As part of the “Hot Topics” speaker series, featuring urgent ideas from top scholars and artists in the fields of drama, theater, and performance studies, Mike Sell presented his research on the history and future of the avant-garde at Yale University
on February 18, 2020.
Typically, we associate the avant-garde with art that is controversial, challenging, and political—as well as white, male, and European. However, the story of the avant-garde is more diverse, more complex, and more troubling than the conventional story
would have it. Taking an interdisciplinary approach to culture, performance, and power, Sell considers how the avant-garde as an artistic tendency intersects with forms of power connected to race and racism, to religion and religious movements, and
to war and the struggle for social justice. And he asks us to consider what the avant-garde is today and what it might be in the future.
He considers the case of Eddie Gallagher, the special forces soldier who committed war crimes and was pardoned by President Trump; the popularity of videogames about avant-gardes, whether military special forces or sword-and-sorcery adventurers; and to
the growing popularity—and diversity—of tabletop roleplaying games.
Questioning the stories scholars have told about the avant-garde, exploring the historical context of cultural activism, and opening the archive to new people, places, and art works, Sell redefines the historical, geographical, ideological, disciplinary,
and theoretical boundaries of avant-garde studies
Department of English