on dada & the web: “so anyone in his armchair would be able to contemplate the whole of creation”

from Andrei Codrescu’s The Posthuman Dada Guide: Tzara and Lenin Play Chess

 

internet(s): The electronic communication and information networks that call themselves, grandly, the World Wide Web (WWW) are the current winners of a long battle of webs. At a time when there were fewer humans and they were of necessity more aware of their environment, especially the things that they could eat or that might eat them, there was a well-functioning web of interhuman, interspecies, and interregnum communication maintained by shamans (holy men). The shamans were the servers of the prehistoric world, capable of understanding animals and reading landscape. Human thoughts were communicated long-distance by means of shaman-boosting stations (some of the shamans lived, literally, in trees or on mountaintops for better reception), and the faith of all humans in the interconnectedness of mind and habitat was unshakable. This ancient web was destroyed by greedy shamans and charlatans who began charging for the connection when people began to take their services for granted, that is to say, when their faith became so unshakable it became unconscious. This psychic web that connected all living things functioned well to the end of the neolithic, when questions about the servers arose. Why was the evident interconnectedness metered by a class of crazed bums who didn’t do anything more than pass on messages through the atmosphere? Did they not get freely fed from the community stores? The first “revolution” must have been the establishment of a set of rules for shamans, the first of which was “purity.” The shamans had to stay incorruptible, ascetic if possible, before they could be overcome by greed. Tough gig. Not long after, there arose a priestly class that not only metered intercommunication, which must have seemed to most Stone Age people like charging for breathing the air, but put actual impediments in place, making it impossible for your average hunter to have a quick conversation with his guardian-spirit without offering some absurdly expensive sacrifice. The advent of private property, and the desirability of hilltops and the consequent development of an army to guard them, made it imperative for the priestly class of web-servers to make the three-tiered alliance that held through several millennia, namely, royalty, the military, and the shamans. These last actually grew in importance since they arrogated to themselves not only planetary and cosmic intercommunication, but also the disposition of matter into the afterlife. Neolithic man would have laughed like an animal, which herm was, if the shamans of herm day had attempted such a power grab. Various webs functioned after the free, original version, in forms that were restricted mostly to the social networks of the three-tiered power structure, though the technology of access became more and more complex: gods, oracles, prayers, expensive pilgrimages, rituals, and, eventually, religions and religious wars. Numerous cultures with a good knowledge of interconnectivity survived outside the empires and held on to their knowledge through the use of plant-teachers, but they had to keep their servers hidden and couch their technology in language that obscured it. The imperial civilizations that wrote history were shaken up byintermittent revolutions that demanded the instant return of planetary and interplanetary communication to the people. The European Renaissance produced a shift in perspective that led to the creation of a new internet based on memory. Giordano Bruno’s “Theater of Memory” was an attempt to classify and hold all the world’s knowledge in one’s own head by means of an architectural image, a theater. A single person would be able to know everything possible by placing the memories of everything one had learned within various levels, loges, and areas of a grand imaginary theater that could be visualized in detail with a little practice. The placement of so much knowledge in a single image did not exactly solve the problem of how to connect all those discrete bundles in their allotted places, without creating a lot of confusion. Bruno’s Memory Theater (based on older Greek and Roman models of the same idea, and on countless treatises on Ars Memoria since) does not answer another obvious question: what play is going on onstage while all these memories sit in their seats? Or is the stage the place where they come to interconnect, which is the performance? After Giordano Bruno, who was also an alchemist, who intuited the changeability of elements and the existence of as-yet-undescribed energies, the question of interconnectivity and networking became more and more concerned with the disposition and classification of knowledge. It occurred to a few people that the vast and quickly accumulating quantity of what is still called “knowledge” in some circles was only a mountain (or sea) of storage devices for the description of the world by people: tablets, books, mathematical and chemical formulas.

