Sameness and the Avant-Garde
From the beginning I was interested in connecting my work on sameness and the book with questions of the aesthetic avant-garde more generally. I wanted to explore how the romantic celebration of the paradigm of artistic novelty was always coupled with an interrogation of that paradigm. I wanted to see how this bibliographic problem could shed light on debates about the economy of artistic innovation that would become central in the early twentieth century and that always turned on interactions of media. I wanted to draw attention to the way technologies like the book and social practices like collection participated in the prioritization of novelty. The work of Boris Groys and Rosalind Kraus was really crucial for my thinking on this matter and I wanted to incorporate it somehow in the book, but it always felt like it took me off topic of the problem of copying and the copy in the nineteenth century.
Such attention to a poetics of repetition in Hoffmann is itself an attempt to reverse the primacy of novelty that has largely structured the field of literary criticism and that was of course one of the core contributions of the romantic period. In drawing attention to the rise of novelty around 1800 we have overlooked the ways in which nineteenth-century readers and writers were simultaneously debating and coming to terms with the inverse problem of sameness. As Rosalind Krauss has argued, “These two terms seem bound together in a kind of aesthetic economy, interdependent and mutually sustaining, although the one – originality – is the valorized term and the other – repetition or copy or reduplication – is discredited” (“The Originality of the Avant-Garde” 160). Indeed, as Boris Groys has argued in his work on collection (Logik der Sammlung), the very possibility of novelty as a cultural value was predicated on the increasing stability of aesthetic media to produce more of the same. The more capable institutions and technologies were of preserving works of art, the more repetition and the transmission of cultural values were no longer required to be located in the artwork itself, allowing it to assume greater degrees of innovation.