Surrealism and Knowing: Avant-Garde, Science, and Epistemologies (2018-2023)

From the late 1890s to the end of the WWII, progressive francophone surrealist and proto-surrealist literature adopted scientific themes, tested the epistemologies of science and experimented with its methods. The period was characterised by the scientific renewal necessitated by new scientific theories and advances in the natural sciences (such as the theory of relativity or quantum mechanics) and the crisis of conventional epistemologies. Surrealists were influenced by the so-called new science with the aim of broadening the scope of scientific inquiry, parallel to which surrealism systematically investigated the nature of knowledge itself. This project re-evaluates the position of surrealism in the history of ideas and conveys its current significance to critical thinking in the natural sciences, the philosophy of science and literature.

The research is funded by the Academy of Finland.

Science, Literature and Research: Avant-Garde Encounters with Biology and Ecology (2019-2022), principal investigator

The project investigates the interaction between the natural sciences and avant-gardist literature, especially in relation to biology and ecology. It was in these fields that vanguard literature developed pluralistic notions of knowledge and research. Yet, its relation to biology, ecology and ‘ecopoetics’ remains largely uncharted. This is remarkable, because understanding this exchange between science and literature is of utmost importance: namely, thinking across and beyond disciplinary demarcations has become central in global concerns relating to, for instance, sustainability and the place of humans in ecological frameworks. The continuity between early 20th-century biological-ecological thinking in the avant-gardes and current ecocritical concerns manifests through their joint aspiration to an anti-anthropocentric (and post-humanistic) understanding where human life is included in the sphere of the natural world. The avant-garde has developed holistic modes of thought, ranging from ‘comparative biology’ to the more recent use of biotechnology in literary creation. This project will develop a liminal approach to texts that transcend any strict demarcation between science and literature, with the aim of uncovering how scientific thinking has affected ‘literary’ modes of thought in inherently pluralistic cultural formations, such as avant-garde literature.

The research is funded by the Kone Foundation.


Jewish Writers in West European Avant-Gardes, 1908–1939 (2014–2017): The Academy of Finland funded project addressed East Central European Jewish writers’ participation in the West European avant-garde movements during the period between 1908 and 1939. It mapped the significance of Judaism as a contributing factor for the avant-garde in East European cultural milieus. By focusing on the complexities of the Jewish textual tradition, the study reassessed the face of the so-called ‘historical’ avant-gardes and subjected their East-West cultural and literary axis under reconsideration by scrutinising various ethnic and religious traditions.

Literature, Transcendence, Avant-Garde (2008–2011): The research group, funded by the Academy of Finland, explored secular avant-gardistic literature which applied old religious theories of language in the attemps to transcend the limits of representation. This project looked for broad continuities in European literature and cultural heritage across the Continent. The texts under scrutiny here were written by key figures of experimental writing: Hugo Ball, Georges Bataille, Paul Celan and Isidore Isou. In their attempts to create a ‘new art of the word’ these authors were influenced by the discourses of medieval negative theology, mysticism and Kabbalism.