 

 

Means of organizing this “knowledge,” such as taxonomies and grammars, were greeted with howls of delight by the custodians of institutions charged with storing all the information. Interconnectivity, which used to be a matter of cosmic understanding and telepathic transmission, applied for at least three centuries only to connecting recorded information. The sentimental and social life of people still asking about God, nature, and the cosmos went unaddressed by the new priests ofscience. Mystics and philosophers stumbled occasionally on some part of the old Web and inferred from that the existence of a much vaster and older network. Teillhard de Chardin, a Christian philosopher, posited the existence of the “noosphere” (from the Greek for mind, nous), a thought sphere that connected all people for the purposes of helping divinity evolve, giving shape to Le Christ-Evoluteur. Others, like Madame Blavatsky, a theosophist, simply traveled back and forth between virtual worlds, like a hot-air balloon without a navigation system. Still, neither mystics nor philosophers could correct the great misunderstanding beginning to take root in Europe after the Enlightenment: scientists were beginning to, literally, mistake their mountains of description for the world, to substitute descriptive virtuality for reality. This was the hubris at the start of the “communication” revolution. In 1934, a Belgian eccentric named Paul Otlet “sketched out plans for a global network of computers (or ‘electric telescopes,’ as he called them) that would allow people to search and browse through millions of interlinked documents, images, audio and video files. He described how people would use the devices to send messages to one another, share files and even congregate in online social networks. He called the whole thing a ‘réseau,’ which might be translated as ‘network’—or arguably, ‘web.’”59 Paul Otlet’s project, called “the Mundaneum,” collected an extraordinary number of documents and images, but was forgotten after the nazis occupied Belgium and destroyed most of his work. Ahead of the discoverers of the present-day internet by Americans like Ted Nelson and Tim Berners-Lee, who released the first Web browser in 1991, Otlet envisioned not only the information highway, but also the hyperlink, by means of which, he wrote, “anyone in his armchair would be able to contemplate the whole of creation.” Otlet, like the creators of the World Wide Web, solved the problem of what to do with the accumulated records of humanity. In a very short time, the advent of the modern internet made it possible for individuals to communicate with one another in a pretty fair simulacrum of the original interconnectivity of the Neolithic. The modern internet is, however, only a simulacrum, no matter how fast or efficient it gets, and no matter how quickly we  internalize it (which is only a matter of seconds). So what’s the problem? The problem, said Tristan Tzara in his essay “Francis Picabia, pensées sans langage,” is that “The philosophical myriapoda have broken some wooden or metal legs, and even some wings, between the stations Truth-Reality. There was always something that could not be grasped: life.”60 Indeed. The question is: can anyone enclosed in and in debt to a network still experience life? Or is our new interconnectivity the actual parenthesis or quotes around life, a.k.a. nature? Has the time come to stop communicating and start looking? Someone born before the internet, like myself, is experiencing as excess of communication, but this is surely just a result of fatigue and the big learning curve. Or is it? My students, to whom the internet is second nature, feel liberated by their ability to go anywhere for a description. The problem, exactly. Even if total immersion becomes possible, virtuality will only lead its resident to another virtuality. Let’s say a flesh-and-blood networker meets another virtually-conditioned real human over the network and, let’s say, they have sex, they make a baby, they live in an automated house and society, they have a seamless web of a life . . . until. Until Catastrophe. Storms, marauding dadas, bored speed freaks . . . something unvirtual breaks upon them. Then what? What happens then is that their social network cuts them off. Real victims do not exist in the virtual world. In the virtual world there are only happy endings: there is no room for either Catastrophe or Miracle. The internet will be (if it isn’t already) just another (re)distribution of power among social networks that have the fatal weakness of being virtual. Happily. Happily, virtuality is the fatal weakness of virtual communities and their members. Why happily? Because we are artists, that’s why. We have