What does DADA do?

“Do people imagine they have found the psychic basis common to all humanity? […] How can anyone hope to order the chaos that constitutes that infinite, formless variation: man?” The loss of faith in the grand narrative, the aperspectival madness of relativity, the scepticism of modernist attempts to rage order and “Thus DADA was born, out of a need for independence, out of mistrust for the community.” This deep mistrust infiltrates all systems: “People think they can explain rationally, by means of thought, what they write. But it’s very relative. Thought is a fine thing for philosophy, but it’s relative. Psychoanalysis is a dangerous disease, it deadens man’s anti-real inclinations and systematises the bourgeoisie. There is no ultimate Truth.” DADA does not take relativity as an opportunity for hybridity theory or for creating a new nationalism, instead DADA finds opportunity in nihilism: “I am against systems; the most acceptable system is that of having none on no principle”

(there is an echo from Duncan’s letters (#424): “And in the poem, tho i am given to certain themes, i am not committed to them. Where i ever feel a cause binding me, let me strike out even blindly to release what felt inound. OK, but this is only to say that in both ideas of State and of Poetry I would be vigilant against building a pyramid…”)

Out of this nihilism arrives a tolerance, an acceptance for Bakhtinian “carnivalesque” : “What i call the I-dont-give-a-damn attitude of life is when everyone minds his own business, at the same time he knows how to respect other individualities, and even how to stand up for himself, the two-step becoming a national anthem, a junk shop, the wireless (the wire-less telephone) transmitting Bach fugues, illuminated advertisements for placards for brothels, the organ broadcasting carnations for God, all this at the same time, and in real terms, replacing photography and unilateral catechism.” DADA would love Vegas and LA in the same way that Baudrillard didnt. Relativity, the crisis of the Real, grants freedom in engaging the carnivalesque, without trying to border or “compartmentalise”, as Fanon warns.

Being against systems requires a resistance of logic: “What we need are strong straightforward, precise works which will be forever misunderstood. Logic is a complication. Logic is always false. It draws the superficial threads of concepts and words towards illusory conclusions and centres. Its chains kill; an enormous myriapod that asphyxiates independence.” There is a warning here against essentialism, against establishing centers, thus establishing oppressive peripheries. On the other hand, it doesn’t allow for the subversive use of strategic essentialism… DADA already given up on any “positive” political or moral change: “Morals have an atrophying effect, like every other pestilential product of the intelligence […] Every man must shout: there is great destructive, negative work to be done. To sweep, to clean.”

DADA, as a self-proclaimed janitorial negativity, aims to abolish logic, sexual prudishness, social heirarchy, memory, archaeology, prophets, and the future. what is left: the creative present, the carnival of the present: “the absolute and indiscrutable belief in every god that is an imediate product of spontaneity; DADA: the elegant and unprejudiced leap from one harmony to another sphere; the trajectory of a word, a cry, thrown into the air like an acoustic disc; to respect all individualities in their folly of the moment […] the roar of contorted pains, the interweaving of contraries and all contradictions, freaks and irrelevancies; LIFE.” [all quotes from Tzara’s 1918 Manifesto]

In a lecture given by Tzara, he claims that DADA is in favor of “a calm level state of mind that makes everything equal and without importance. DADA is not at all modern. It is more in the nature of a return to an almost Buddhist religion of indifference.” To reach this “state of mind”, “Always destroy what you have in you.”

“Intelligence is an organization like any other, the organization of society, the organization of a bank, the organization of chit-chat. At a society tea. It serves to create order and clarity where there is none. It serves to create a state hierarchy. To set up classifications for rational work […] Intelligence is the triumph of sound education and pragmatism. Fortunately life is something else and its pleasures are innumerable.”

The pleasure of DADA does not suffer from the same ennui of other modern movements: “What are the Beautiful, the Good, Art, Freedom? Words that have a different meaning for every individual […] Words which have not the moral value adn objective force that people have grown accustomed to finding in them. Their meanings change from one indidivual, one epoch, one country to the next. Men are different. It is diversity that makes life interesting.” This celebration of diversity allows DADA to emerge from it’s nihilism.

The DADA project (or anit-project) is not without motive: “What we want now is spontaneity…because everything that issues freely from ourselves, without the intervention of speculative ideas, represents us. We must intensify this quality of life…” This is not so different from Dickinson’s “To vitalize the Grace.” Since we are all going to die anyways, we need to at least intensify our lives, and art can contribute to the intense joy of spontaneous living (a la Kerouac).

The idea of representation is interesting. In Tzara’s cut up, he claims that whatever comes out will resemble us. This does not mean that it will Actually resemble each individual, but that it will represent the spontaneity of life inherent in each individual that allows the certainty of death without narrative to abolish whatever prevents that spontaneity, the source of life’s intensity.

So how is this achieved? “Dada reduces everything to an initial simplicity, growing always more relative…It wants logic reduced to a personal minimum, while literature in its view should be primarily intended for the individual who makes it [death of the audience]. Words have a weight of their own and lend themselves to abstract construction. ..Only the elasticity of our conventions creates a bond between disparate acts. The Beautiful and the True do not exist; what interests me is the intensity of a personality transposed directly, clearly nto the work; the man and his vitalityl the angle from which he regards the leemnts and in what manner he knows how to gather sensation, emotion, into a lacework of words and sentiments.”

DADA, of course, is useless as far as moral, political, or social renewal. It would be adequate to express DISGUST at post-colonial situations, to DESTROY categorizations that may colonize the mind, but it does not destory “in extension, but [only] in itself.”

I seek the “in extension.”

*note: the quotes from the second half of this essay come from a lecture by Tzara

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