Franco Luambo Makiadi’s Universalism and Avant-Garde Particularity

  • Barrett Watten


Among contemporary avant-gardes, there has been a more than century-long use of a poetics of particularity at the crossroads where three roads meet: knowledge, ethics, and aesthetics. This unspoken assumption is so widespread as to seem a kind of universal in practice, though it is hardly put forward as a universal. Rather, it is the result of a consensus that comes down, for many, to the critical and aesthetic traditions that align critical theory and the avant-garde, so that to call up names like Stein and Zukofsky, or Adorno and Derrida, is a sufficient legitimation of practices. I see two routes out of what seems increasingly an impasse of radical particularism: (1) to cast the poetics of particularity as historical and thus specific to situations that cannot be universalized; and (2) to disclose the negativity that provides the occasion for foregrounding the historical and contingent. A third approach has emerged, after feminist and globalization theory, as a direct consequence of these: to draw out the universal assumptions (epistemological, aesthetic, and ethical) invoked, but often masked, in the poetics of radical particulars. In order to address this issue in the avant-garde, I need to detour through the difficult question of the universal in an unlike context: the poetics of universal address by a diasporic subject.


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© Carrie Noland and Barrett Watten 2009

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  • Barrett Watten

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