no taste, but a stubborn desire to make you taste something else. We will not perform virtual theater because it’s redundant. We like contradictory warm-blooded people who have a thing for rocks and animals. Not a thing about knowing things about rocks and animals, but a thing for the actual real rocks and animals. Do we have an epistemological problem? Yes, we do. Take a dada to bed and see me in the morning. We are in a very strange place in the new euphoric world of interactivity in which, as I said before, everyone is an artist. That means the following: any signal articulated by anyone into the World Wide Web becomes instantly linked to everyone else’s, making it not only possible, but mandatory, to be other people. If theater in the past involved the rather time-consuming arts of costuming, from inventing and playing the character to making herm clothes, the Web assembles the dramatis persona on the spot, returns herm to the sender and to herm’s potential audience without delay; the audience feedback is instant; from conception to feedback and back and then back and back again through an infinite hall of (re)invention and feedback, any original intention can be turned into a surprising objet. In effect, the objet hardly matters, except to people who like to collect things (i.e., stop the process at some more-or-less solid stage), because the conceptual machine set in motion by anyone’s desire, or any desire at all, will run on forever. The Dada job now would consist of the disruption of networks, an incredible effort of the imagination at a time when social networks are proliferating at the speed of light, literally abolishing time. My Face, My Space, My Body, My Soul, My Idea, etc., are really everybody’s face, body, soul, ideas, and will eventually pixelate and automate its members, unless the virgin microbe confuses them. Why should it? Because an actor in the past could step out of herm costume and get drunk in the demimonde, while the morphing hyperlinked entity can no longer disengage. Networking now is like superglue: look at all the flies trying to get their feet out of the screen! Try to remember what your name was before you signed on. Can’t? Try “No One.” We are now art whether we like it or not, making the revolt against art more urgent than ever, which is exactly what Tzara meant when he said, speaking of Tristan Corbière: “Words no longer seemed to him anything more than derisory or criminal instruments. But Corbière himself, who everywhere discovered signs which remained pure in primitive cultures and in folklore, would obviously never have thought about it if he hadn’t first loved these people for themselves, people who in their popular expressions have nothing but themselves to give.”61 Lucky Corbière! There were still primitives about, filled with the freshness of expression that still carried something of the ancient web about it. Are they still about? One could make a case for religious fundamentalists as the exponents of the last romantic revolt against the promiscuity of information, but this is hardly the case. Religious guerrillas today are fighting for control of state power, like the bolsheviks; the texts that legitimize their leaders for the ignorant are read no more literally than Lenin read Marx. The Dada (missionary) position on this is that the genuine work now would be to return individuals to themselves with time to germinate in the dark, without being part of everyone else in the world. Is this even possible? It certainly isn’t desirable from any reasonable point of view, except the absolutely negative opinion that a vast extortion of human energies is at work, for purposes not clearly understood. Today’s internet is an impersonator of the ancient web and is still in the hands of techno-shamans who still charge for the air. I am Dada-bound to suspect the enterprise of demonism. A dada must battle the obvious, especially if it’s inevitable. Futility tastes like (insert innocence-metaphor here) mother’s milk, first taste of peach, an unusually long and salty word spoken late in the night outside a shady bar. To love singular people with primitive connections to the divine, and expressions that are still unmediated (or only humanly mediated) in an intensely e-mediated world, involves, first of all, stripping yourself down, getting rid of all your screen-names and personae, and then finding other people unmediating themselves while living in trees they won’t allow to be cut, like my hero, Julia Butterfly.62 This is the opposite of seeing your reflections in My Space. Making yourself up for fun, which was the old Dada, has now come up against the new Dada, which is the necessity to strip down to whatever self you once had, and become a tree.

