This paper analyses the relations between esperantism and the activities of the historical avant-garde on two different levels. Firstly, it discusses how both Esperanto and the avant-garde represented a radical response to the growing impulse of nationalist ideology in Europe and aimed, in different terms, at the creation of a new universal or ‘anational’ language. Secondly, the paper aims at a historical reconstruction of the connections between the transnational networks of Esperanto and the historical avantgarde, by focusing on publications of avant-garde texts in journals and anthologies in Esperanto and publications of texts in Esperanto in avantgarde journals in the early 20th century, as well as on original experimental literature written in Esperanto in the period. The literary system of Esperanto served as a decentralised forum in which works and aesthetic concepts were picked up from the centres and then circulated along the periphery.
The poetry group Nýhil was active in Reykjavík from about 2002 until 2011. The group ran its own bookshop and publishing house and organised six large-scale international poetry festivals as well as a number of local poetry events. The main emphasis of the publication activities was on poetry volumes by group members and local poets as well as on anthologies that brought together works by local and international artists. Nýhil played an important role in introducing international currents from contemporary avant-garde poetry into the Icelandic literary field. Also of interest is the group’s attempt to construct and establish an avant-garde canon at the beginning of a new century.
Brennu-Njáls saga (The Saga of Burnt Njáll, 1980) and Hringurinn (The Ring, 1985), by Friðrik Þór Friðriksson, belong to the body of works that can be described as early avant-garde films in Iceland. This essay analyses these films and outlines their cultural and aesthetic background. Important contexts are: Friðriksson’s involvement in the activities of a gallery at Suðurgata 7 in central Reykjavík, which played a key role in introducing conceptual art and other currents of the contemporary avant-garde into Iceland, the little magazine Svart á hvítu (Black on White), the activities of film clubs in Reykjavík from the mid-1950s on, links to avant-garde film-making from absolute or pure film to structural film-making and, finally, links to contemporary performance.
This article analyses the reception of Beat literature in Iceland, focusing on translations of works by Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs from the early 1960s to the present day. The translation history sheds an interesting light not only on the role of Beat poetry in the Icelandic context, but also on the dynamics of the local cultural field. The first Beat poem to appear in Icelandic was Ginsberg’s “To Lindsay” in 1960, further landmarks being the translation of Kerouac’s On the Road in 1988 and the first collection of Ginsberg’s poetry in Icelandic in 2003. Beat has played only a marginal role within the Icelandic literary system, mainly serving as an extreme example of the modern tradition, the value of which has been linked with progressive modes of artistic expression rather than with Bohemian lifestyle, modes of cultural subversion or a cult of hedonism and excess.