UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES)


The Archaeology of Modernity: On the Tension Between Avant-garde and Modernism in Czech Literature

25 April 2023, 6:00 pm–8:00 pm

A painting by Zdenek Rykr

A SSEES Study of Central Europe seminar with Zuzana Říhová (Masaryk Institute and Archives of the Czech Academy of Sciences/Prague School of Creative Communication)

This event is free.

Event Information

Open to









Masaryk room
UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies
16 Taviton street

“O empty sarcophagus of the European coast and battlements!/The idea of your remains still lives on in young people“. In 1939, Milada Součková opens her long poem The Talking Zone with the concept of Europe in ruins. The emptied continent of Europe is reminiscent of the past for its inhabitants, the sarcophagus is empty. The Talking Zone is an archive of a vanished world – the culture, faith, history, order, and traditions of the European continent are buried in ruins. The archaeological imagination characteristic of Czech modernism of the 1930s and 1940s is at odds with the initial postulates of the early post-war avant-garde, especially its disregard for the past and its orientation towards the future. Ruins, museums, archives, and the interpretation of the text as document, significantly inspired by Anglo-American literature, are essential features of the emerging Czech modernism of the 1930s and 1940s.

About the speaker

Zuzana Říhová started working at the Institute of Czech Literature of the Czech Academy of Sciences in 2007. In 2013 she received a Czech Academy of Sciences Postdoctoral Fellowship and became Head of Czech at Oxford University in 2014. She was a visiting scholar at Columbia University (2018–19). Her research interests centre on the Czech avant-garde and modernism in a wider European context – she published studies on this topic both in Czech and English, most recent entitled; A Farewell to the Whole Epoch: the Zone as the Beginning and End of the Czech Avant-garde in the Journal of Modern Literature (2020). Her monograph Vprostřed davu (In the Midst of the Crowd , Academia, 2016) examined the opposing themes, which appear in this era, such as expressionism versus avant-garde and individualism versus collectivism. She is also a fiction writer, her recent novel Cestou špendlíků nebo jehel (Between Pins and Needles) has been translated to several languages. She is currently writing her next book on Czech modernism in the 1930s under the working title Czech late modernism in a broader transnational perspective and the context of Anglo–American modernism and while concurrently leading Prague School of Creative Communication.

Image credit: painting by Zdenek Rykr (public domain)