 

NOTES

 

59. Alex Wright, “The Mundaneum in Mons, Belgium,” New York Times, June 17, 2008. 231

 

60. Tristan Tzara, “Francis Picabia, pensées sans langage,” translated by Barbara Wright in Seven Dada Manifestoes and Lampisteries.

 

61. Preface by Tristan Tzara to Les Amours Jaunes by Tristan Corbière (Paris: Le Club Français du Livre, 1950).

 

62. “For 738 days Julia Butterfly Hill lived in the canopy of an ancient redwood tree, called Luna, to help make the world aware of the plight of ancient forests. Julia, with the great help of steelworkers and environmentalists, successfully negotiated to permanently protect the 1,000 year-old tree and a nearly three-acre buffer zone. Her two-year vigil informed the public that only 3% of the ancient redwood forests remain and that the Headwaters Forest Agreement, brokered by state and federal agencies and Pacific Lumber/Maxxam Corporation, will not adequately protect forests and species.” http://www.circleoflifefoundation.org/inspiration/julia/.

 

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a dada life: “pranks, buffoonery, masking, deranged senses, intoxication, sabotage, taboo breaking”


the introduction to Andrei Codrescu’s 

The Posthuman Dada Guide: Tzara and Lenin Play Chess  

 

This is a guide for instructing posthumans in living a Dada life. It is not advisable, nor was it ever, to lead a Dada life. It is and it was always foolish and self-destructive to lead a Dada life because a Dada life will include by definition pranks, buffoonery, masking, deranged senses, intoxication, sabotage, taboo breaking, playing childish and/or dangerous games, waking up dead gods, andnot taking education seriously. On the other hand, the accidental production of novel objects results occasionally from the practice of Dada. During times of crisis like wars and plagues, some of these objects can be truly novel because they sabotage prevailing sentiments. At other times, Dada objects are merely interesting, by virtue of an added layer of irony, an extra punch line, or a new twist to an already-consecrated object. In such times Dada objects amuse everybody, and since these objects are (mostly) made collectively, they are a strong community bond. Amusement (of oneself and others) and the making of art communities are the goals of Dada. Dada is a priori against everything, including goals and itself, but this creative negation is very amusing and is meant to be shared. For one whole century, Dada has delighted in uncovering and using contradictions, paradoxes, and negations, the most important of which are: 1. most people read signs, Dadas make signs, and 2. most people are scared of scary faces, Dada makes scary faces. No one should go Dada before  1. considering whether one would rather be  a. amused or b. grim; one must weigh in the balance childishness and seriousness; both a and b have a history; both affect everyone in the world; both are possible at any moment, but the difference is that being childlike (a) is pleasing to creatures lighter than air (with or without wings), angels, St. Francis, and Candide, while being serious (b) is a weight, like the cross, and heavy as a lead ball (see hugo, ball) and iron chains;  and 2. understanding that art is life and vice-versa and Dadais against both, except on the road to ecstasy when it stops for exceptions. It is the thesis of this book that posthumans lining the road to the future (which looks as if it exists, after all, even though Dada is against it) need the solace offered by the primal raw energy of Dada and its inhuman sources. 

If you have any doubt as to whether you are posthuman or merely human, take a look at the following parts of your body: the city, the house, the car, the iPhone, the laptop, the iPod, the pillbox, the nonflesh surround. If sixty percent of your body is now electronic or bioelectronic, living in space designed for efficiency, you will need Dada as a corrective to what will certainly be the loss of the modicum of liberty you still possess. The first Dadas lived in cities that contained the means for a thorough critique of the world: Zurich, Paris, New York, Vienna, Berlin, Bucharest, Prague, Zagreb, Budapest, Petersburg. They had virtual summations (libraries), evolution-planning centers (cafés), body-centering (or -decentering) loci (bordellos), hungry provincial student clusters (universities), geniuses (random selection), mass-media (printing presses, newspapers, the telegraph), the option of moving the body through space faster than the body could move on its own (trains, cars, carriages), models for imaginary worlds (cinema), the tools of propaganda (advertising, manifestos, podiums), memory (museums, statues, history books), sentiment (cabarets, songs, theater, carnivals), weapons (cobblestones), hope (money, God), social flexibility (learnable codes of manners, uniforms), ubiquity (the feeling that you know, or think that you know, everybody) and, most importantly, a sense that time was relative (some people had a lot of it and dreaded its immensity; others had only a little and dreaded its passing). The revelation of the substance of time preoccupied Freud, who saw it as a repository for repressed history, Carl Jung, who discovered (or thought he did) a space inhabited by prehistoric souffleurs who dictated their nature to ongoing generations of human actors, Albert Einstein, who added time to the three known dimensions, Heisenberg, who denied time altogether, and a variety of artists who adopted one or another dimension of time (futurists, the future; simultaneists, simultaneity; Dada, all or no directions). These cities were concentrations of virtualities that offered the possibilities of creative reinvention of the world. Within these rapidly morphing intensities, the fixities of societal conventions that led inevitably to war became painfully apparent. The bright energies remaking human beings drew their force from everything and anything, but mostly from laughter. Nothing fixed by convention could withstand the Gordian-knot-cutting laughter of Dada, though resistance was not futile (see lenin).

