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In Sykes' definition the avantgarde comprises all ""innovators who are still interesting,"" by which he means profound, mythic, original. Needless to say, the concept is not very workable in regard to the present-day outre -- not because they necessarily fail to touch esthetic bedrock (beauty, truth & Co.) but because so many formal and generic questions have to be settled before we can judge them, and because they exist so ambiguously in a society that blurs all distinctions between the esthetic and the commercial. This last is Sykes' main point, that artists have a snowball's chance amid the hellfires of prosperity; but instead of examining their attempts toward personal survival and artistic renewal (we, like Sykes, hesitate to name names, but there are recent examples) he assumes exploitation, indulgence, failure, and indicates the reasons. This involves a great deal of stomping on welltrodden ground -- the failure of genuine sustaining myths and the glut of provisional false ones, sensory gorging, various escapisms, alienation, specialization, etc. -- with no particular penetration. The body of the book is a fictionalized account of a meeting -- of artists would-be, manque, and thriving; entrepreneurs and their auxiliaries -- which supposedly exemplifies his meanings, and which he interrupts periodically with commentary. Despite its melodramatic wind-up (somebody dies in the most symbolically instructive way) the confrontation is largely cocktail chat of the sort that causes middle brows to beetle with grave pleasure.

Pub Date: Feb. 8th, 1970
Publisher: Prentice-Hall