a short story by kazuo ishiguro

“Crooner”

(from Kazuo Ishiguro’s Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall)
 

 
 

 


THE MORNING I SPOTTED Tony Gardner sitting among the tourists, spring was just arriving here in Venice. We’d completed our first full week outside in the piazza—a relief, let me tell you, after all those stuffy hours performing from the back of the cafe, getting in the way of customers wanting to use the staircase. There was quite a breeze that morning, and our brand-new marquee was flapping all around us, but we were all feeling a little bit brighter and fresher, and I guess it showed in our music.

 

But here I am talking like I’m a regular band member. Actually, I’m one of the “gypsies,” as the other musicians call us, one of the guys who move around the piazza, helping out whichever of the threecafe orchestras needs us. Mostly I play here at the Caffè Lavena, but on a busy afternoon, I might do a set with the Quadri boys, go over to the Florian, then back across the square to the Lavena. I get on fine with them all—and with the waiters too—and in any other city I’d have a regular position by now. But in this place, so obsessed with tradition and the past, everything’s upside down. Anywhere else, being a guitar player would go in a guy’s favour. But here? A guitar! The cafe managers get uneasy. It looks too modern, the tourists won’t like it. Last autumn I got myself a vintage jazz model with an oval sound-hole, the kind of thing Django Reinhardt might have played, so there was no way anyone would mistake me for a rock-and-roller. That made things a little easier, but the cafe managers, they still don’t like it. The truth is, if you’re a guitarist, you can be Joe Pass, they still wouldn’t give you a regular job in this square.

 

There’s also, of course, the small matter of my not being Italian, never mind Venetian. It’s the same for that big Czech guy with the alto sax. We’re well liked, we’re needed by the other musicians, but we don’t quite fit the official bill. Just play and keep your mouth shut, that’s what the cafe managers always say. That way the tourists won’t know you’re not Italian. Wear your suit, sunglasses, keep the hair combed back, no one will know the difference, just don’t start talking.

 

But I don’t do too bad. All three cafe orchestras, especially when they have to play at the same time from their rival tents, they need a guitar—something soft, solid, but amplified, thumping out the chords from the back. I guess you’re thinking, three bands playing at the same time in the same square, that would sound like a real mess. But the Piazza San Marco’s big enough to take it. A tourist strolling across the square will hear one tune fade out, another fade in, like he’s shifting the dial on a radio. What tourists can’t take too much of is the classical stuff, all these instrumental versions of famous arias. Okay, this is San Marco, they don’t want the latest pop hits. But every few minutes they want something they recognise, maybe an old Julie Andrews number, or the theme from a famous movie. I remember once last summer, going from band to band and playing “The Godfather” nine times in one afternoon.

 

Anyway there we were that spring morning, playing in front of a good crowd of tourists, when I saw Tony Gardner, sitting alone with his coffee, almost directly in front of us, maybe six metres back from our marquee. We get famous people in the square all the time, we never make a fuss. At the end of a number, maybe a quiet word will go around the band members. Look, there’s Warren Beatty. Look, it’s Kissinger. That woman, she’s the one who was in the movie about the men who swap their faces. We’re used to it. This is the Piazza San Marco after all. But when I realised it was Tony Gardner sitting there, that was different. I did get excited.

Read the rest

unica zürn’s dark spring: a portrait of the artist as a young corpse

Dark Spring is an autobiographical coming-of-age novel that reads more like an exorcism than a memoir. In it author Unica Zürn (1916-1970) traces the roots of her obsessions: The exotic father she idealized, the impure mother she detested, the masochistic fantasies and onanistic rituals which she said described “the erotic life of a little girl based on my own childhood.” Dark Spring is the story of a young girl’s simultaneous introduction to sexuality and mental illness, revealing a different aspect of the mad love so romanticized by the (predominantly male) Surrealists. Zürn emigrated in 1953 from her native Berlin to Paris in order to live with the artist Hans Bellmer. There she exhibited drawings as a member of the Surrealist group and collaborated with Bellmer on a series of notorious photographs of her nude torso bound with string. In 1957, a fateful encounter with the poet and painter Henri Michaux led to the first of what would become a series of mental crises, some of which she documented in her writings. She committed suicide in 1970—an act foretold in this, her last completed work. (Cribbed from the Web site of the great, great publisher of experimental literature, Exact Change).  


From Dark Spring:
 

Each time, she finds herself tormented by her terrible fear of the rattling skeleton of a huge gorilla, which she believes inhabits the house at night. The sole purpose of his existence is to strangle her to death. In passing, she looks, as she does every night, at the large Rubens painting depicting “The Rape of the Sabine Women.” These two naked, rotund women remind her of her mother and fill her with loathing. But she adores the two dark, handsome robbers, who lift the women onto their rearing horses. She implores them to protect her from the gorilla. She idolizes a whole series of fictional heroes who return her gaze from the old, dark paintings that hang throughout the house. One of them reminds her of Douglas Fairbanks, whom she adored as a pirate and as the “Thief of Baghdad” in the movie theater at school. She is sorry she must be a girl. She wants to be a man, in his prime, with a black beard and flaming black eyes. But she is only a little girl whose body is bathed in sweat from fear of discovering the terrible gorilla in her room, under her bed. She is tortured by fears of the invisible.