Today, a century later, the merger of software and wetwear is ongoing and speeding up. Dada has nothing, or maybe everything, against doing well and doing good. Buy biotechs. The fondest wish of all well-wishers, and that includes many dadas, is that we will say hello to a green organism that is born by natural birth, will lead a carbon-footprint-conscious life, and will biodegrade without toxic waste. Planetary thinking in its most digestible form makes sense, and the future seems open to every individual initiative that is aware of the collective predicament. Living aware is the current desideratum, and if we destroy non-renewable resources, we’ll at least downsize or vanish with our eyes open. Dada is for all of that, but within (non)reason. For the majorities, profligacy is no longer desirable. In effect, desire is no longer desirable. If previous dada-minded people with nothing to lose (or so they thought!) could afford to be profligate, seminal, and ecstatic, this is no longer the case. Substitute “wishing” for “desire.” Wishing accommodates acting, while desire is unpredictable. Posthuman life is based on the alleged awareness of all living connections, unlike the irrepressible and murderous peaks and valleys of human life in the past. The rational description of our posthumanity would have it that the societal mechanisms that were of such great concern to thinkers have been automated. Political structures larger than the family are projections of automatic economic systems. Borders are largely imaginary and will become wholly imaginary, soon to be replaced by aesthetic differences.1 In other words, there will be privately constructed borders created by everyone everywhere, enforced by pocket nukes capable of eliminating entire cities or regions. Arbitrary moral systems will back up private aesthetic borders, making it imperative for everyone to receive the correct medication. Unmedicated people will not be allowed pocket nukes, which makes it necessary that they be naked and searched often by local militias of art students. In this environment, which is almost completely current, the simulations of pleasure within zones of medicated liberty can be literally life-saving. These simulations will be a new medium (using all the media) for plotting escape routes and egress points that may or may not lead out of Eden. These potentially liberating simulations promise anescape into reality, but, reader beware, all realities adjoining present tightrope Eden may be virtual and not real at all. With that proviso, an alternative escape project called Dada is being made available here. Dada is the viral option to the virtual certainty. What the Dada life is will be explained in the following pages with a minimum of tedious reference, i.e., we will record only what can’t be googled. In other words, only what hasn’t yet been captured. Dada is the Western Now, a Zen that employs fullness instead of emptiness, so much fullness, in fact, that there isn’t enough matter to fill its fullness, so it resorts to imagination in order to create ever more paradisiacal objets, better iPods made from shredded dreams.2 Each imagination unit (IU) expanded here will be spent for your instruction, reader, but you will notice that each entry is constructed to self-erase as soon as it is understood, and to generate its own IU as soon as it disappears. The claim to the nongooglable is pretty huge and I’m making it lightly. The good available information googled either from Google or out of books written by Dada chiefs will be used here to its utmost, that is to say, used in order to extract or prolong the vital fluids, which are as yet ungooglified. (At least until this is e-published). I know that Google, a mortal company, could go the way of Xerox, which used to be synonymous with copying, but in the grand collage that is Dada, past and future are equally usable. Look at the fragment from a newspaper inserted by Kurt Schwitters in his 1920 Collage:3 the actual newspaper, with its oh-so-urgent events of the day, is long forgotten, but the section preserved in Schwitters’s collage is immortal. I am not saying that this guide, a simple book, will outlast both Xerox and Google, but it is possible. If the 20th century has taught us anything, it is that we will forget everything except the box it came in. The substance of what it was, what it felt like, what could be usefully gleaned from it, was buried with the persons who felt andgleaned. Memoirs and history further dismember the past by articulating it: every articulated experience is as good as forgotten. Forgetting is a human specialty that was greatly refined by the recently deposed century. We’ve kept the wrappings, though: the styles, the anecdotes, the narratives (the sexy ones, not the academic), and we are using them to deposit new contents inside. The end of the 19th century put an engine in a horse, and, even though there was no more horse, literally speaking, the form of the mechanically-powered horse was marvelous to behold. Today, of course, there is hardly any need to remember why a mechanical horse needs to look like a living horse because most of us don’t know what a horse is: even the horse-form is being forgotten. As oblivion speeds up and facts store themselves in a memory stick, we are free to splash around in the funhouse of forms. Thank God for Dada, the