. It is, in fact, something of an excitation, a stimulation to further thought: what is this ACTION about?»
What do Stéphane Mallarmé, Antonin Artaud, Meret Oppenheim, Asger Jorn, Yoko Ono, Tom Phillips and Martin Arnold have in common? Whereas a wealth of critics have diagnosed contemporary art’s preoccupations with madness, depression and self-abuse as well as its tendency to cultivate an (anti-)aesthetics of the negative, the excremental and the abject (say, from the Vienna Action Group to Serrano, McCarthy or Delvoye), much less attention has been paid to how modern and contemporary artists and public have thrived on the destruction, disfiguration and obliteration of work by the artists and/or by that of others. From Artaud’s «terminal» notebooks to the recent upsurge in «erasure poetics», the history of «undoing» art deserves to be recounted in a positive mode and rescued from popular narratives of the decline and death of the avant-garde.
Mary Ann Caws works on the relations between literature and art, and is the editor of Manifesto: A Century of Isms (2001). Her publications include Pierre Reverdy (2013), the Modern Art Cookbook (2014), Surprised in Translation (2006), Surrealism (2004), and Blaise Pascal: Miracles and Reason (2017). She is a distinguished professor of English, French, and comparative literature at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, the past president of the Modern Language Association and the American Comparative Literature Association, the editor of the Yale Anthology of Twentieth-Century French Poetry, and the translator of André Breton, René Char, Robert Desnos, Paul Eluard, Ghérasim Luca, Stéphane Mallarmé, and Tristan Tzara.
Michel Delville teaches English, American, and comparative literature, at the University of Liège, where he directs the Interdisciplinary Center for Applied Poetics (http://labos.ulg.ac.be/cipa). He is the author or co-author of The American Prose Poem (1998), J.G. Ballard (1998), Hamlet & Co (2001), Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, and the Secret History of Maximalism (2005), Eating the Avant-Garde (2009), Crossroads Poetics (2013), Radiohead : OK Computer (2015), and The Politics and Aesthetics of Hunger and Disgust (2017). He has also published several poetry collections, released some twenty musical albums and edited volumes of essays on contemporary art, most recently a book on Dario Argento (with Luciano Curreri).