The Avant-Garde in the Market Square

Tiit Hennoste (University of Tartu)

The situation in world literature has changed radically in the last 15 years. The most important changes are concentrated around media, advertising, selling and the star-cult.

The literature process is characterized as a reality show which has its central participants: the writer as the star of the show, his/her agent and editor, advertisers, media, the publishing house, and hypermarkets and malls instead of bookstores. Literature is produced like other products in the market (name+price+producer+best before). Everybody can be a star; only the right package and right strategy for selling are needed. On the other hand, the Internet makes it possible to offer everything by everybody (new dilettantism), and makes it possible to comment on everything by everybody (anonymous comments as the new criticism which has changed the relationships between critics and writers).

The qualities of the situation lie in the opposition between the qualities of the situation which gave birth to the avant-garde at the beginning of the 20th century and the neo-avant-garde of the 1960s and the 1990s in Estonian literature (little magazines and newspapers, personal publishing, small groups of readers etc.). At the same time, the Internet has, for the first time, made it possible to truly realize the ideas of Futurism and Dadaism.

This new situation has come to Estonian literature mainly in the last 10 years and  may characterize the coming years of Estonian literature.

The main question of my presentation is: how are the Estonian avant-garde and modernism reacting to this situation? Do we have avant-garde at all or only textual experiments? What happens to literature which does not want to follow the institutional line?

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