engine of empty forms! This (or the next this) is a time to be human without the weight of history, beliefs, feelings, vendettas, or school grades. We are in a Dada state of grace. For the Dada Guide-users, you and me, there isn’t even a point in the dated distinctions between “human” and “nonhuman,” “remembered” or “forgotten,” because the literature of those distinctions is ubiquitous and serves no purpose other than mutual accusation: those who think of themselves as “human” will claim that they have a “soul” and an indelible “history,” while posthumans will claim to be part of everything and that everything has a soul, including the web they are presently setting to vibrating with their indignant thumping. This is a useless argument and if anyone feels uncomfortable about being called “posthuman,” please call yourself whatever you want. My distinction is this: a posthuman is a human who has put nature (including herm own)4 between parentheses. (Or convinced hermself that everything nonhuman is human and, therefore, human = nature. This used to be called “anthropomorphism,” but lately it is known as a “user-friendly interface.” In current popular discourse, nature has come to mean “nature,” or “the nature channel,” and thus is wilderness removed from it and its destructive and creative force neutralized. Putting the world between either parentheses or quotes is an effective way to erase it, indifferent of how warmly we feel about it. We are replacing wilderness by self- reflection and are making huge (virtual) efforts to make the self-reflective sensorium look demiurgic and various like nature. If early in the 20th century only poets had the gall to conceive of themselves as “pequeños dios” in César Vallejo’s phrase, now everyone feels entitled to a god-degree because the tools for faking it are part of every body (see e-body). Dada intends to open the doors at night to let the wilderness back in. Dada is a tool for removing parentheses and removing the world from between quotes with the forceps of inspiration. Sometimes this will call for disruptive spontaneous action, creating and holding TAZ (Temporary Autonomous Zones), actualizing dreams, running with gangs, living with animals, and making  peace with weather. Sometimes it will mean going after parts of speech, like “like,” or other rhetorical devices, but we will never discourage direct address, on the off chance that someone is listening. Historical Dada was a metaphor factory, but we will try to abstain and be as dry as a properly made Cabernet. Dada, like every living thing, has a problematic relationship with language, which is why it has employed it collectively, nonsensically, mystically, and in combination with other media, such as paint, pixels, bodies, couture, sex, sound, newspapers, advertising, and necromancy. Language has been slipping like a coarse blanket from humanity’s nightmare-racked body for centuries, but 20th-century dadas like Ludwig Wittgenstein and George Steiner (who were not officially Dada) and Tzara (who was, see tristan, tzara) revealed that it had been yanked off by Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, and Mao (big yankers) and by myriads of smaller yankers who use language to poke holes in reality and to put nature between parentheses. Big and small yankers (language-users) have been fueling their enterprise with portions of liberty, mine and yours. The motor for creating posthumans runs on stolen freedom.5 Now there are two entities: language, lying at the foot of the bed, as freezing thieves with a yen for power crawl toward it, and a flesh body that is quickly becoming a metaphor for all that used to be called “human.” The Dada project is to make the body warm by covering it with the blanket again and demetaphorizing it. This project requires abandoning all the humanities’ approximate definitions of “human,” because “the approximate man” (see, again, tristan, tzara) turns out not to be a man at all. Or a woman. Those lovely forms have vanished and can now be found only as skeuromorphs in media, including writing. The vague yearning for the “not human” is now no longer vague, it is pure efficiency. We look nostalgically at waste: there isn’t any. All is now open for Dada (as Nietzsche suspected) but not everyone knows how to live the Dada life, to press the “restore” button. In other words, nobody knows how to act when all knowledge seems available, and claims to difference look like either reinventing the wheel or retrofitting the posthuman lump (“body without organs,” Antonin Artaud) with dated forms. Mysticism and metaphysics are the popular forms of Dada now in vogue, particularly in science fiction, the New Age, Oprah, churches, mosques, and pagan-trancing moonlit groves. There is a lot wrong with those practices, namely, that they are all about the consciousness of humans on their way to perfecting posthumanity. Most of them pretend to worship or at least acknowledge the nonhuman, but it’s only a cover, superstitious salt thrown into the eyes of whatever looks back at us, amused or annoyed, Nietzsche’s abyss with eyes. Dada, too, is a form of mystical currency, but it likes to think of itself as too radical for narrative and parable, and too agnostic to take itself seriously. We will see. We need a guide that is at once historical and liberating. Or just hysterical and tonic.

