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2009 HarmonyAndDissent

The winner of the 2009 Robert Motherwell Book Award is Harmony and Dissent: Film and Avant-Garde Art Movements in the Early Twentieth Century (Wilfrid Laurier University Press) by R. Bruce Elder. The award carries a $10,000 prize for the author.

R. Bruce Elder argues that the authors of many of the manifestoes that announced in such lively ways the appearance of yet another artistic movement shared a common aspiration: they proposed to reformulate the visual, literary, and performing arts so that they might take on attributes of the cinema. The cinema, Elder argues, became, in the early decades of the twentieth century, a pivotal artistic force around which a remarkable variety and number of aesthetic forms took shape.

To demonstrate this, Elder begins with a wide-ranging discussion that opens up some broad topics concerning modernity’s cognitive (and perceptual) regime, with a view to establishing that a crisis within that regime engendered some peculiar, and highly questionable, epistemological beliefs and enthusiasms. Through this discussion, Elder advances the startling claim that a crisis of cognition precipitated by modernity engendered, by way of response, a peculiar sort of “pneumatic (spiritual) epistemology. ” Elder then shows that early ideas of the cinema were strongly influenced by this pneumatic epistemology and uses this conception of the cinema to explain its pivotal role in shaping two key moments in early-twentieth-century art: the quest to bring forth a pure, “objectless” (non-representational) art and Russian Suprematism, Constructivism, and Productivism.