Accessibility statement

The European Avant-Garde - ENG00118I

« Back to module search

  • Department: English and Related Literature
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Emilie Morin
  • Credit value: 30 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23

Module summary

The texts produced by European avant-garde movements are endlessly fascinating and remarkably challenging. This module gives you an opportunity to explore, through English translations, some of the wonderfully exciting and often bewildering literature produced between the 1890s and the 1960s. We will focus on a representative selection of translated plays, poems, manifestoes, experimental fictions and textual fragments that interrogate common assumptions about language and textuality. The mocule will set these difficult texts in dialogue with broader reflections on war, empire, displacement and political commitment.

The literature of the European avant-garde is striking for its formal and thematic diversity, and encompasses diasporic writings, texts marked by linguistic and cultural displacement, and experiments with translation and translinguality. We will study some of these developments in translation, through a series of experimental plays, texts, manifestos and fragments that evade common categorisations of textuality, probe the limits of representation and expression, and frequently attempt to work across genres, media, national boundaries and languages. The module will also enable students to become familiar with a European literary imagination marked by successive wars, exile, forced displacement and changing national borders: we will focus not simply on works, but lives shaped by experiences of emigration and uprooting. The texts to be discussed may include the experimental poetry produced by Dada; Surrealist explorations of the world of dreams; Futurist experiments with brevity; Symbolist and Expressionist legacies; the rise of new political literatures that work against the canon of realism; and the emergence of a testimonial literature that seeks to reevaluate its own relation to the process of telling.

Through these and other texts, the module will explore a literature that asks powerful questions about the course of history; through its form, style and themes, this literature will challenge your expectations of what language can do, and your understanding of the relation between language, nationality and culture. The module will also facilitate a reflection on the manner in which experimental texts record and engage with a transnational political history; we will also consider how writers associated with, responding to or influenced by the modernist avant-garde have interrogated the rise of totalitarianism, the long shadows of Nazism and Fascism, the politics of colonial warfare, and the legacies of imperialism.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring Term 2022-23 to Summer Term 2022-23

Module aims

The aim of this module is to study a diverse selection of texts produced by European avant-garde movements, as well as a range of responses to these movements, in order to gain a sense of the richness of this experimental literature and its intellectual, artistic and political contexts.

Module learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, students should be able to:

  1. Demonstrate an informed understanding of and engagement with a range of texts that experiment with literary expression and representation.

  2. Demonstrate an informed understanding of and engagement with some of the intellectual, artistic and political contexts shaping avant-garde literature.

  3. Examine key debates and critical issues raised by the work of avant-garde artists, in light of the challenges that this literature poses to conventional notions of reading and understanding.

  4. Develop arguments and ideas which demonstrate a proficiency in critical thinking, research, and writing skills.

  5. Demonstrate an understanding of some of the key issues at stake in the act of translation and in the study of literature in translation.


Task Length % of module mark
2500 word essay
N/A 70
Online Exam 24 hrs
The European Avant-Garde exam
N/A 30

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

You will be given the opportunity to hand in a 1000 word formative essay in week 1 of the summer term, in preparation for the week 7 summative essay. Material from this essay may be re-visited in your summative essay and it is therefore an early chance to work through material that might be used in assessed work.


Task Length % of module mark
2500 word essay
N/A 70
Online Exam 24 hrs
The European Avant-Garde exam
N/A 30

Module feedback

  • You will receive feedback on all assessed work within the University deadline, and will often receive it more quickly. The purpose of feedback is to inform your future work; it is designed to help you to improve your work, and the Department also offers you help in learning from your feedback. If you do not understand your feedback or want to talk about your ideas further you can discuss it with your tutor or your supervisor, during their Open Office Hours
  • For more information about the feedback you will receive for your work, see the department's Guide to Assessment


Indicative reading

Texts for this module will be confirmed to you in advance of the module running and may include:

  • Leonora Carrington, The Debutante and Other Stories (Silver Press, 2017)
  • Irmgard Keun, Child of All Nations (Penguin, 2009)
  • Anna Seghers, Transit (NYRB Classics, 2013)
  • Eugène Ionesco, Rhinoceros, The Chairs, The Lesson (Penguin, 2000)
  • Witold Gombrowicz, Operetta, in Three Plays (Marion Boyars, 1995)
  • Gertrude Stein, Tender Buttons (Dover Books, 2003)

The programme may change from year to year depending on the availability of texts, and students are advised to wait until they receive the module reading list to purchase books.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.