This book focuses on the integral, interdisciplinary, and intermedial "compositions"—verbal, visual, musical, theatrical, and cinematic—of the avant-gardes in the period following World War II. It also considers the artistic politics of these postwar avant-gardes and their works. The book’s geographical span is primarily the United States, although in its more extended reach, it comprehends an international context of American postwar cultural hegemony throughout what was once referred to as "the free world."
The works and the artists Miller takes up are those of the so-called "neo–avant-garde" with its inherent contradiction: an avant-garde whose newness is defined by its seeming reiteration of an earlier historical formation. Concentrating on the rhetorical, contextual, and performative characteristic of neo–avant-garde practice, including its relation to politics, Miller emphasizes the centrality of the example in this practice. John Cage, Jackson Mac Low, Gilbert Sorrentino, David Tudor, Stan Brakhage, and Samuel Beckett are among the artists whose exemplary works feature in Singular Examples. Miller’s key readings of these major artists of the period open up some of the most difficult texts of the neo–avant-garde even as they contribute to an eloquent argument for "artistic politics." Underlining the relation between material particulars and their thematic implications, between particular works and larger theoretical claims, between avant-garde aesthetics and formalist analysis, Singular Examples is exemplary in its own right, revealing the ultimate shape and direction of a postwar avant-garde contending with the historical predicaments of radical modernism.