New Publication by Trevor Stark, "Total Expansion of the Letter: Avant-Garde Art and Language After Mallarmé"

June 26, 2020
Book cover for "Total Expansion of the Letter"

HAA alum Trevor Stark (PhD 2016) has recently published his first book "Total Expansion of the Letter: Avant-Garde Art and Language After Mallarmé" (MIT Press, 2020). Stark is Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of Calgary and the 2020-21 Naomi Lacey Fellow at the Calgary Institute of the Humanities.

At the outset of the twentieth century, language became a visual medium and a philosophical problem for European avant-garde artists. In Total Expansion of the Letter, art historian Trevor Stark offers a provocative history of this “linguistic turn,” centered on the radical doubt about the social function of language that defined the avant-garde movements. Major cubists and Dadaists—including Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, and Tristan Tzara—appropriated bureaucratic paperwork, newspapers, popular songs, and advertisements, only to render them dysfunctional and incommunicative. In doing so, Stark argues, these figures contended with the utopian vision of the late nineteenth-century poet Stéphane Mallarmé, who promised a “total expansion of the letter.”

"Very few people can see the clear drops in Mallarmé's lines, much less find language for them. Trevor Stark has shown how Mallarmé's lines came down like spring rain on the next generation—Picasso, Braque, Tzara, Laban, Ball, Duchamp. The work of art was propelled forward, mysteriously. Art history, too."

- Molly Nesbit, Professor of Art, Vassar College