As we argue in the overview of avant-garde theories, the seminal histories and theories of the avant-garde have tended to focus on male-dominated movements, erasing or marginalizing contributions of women and people of color. In recent years, scholars have sought to clarify women’s contributions, while articulating the importance of gender, sexuality, and race to the avant-garde, in studies such as: Futurist Women: Florence, Feminism, and the New Sciences (Paola Sica, 2016), The Women Artists of Italian Futurism: Almost Lost to History (Mirella Bentivoglio and Franca Zoccoli, 1998), Mamas of Dada: Women of the European Avant-Garde (Paula Kamenish, 2016), Women in Dada: Essays on Sex, Gender, and Identity (Naomi Sawelson-Gorse, 1998), Surrealist Women: An International Anthology (Penelope Rosemont, 1998), Surrealism and Women (Mary Ann Caws, Rudolf E. Kuenzli, and Gwen Raaberg, 1991) and Women Artists and the Surrealist Movement (Whitney Chadwick, 1991).
While these studies have transformed our understanding of the avant-garde, scholars have yet to offer a comprehensive theory of the avant-garde that accounts for the distinct experiences of women and people of color, who were often ambivalent about claiming affiliation with white, male-dominated movements. Griselda Pollack and Cythia Park Hong do, however, lay the foundations for revisionary feminist theorizing.
Pollack calls us to resist monolithic, linear models of avant-garde history in favor of “diverse and discontinuous avant-garde moments at which the defining collision of social and aesthetic radicalisms occurred.” Her paradigm emphasizes plurality and diversity, thus making room for women and writers of color.
Hong, on the other hand, rejects the term “avant-garde” altogether as representative of a fundamentally and continuously “racist tradition”:
From its early 20th century inception to some of its current strains, American avant-garde poetry has been an overwhelmingly white enterprise, ignoring major swaths of innovators—namely poets from past African American literary movements—whose prodigious writings have vitalized the margins, challenged institutions, and introduced radical languages and forms that avant-gardists have usurped without proper acknowledgment.
The avant-garde’s celebrated subversion of authorial identity, its disavowal of subjectivity and history, are extravagant forms of white privilege unavailable to writers of color: “Fuck the avant-garde,” Hong concludes, “We must hew our own path.”
The term “avant-garde,” derived from the “advance guard” of an army, emphasizes the militant, oppositional stance of the early twentieth-century movements to which it was first applied. Rather than attempting to rehabilitate this term to include a broader range of artists and strategies, we take up Hong’s charge to “hew our own path.” Taking a cue from classical ballet rather than warfare, we propose the term en dehors garde to describe the strategies of writers and artists whose mode of experimentation does not conform to the oppositional stance associated with the modernist avant-garde. En dehors means “coming from the outside” or “turning outward.” Rather than assuming a militant position at the forefront of culture, women and people of color often came from the outside and operated on the margins, working strategically to transform gendered, racialized literary traditions and visual cultures.
Loy’s artistic career invites us to rethink the “avant-garde” as an en dehors garde—a strategic pose or move, rather than a fixed structural position (Greenberg), shared psychological condition (Poggioli), or monolithic sociopolitical stance (Burger). Reimagining the avant-garde as a strategic pose allows for multiple, revolving, discontinuous, overlapping, intersecting, and consecutive moments of experimental or innovative artistic practice, with variable motives, attitudes, targets, and publics.
En dehors garde strategy may be understood as a pose of self-conscious differentiation: a difference, defiance, or critique of social norms or artistic conventions. As a strategic pose, the en dehors garde is both spatial and temporal, but it is not locked into any structural position, psychological disposition, or sociopolitical stance.
Differentiation from norms and conventions does not necessarily entail strident opposition or violent rupture, either. It might, for example, accommodate strategies of renovation or rehabilitation. At the “moment” of her artistic awakening by the Italian Futurists, for example, Loy exalted the power of avant-garde art to disrupt habits of perception and thought, and in the process to transform consciousness. She asserted in “Aphorisms on Futurism” that:
CONSCIOUSNESS cannot spontaneously accept or reject new forms, as offered by creative genius; it is the new form, for however great a period of time it may remain a mere irritant—that moulds consciousness to the necessary amplitude for holding it.
Loy’s “Aphorisms” call a rehabilitation of consciousness—a gradual expansion of the mind as it is stretched and reformed by new and unfamiliar art forms.
We aim to develop new forms of digital scholarship and theory commensurate to the en dehors garde. As Elisabeth Frost argues, to look back at history with the inclusion of female experimental writers and artists “challenges the way in which avant-gardism itself has been conceptualized” (xv). Digital platforms offer new technologies for documenting and analyzing women’s negotiations with the historical avant-garde, allowing us to chart an alternative en dehors garde that proves to be neither a mere supplement to nor plea for inclusion within the current critical models of avant-garde formation. Open-source tools enable us to transform our scholarly methods and products in the same spirit of avant-garde innovation and collaboration that animated Loy’s feminist designs a century ago.
 The term “en dehors garde” was suggested by Nancy G. Selleck, Associate Professor of English at University of Massachusetts Lowell, a scholar of early modern literature and culture, as well as a dramaturg and theatre director and at Harvard, Boston Directors’ Lab, and UMass Lowell, and a former professional ballet dancer in New York. It seems especially appropriate that the idea was generated in conversation between friends across different fields and disciplines.