Nothing illustrates better the difference between the human and the posthuman than a chess game that took place in October 1916 at the Café de La Terrasse in Zurich, Switzerland, between Tristan “all thought is formed in the mouth” Tzara, the daddy of Dada, and V. I. (“communism = socialism + electricity”) Lenin, the daddy of communism. These two daddies battled each other over the chessboard of history, proposing two different paths for human development. Dada played for chaos, libido, the creative, and the absurd. Communism deployed its energy for reason, order, an understandable social taxonomy, predictable structures, and the creation of “new man.” The Dada man was an actor and a peformer, a clown, and a drunken fool, a mystic. The “new man” was a well-behaved worker who would eventually be so well served materially that he would become posthuman, a being to whom all nature, refined and motorized, would pay homage. Dada was born onstage from satire, disgust, angst, disgust, terror, improvised materials, and channeled snippets of verse, while Communism came out of books of philosophy and economy, terrorism (with its technologies of disguise, conspiracy, and homemade explosives), and church-inspired forms for synthesizing dogma. Who won the game? After the collapse of Soviet-style communism in 1991, it looked as though Dada had. But if it had, why do the non- Soviet posthumans of late capitalism feel such despair? Could it be that late-capitalism posthumans have arrived in the leninist future without communism? And if they have, is the game still going on, and does Dada still have work to do? Are languages (including programming e-languages), print, reason, the fear of nature, and the impulse to vegetate still in charge? Is performance today mainly palliative, validated by reviews? Was that game of chess a win for Tzara or Lenin or a draw? Why did the two men sit down to play in the first place? Obviously, it was cold and there were snow flurries, and the café was full of people of intelligence and feeling, and some shady drunks and thieves, but beyond that, did either of them sense a metaphorical gravity? I doubt it. Chess is the game of choice for people who must think in a crowd: chess is the quintessential “meditation in an emergency” (Frank O’Hara) for people forced by circumstances (overcrowding, prison, a chattering roommate) to seek solitude in a crowd. The laws of chess (they are not called “rules”) have been designed over a millennial history to provide a maximum of thinking space within a small square, and a sense of movement and change by means of a number of symbolic figures. Even if Tzara and Lenin, alone or together, sensed the making of a metaphor, they would not have been interested because 1. it was other people’s metaphor, and 2. they were both animated by passion about injustice. Tzara: “But suppleness, enthusiasm and even the joy of injustice, that little truth that we practice as innocents and that makes us beautiful: we are cunning, and our fingers are malleable and glide like branches of that insidious and almost liquid plant: this injustice is the indication of our soul, say the cynics. That is also a point of view; but all flowers aren’t saints, luckily, and what is divine in us is the awakening of anti-human action.”6 Lenin: “. . . the development of capitalism has arrived at a stage when, although commodity production still ‘reigns’ and continues to be regarded as the basis of economic life, it has in reality been undermined and the big profits go to the ‘genius’ of financial manipulation.”7 Tzara is talking about flowers, soul, the divine, and fingers, while Lenin explains how easily people are distracted and robbed while being handed “commodities.” Both passages proceed from the basic acknowledgment of the existence of injustice, but Tzara welcomes its cruelty and pushes its contradictions to where it will cease to function within language and, it is hoped, life, because it’s been sabotaged by poetry. Lenin has found the villain: sneaky, insidious capitalism robbing the workers while amusing them. There is also another difference: boredom. Tzara is fresh, Lenin is boring. Lenin is not boring just in retrospect, he was boring at the time he wrote that. As we know from Baudelaire, Boredom is the worst evil of all: “Among the vermin, jackals, panthers, lice / gorillas and tarantulas that suck / and snatch and scratch and  defecate and fuck / in the disorderly circus of our vice, // there’s one more ugly and abortive birth. / It makes no gestures, never beats its breast, / yet it would murder for a moment’s rest, / and willingly annihilate the earth. / It’s boredom. Tears have glued its eyes together. / You know it well, my Reader. This obscene / beast chain-smokes yawning for the guillotine— / you—hypocrite Reader—my double—my brother.”8 Yes, but, pace Baudelaire, was Lenin wrong? Not really. Atthe start of the 21st century we are in an even better position to appreciate Lenin’s insight into the nature of capitalism. He goes on to explain, by means of tedious citations from German economists, exactly how prices rise as a result of the formation of  monopolies, and the subsequent impoverishment of the proletariat. Lenin is setting up his chessboard minutiously, preparing for what will be his real intention: plotting in detail the coming revolution. In addition to setting up the board, he needs to cleanse the socialist movement, which agrees with him on the analysis of capitalism, which only reiterates, after all, what Marx explained in equally tedious prose decades previous. Lenin does not even bother with Marx’s preoccupation with the alienation of worker from product. For Marx, this alienation brought about by automation must be combatted in order for communism to be built. Lenin couldn’t care less about how workers feel. Let’s make the Revolution, then automate everything, and, in the end, everyone will feel better.9 Tzara would rather be the object of violent ridicule than the cause of a yawn. “Every act is a cerebral revolver shot—both the insignificant gesture and the decisive movement are attacks.”10 That’s invigorating, but is it true? The man he’s playing chess with will make sure that it isn’t, for a century at least. He’ll leave a trail of corpses from Russia to Japan to Europe and beyond, to prove Tzara wrong. Not every act is cerebral: some acts, like a real pistol shot, are repetitious, monotonous, mindless, set in motion by a barked order. Tzara, the revolutionary poet, is playing chess with Lenin, a mass-murdering ideologue. The winner will win the world, a prize neither is thinking about in 1916.

