Central European Avant-Gardes and Their Utopian Journals, Part I

The avant-garde artistic and political movements from the 1920s anticipated revolution, called for a utopian society brought about by the birth of a “new man” and did so through a desire for surpassing national boundaries. As Timothy Benson and Éva Forgács note, although the avant-garde circles of Central Europe were an essential part of modernism as the movement gained popularity in the 1920s, they have been a blind spot in scholarship. Significantly, these avant-garde circles were often fertile grounds for the development and the dissemination of utopian ideas. The documentation of these movements, in the form of manifestos, artists’ statements, reviews, and the so-called little magazines, or journals, was their lifeblood – one of the few means of communication and exchange between the movements. These journals often published excerpts from one another, as well as promoted one another in advertisements. They were written and read at café tables and in ateliers and exchanged between artists from the different regions (see Benson and Forgács p. 17.)

In this and next week’s blog post, I will take a look at a few of these little magazines, or journals, that were published on the territory of the former Yugoslavia, or, in that moment – the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (although not always in one of its official languages) and were influenced by a utopian artistic movement I have previously written about – Zenitism. What Zenitism brought to the surface was a fascination with the notion of the (national) border and the role utopian ideals had in both sustaining it and overcoming it. The effects of this both trans-Yugoslavian and de-facto trans-European aesthetic and political movement are most visible when placed in dialogue with other Central-European, as well as Western authors and concepts. It is also important to note that these artistic and literary journals were also widely popular as “organs” of many modernist and avant-garde movements and were also being published and read throughout the rest of Europe. For example, the experimental avant-garde literary journal transition founded by James Joyce’s friends Maria and Eugene Jolas and published in Paris from 1927 to 1939 that famously featured fragments from Joyce’s Work in Progress (the draft title of Finnegans Wake) also published excerpts from Micić’s work, making it more than likely that Joyce would be familiar with Zenitism (see Mecsnóber, pp. 18-19.)

Closer to home, strongly influenced both by Micić’s work on Zenitism, a group of young Hungarian, Serbian and Croatian writers living in Novi Sad, Vojvodina (Újvidék in Hungarian) formed and published the activist magazine Út (Path, or Road in Hungarian). Zoltán Csuka was the editor, Zoltán Ember was deputy editor and Velislav Spasic was editor-in-chief of this magazine that was published between March 1922 and April 1925. Út the “activist magazine of literature and art” was an organ of Yugoslav activists in the Hungarian language”, while later it declared itself a venue for “new artists and writers within the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenians”.  Út was supranationalistic in its fight for a new culture (see Šimičić p. 307 in ed. Djurić and Šuvakovič.)

A cover from the magazine Út published in 1922. Source: monoskop.org

In addition to being influenced by Micić’s Zenitism, Út was also the product of a fruitful collaboration between the Hungarian, the Viennese and the Yugoslav activist and artistic scene in the early 1920s. Founded by the writer and artist Lajos Kassák, the magazine Ma first appeared in November 1916, and until it was banned on 14 July 1919, it was published in Budapest. Ma refers to the movement ‘Magyar Aktivizmus’ [Hungarian Activism] and was also derived from the Hungarian for “today.” After it was banned in Budapest, from May 1920 until its demise in mid-1926 Ma was published in Vienna under Kassák’s sole editorship. So, in the Hungarian speaking world, Ma served as a model for other avant-garde groups and their publications, including Út, that benefited greatly from the intellectual and financial support from the Viennese Ma circle.

(To be continued)

Iva Dimovska

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