Who knows whether or not the skeleton will crawl up the twines of ivy that grow on the wall below her window, and then slip into her room. His mass of hard and pointed bones will simply crush her inside her bed. Her fear turns into a catastrophe when she accidentally bumps into the sabers, which fall off the wall with a clatter in the dark. She runs to her room as fast as she can and slams the door shut behind her. She turns the key and bolts the door. One again, she has come out of this alive. Who knows what will happen tomorrow night? . . .

Sometimes, when Franz visits, he makes her laugh so hard that she ends up wetting her panties. The smell of it attracts the dog, who puts his head between her legs. This gives her an idea. She goes down to the basement and over to the dog pen, where she lies down on the cold cement floor with her legs spread apart. The dog starts to lick in between her legs. The cold only increases her sense of pleasure. Feeling the ecstasy, she arches her belly towards this patient tongue. Her back hurts from the hard stone. She loves to be in pain while enduring her pleasure. She is greatly aroused, even more so because of the possibility that, at any given moment, someone might come to watch her. Through the door she can hear the sound of her father’s secretary typing. While she yields to the dog’s tongue for hours, her brother discovers something new upstairs. Sitting at his mother’s dressing table, he busies himself with the electric vibrator their mother uses for her beauty care. This vibrator stimulates whichever part of the body it is applied to. The mother massages her face with it; the son puts it into his open pants. When she comes upstairs from the basement, weakened and dizzy, she sees her brother lose his semen, his head thrust back and his eyes closed. The sky has darkened. There is the threat of a thunderstorm and the atmosphere is tense. The adults pay no attention to the two children, who have nothing better to do than to keep experiencing, over and over again, this indescribably powerful feeling.

(pp 50-52; 57-59)

henri michaux’s vision of art-as-exorcism

From Ordeals, Exorcisms  

The title of this little collection of poems and prose texts (121 pages in the original edition) could define much of Michaux’s work. Its Preface is particularly important: in it, he explains the function of art-as-exorcism and its reason for being: “to ward off the surrounding powers of the hostile world.” As in Facing the Locks, a collection he published almost ten years later, some of the texts in Ordeals, Exorcisms reflect, more clearly than usual, a reality outside the self—in this case, the Nazi Occupation of Europe. If Michaux’s basic situation is one of exploring the sicknesses of the self inside a room, there are times when the outside world will come to resemble the prison of a sick man’s room: from 1940 to 1944, all of France seemed to be transformed into a prison or a hospital.  

  

This work also reflects the poet’s continuing preoccupation with inner space, the field of consciousness, the imagination and its monsters . . . Most of it could have been produced at any period of Michaux’s career.

 

—from Darkness Moves: An Henri Michaux Anthology, 1927–1984. Selected, translated, and presented by David Ball. University of California Press, 1994.  

  

 

  

Preface 

It would be truly extraordinary if perfect harmony emerged from the thousands of events that occur every year. There are always a few that stick in your throat; you keep them inside yourself; they hurt.  


One of the things you can do: exorcism.
 


Every situation means dependency, hundreds of dependencies. It would be unheard-of if this state of affairs were perfectly satisfying or if a man—however active he might be—could really fight against all these dependencies effectively.
 


One of the things you can do: exorcism.
 


Exorcism, a reaction in force, with a battering ram, is the true poem of the prisoner.
 


In the very space of suffering and obsession, you introduce such exaltation, such magnificent violence, welded to the hammering of words, that the evil is progressively dissolved, replaced by an airy demonic sphere—a marvelous state!
 


Many contemporary poems, poems of deliverance, also have an effect of exorcism, but of exorcism through subterfuge. Through the subterfuge of our subconscious nature that defends itself with an appropriate imaginative elaboration: Dreams. Through planned or exploratory subterfuge, searching for its optimum point of application: waking Dreams.
 


Not only dreams but an infinity of thoughts exists in order to allow us “to get by,” and even some philosophical systems were essentially exorcistic, although they thought they were something else entirely.

Their effect is similarly liberating, but their nature is quite different.

Nothing here of that rocketing surge, impetuous and seemingly super-human, of the exorcism. Nothing of that kind of gun turret that takes shape at those moments when the object to be driven away, rendered as it were electrically present, is beaten back by magic.


This vertical, explosive rush upward is one of the great moments of existence. The exercise cannot be recommended enough to those who despite themselves live in unhappy dependence. But it is hard to start the motor—only near-despair will do the trick.

The understanding reader will realize that the poems at the beginning of this book were not made out of hatred of one thing or another, but to shake off overpowering influences.
 


