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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The politics of freedom : the Montreal avant-garde in 1948 Ince, Judith Louise


At the 1948 meeting of the Contemporary Arts Society, the Montreal avant-garde polarized into two hostile sectors: the Prisme d'Yeux, led by Alfred Pellan, and the Automatistes led by Paul-Emile Borduas. The issue at the heart of the confrontaton was central to the manifestoes issued by both groups that year, as well as to the discourses of Canadian intellectuals and politicians: freedom and its place in the Cold War world. This thesis examines the positions adopted by the Montreal vanguard on the issue of freedom; it explores the ideologies of both groups through a close reading of their texts, the critical reception accorded to them, and the historical conditions of 1948. Likewise, the aesthetic ideologies of the leaders of the contending avant-gardes are located through an examination of the style and content of two works produced by them in 1948, L'homme A grave by Pellan, and Objet Totemique by Borduas. The verbal and visual ideologies of the-Montreal avant-garde were informed by a schism within their public, French and English Canadian liberals, a schism which was catalyzed by Cold War politics. The Prisme d'Yeux assimilated and refracted the major tenets of francophone liberalism; in contrast, in their 'refus global,' the Automatistes rejected everything connected with the liberalism of Quebec's intellectuals, but in so doing, became aligned with anglophone liberalism. By accepting everything and rejecting everything the Prisme d'Yeux and Automatistes not only came to blows with one another, but also, despite their avant-garde facades, became allied with the status quo, albeit different and contending ones.

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