Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

08 April 2012

Some Dada Fragments, as Usual

For your enjoyment, I thought I'd share some delightful excerpts from the recent, near-perfect book (if you can call it that) about Dada and its legacy by Andrei Codrescu entitled The Posthuman Dada Guide: Tzara & Lenin Play Chess.

Codrescu lays out his book like a kind of glossary or series of definitions, none of which leads to anything definitive and most of which lead off into another definition somewhere else in the book. This is, of course, part of the fun of reading it, and Codrescu's misdirections and total absurdities are both pleasurable and intentionally Dada in spirit (i.e. irrepressibly silly).

Further, the book is filled with references from popular culture that follow Dada; he links Dada always with what it spawned and where it is situated in history. These connections or resonances always tell us more about Dada, and struck me as consistently insightful and wise (as wise as Dada can be). Take for example:

The stem cell of Dada ("the virgin microbe") contains every possibility of revolt, destruction, and self-destruction; it is by definition anti: antiauthoritarian, anti-institutional, and anti-art, antianything, like Marlon Brando's answer "Whaddya got?" to the question "What are you rebelling against?" in the movie The Wild One. Dada has causes, all of them, and is against them all, including itself.

Negativity, of course, is the hallmark of Dada, perhaps even its essence, and tracing that essence through those who have historically adopted negativity as a stock-in-trade like Brando/Johnny Strabler begins the project of actually articulating Dada's considerable legacy. A few more musings/fragments on pseudonyms and pen-names:

Today, the "world" is a pseudonym that stands, maybe, for the world. "Reality" is doubtlessly a pseudonym for reality. All words are in fact pseudonyms of themselves, and if they are sufficiently pseudonymous, they become symbols. The internet is almost entirely pseudonymous or anonymous.

It is easy to understand why the Jewish [Samuel] Rosenstock changed his name to Tzara: in a country of anti-semites, the best cover is a non-Jewish name. But it goes deeper: Tzara also means "land," which is the one thing Jews couldn't have. They were hired to manage the estates of the boyars but they could not own land. (This might seem remote, but as close as the 1970s in a country as distant as the United States, Jews couldn't own oil leases; they could sell pipe to the big WASP boys, but until Jimmy Carter's U.S. Trade Representative Strauss told the Texas boys to change the rules, they drew the line at owning oil-land.)

In 1915, he became Tzara, meaning land, country, the thing that nationalists and traditionalists held most dear. This is what soldiers died for: their tzara. The defiant poet didn't stop there: he changed his first name, too, to that of the archetypal lover of Europe's most cherished saga, though it is possible that he named himself after Tristan Corbière.

If at the beginning of the 20th century, a pseudonym was de rigeur for an artist, Tzara took it a step further by changing countries as well, becoming an exile, like the revolutionaries hunted by the police. In abandoning name and country, Tzara could answer like Odysseus – "I Am No One" – when the Cyclops asked, but the Cyclops kept asking, a harsh interrogation that took a long time, long enough for No One to find enough other No Ones to deliver a resounding NO strong enough to fight nazis, Europe's chief and upcoming fixed identity freaks.

See what I mean about misdirection actually managing to get us somewhere??
I find it exhilarating.