What is the “avant-garde”? As a term, it was initially used to describe elite, front-line shock troops on the battlefield, became a late nineteenth-century metaphor for those on the front line of revolutionary political activism, and, sometime in the middle to late nineteenth century, began its trajectory as a metaphor for politically oriented experimental art, a usage that became widespread in the twentieth century and still persists. Numerous theorists such as Renato Poggioli, Matei Calinescu, Peter Bürger, and Paul Mann have defined the avant-garde as a practice of experimentation and contestation that blurs art and life and agitates, often irreverently, against the reigning social order.

Sarah J. Townsend’s Unfinished Art of Theater partakes of two laudable trends of recent decades by moving away from a purely literary focus to incorporate performance into its discussions and by breaking the once-dominant Eurocentric focus. She...

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