Their projects were as different as their game, but the feeling that the world was unjust was in both of them like a root. We will go back and forth in time to check various moves and consider some possibilities. Although our sympathies are with Dada, we are not all that sure about the outcome of the game. You will notice that we have retained the alphabet and ordered the Guide alphabetically. This is also a book, so pages are conventionally numbered. This may very well be the last (necessary or unnecessary) book, so we scrupulously observed all the conventions we could remember, typographical, grammatical, anal, oral, and chronological. With a tip of the hat to the kabbalah, we are working against (and for) time and amnesia. The waters of oblivion are rising, memory is as fragile and thin as matter in a black-hole universe, but as Tristan Tzara said, “Dada is against the high cost of living.” Lenin was against that too, but since he thought he’d found the villain, he was going to do something about it. We can’t do anything about it, so we will make this cheap and painless.

NOTES

 

1. A longer discussion on borders and aesthetics may be in order here: I refer the reader to my two earlier texts The Disappearance of the Outside (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1999) and “before the storm: geographers in new orleans,” a discussion of anarchist geography published in the book Jealous Witness (Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 2008). For now, suffice it to say that the notion of “privately constructed borders” is an extension of the Republican impulse to privatize everything, from health care to prisons. Borders today are largely imaginary: the Mexican-American border, for instance, runs through every major American city, wherever illegal immigrants go for work. The “border” is a metaphor that separates the so-called legal entity from the “paperless” one. In this sense, constructing borders will eventually be a full-time occupation for anyone involved in proving herm (see n. 4 below) legality, while the aesthetics will be simply the manner in which the entity constructs the argument. Anyone who wants to be “legal” will eventually want to be “legally elegant,” that is, as aesthetically concise as the law itself. As for “pocket nukes,” these will most certainly be available to the public under the Second Amendment, because they are already in the U.S. arsenal. In the matter of “art student” squads searching people for illegal nukes, the author hopes that he’s being ironic, but not really sure. He is most definitely not ironic about the zones of “medicated liberty” or about medications of any sort. In fact, he is going to swallow a pill right now in order to continue the utopian enterprise of typing.

 

2. Hippies were often misconstrued as being antimaterialistic and Zen inclined, a misconception aided by poets Gary Snyder, Joanne Kyger, Diane di Prima, and Philip Whalen, who were Zen trained. In fact, the baroque imagination of LSD led most young counterculturists away from emptiness and toward fulsome teeming matters like instant communication, better bodies, cosmetics, immortality, and youth potions, all of which translated two decades later into the internet and biotech.

 

3. The Dada Painters and Poets, an anthology edited by Robert Motherwell (New York: Wittenborn, Schultz, 1951). From the introduction by Jack Flamm, p. 56.

 

4. Pronoun problem solved in favor of “herm” as opposed to s/he or he/her, because the word is the first part of “hermaphrodite,” which, as will be seen, is both a Dada desideratum and an affirmation of totality.

 

5. This text discusses two answers to the question What is that motor?

 

6. “Dada Manifesto of 1918,” from Seven Dada Manifestoes and Lampisteries, with llustrations by Francis Picabia, trans. Barbara Wright (London: John Calder; New York: Riverrun Press, 1981).

 

7. Essential Works of Lenin, What Is to Be Done? and Other Writings, ed. Henry M. Christman (New York: Bantam Books, 1966). Lenin wrote the essay we quoted from in Zurich, early in 1916; it appeared in St. Petersburg in September 1917 as “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism.”

 

8. “To My Reader” by Charles Baudelaire, translated by Robert Lowell, in The Flowers of Evil, ed. Jackson Mathews (New York: New Directions, 1955).

 

9. It has been noted that “Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, which do present this utterly brilliant analysis of the alienation (Entfremdung in the original) of workers under capitalism . . . were completely unknown until they were first published in 1932 by the Marx-Engels Institute in Moscow. The first English  translation only appeared in 1959. They have been absolutely central to the emergence of a critical (i.e., non-Stalinist, non-SPD-like) Marxism from the 1960s onward, but were completely unknown to Lenin. I’m not even sure Entfremdung appears in any of Marx’s later writings, as he himself turned more to the economic analysis of capitalism and away from the more philosophical (and Hegel-influenced) critique of his early years.” This may be so, but here we take the Dada approach of assuming that even if Lenin had read those notes by Marx, he would have had neither the time nor the inclination to follow the implications that seduced neomarxists in the 1960s.