This introductory chapter sets out the book’s purpose, namely to attempt an overview of the theory and history of the total work in European art since the French Revolution. This is perhaps the first book in English to treat the total work of art as a key concept in aesthetic modernism. It argues for twin lineages of the total work—a French revolutionary and a German aesthetic—which interrelate across the whole epoch of European modernism, culminating in the aesthetic and political radicalism of the avant-garde movements in response to the crisis of autonomous art and the accelerating political crisis of European societies from the 1890s on. This critical period from the turn of the century to the 1930s forms the central focus of the present study. These key years of the European avant-garde are explored from two closely related perspectives: the meta-aesthetic and the metapolitical. The remainder of the chapter sketches the framework of the present inquiry; provides the definition of the total work that underpins this study; followed by an outline of the subsequent chapters.
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