Most of the following texts are in a sense exorcisms through subterfuge. Their reason for being:to ward off the surrounding powers of the hostile world.
 

Voices 

I heard a voice in those unhappy days and I heard: “I shall reduce them, these men, I shall reduce them and already they are reduced although they don’t realize it yet. I shall reduce them to so little that there will be no way of telling man from woman and already they are no longer what they once were, but since their organs can still interpenetrate they still think themselves different, one this, the other that. But so terribly shall I make them suffer that there will no longer be any organ that matters. I shall leave them only their skeletons, a mere line of their skeleton for them to hang their unhappiness on. They’ve run enough! What do they still need legs for? Their movements are small, small! And it will be much better that way. Just as a statue in a park makes only one gesture, whatever may happen, even so shall I petrify them—but smaller, smaller.”
 
 

 

I heard that voice, I heard it and I shuddered, but not all that much, because I admired it, for its dark determination and its vast though apparently senseless plan. That voice was only one voice among hundreds, filling the top and bottom of the atmosphere and the East and the West, and all of them were aggressive, wicked, hateful, promising a sinister future for man.  


But man, panicky in one place, calm in another, had reflexes and calculations in case of hard times, and he was ready, although he might generally have appeared hunted and ineffectual.
 


He who can be tripped up by a pebble had already been walking for two hundred thousand years when I heard the voices of hatred and threats which meant to frighten him.
 

The Letter 

I am writing to you from aland that was once full of light. I am writing you from the land of the cloak and shadow. For years and years, we’ve been living on the Tower of the flag at half-mast. Summer! Poisoned summer! And since then it has always been the same day, day of the encrusted memory . . . 


The hooked fish thinks of the water as long as he can. As long as he can, isn’t that natural? You reach top of a mountain slope and you’re hit by a pike-thrust. Afterward your whole life changes. One instant smashes in the door of the Temple.
 


We ask each other for advice. We don’t know any more. One doesn’t know any more than the other. This one is frantic, that one nonplussed. All of us at a loss. Calm exists no longer. Wisdom lasts no longer than an inspiration.
Tell me: with three arrows shot into his cheek, who would walk around looking natural?  
 

 


Death took some of us. Prison, exile, hunger, hardship took the others. Great sabers of shuddering slashed through us, then everything base and sneaky passed through us.
 


Who on our soil still feels the kiss of joy in the very bottom of his heart?
 


The union of wine and the self is a poem. The union of self and woman is a poem. The union of heaven and earth is a poem, but the poem we have heard has paralyzed our understanding.


Our song in unbearable grief could not be uttered. The art of carving in jade has stopped. Clouds go by, clouds shaped like rocks, clouds shaped like peaches, and as for us, we too go by like clouds, full of the vain powers of suffering.


We no longer like the day. It howls. We no longer like the night, haunted by worries. A thousand voices to sink into. No voice to lean on. Our skin is sick of our pale faces.


Vast events. The night, too, is vast, but what can it do? The thousand stars of night can’t light a single bed.
Those who knew no longer know. They jump with the train, they roll with the wheel.
 

 


“Stay within oneself?” Don’t even think about it! On the island of parrots, no house is isolated. In the fall, villainy showed its face. The pure is not pure. It shows its stubbornness, its vindictiveness. Some can be seen yelping. Others can be seen ducking out of the way. But grandeur is nowhere to be seen.
 
 

 

The secret ardor, the farewell to truth, the silence of stone slabs, the scream of the knife victim, the world of frozen rest and burning feelings has been our world and the road of the puzzled dog our road.


We could not recognize ourselves in the silence, we could not recognize ourselves in the screams, nor in our caverns, nor in the gestures of foreigners. Around us, the countryside is indifferent and the sky has no purpose.
 
 

 

We have looked at ourselves in the mirror of death. We have looked at ourselves in the mirror of the sullied seal, of flowing blood, of decapitated surging, in the grimy mirror of humiliations.
 
 

 

We have gone back to the glaucous springs.

Labyrinth

Life, a labyrinth, death, a labyrinth
Labyrinth without end, says the Master of Ho.

      Everything hammers down, nothing liberates.
The suicide is born again to new suffering.

      The prison opens on a prison
The corridor opens another corridor:

      He who thinks he is unrolling the scroll of his life
Is unrolling nothing at all.

      Nothing comes out anywhere
The centuries, too, live underground, says the Master of Ho.

After My Death

I was transported after my death, I was transported not into a closed space, but into the immense vacuum of the ether. Far from being depressed by this immense opening in all directions as far as the eye could see, in the starry sky, I pulled myself together and pulled together all that I had been and all I was just about to be, and finally all I had planned to become (in my secret inner calendar), and squeezing the whole thing together, my good qualities too, and even my vices, as a last rampart, I made myself a shell out of all this.
 
 

 

Around this nucleus, energized by anger, but by a clean anger no longer based on blood, cold and whole, I set about playing porcupine, in a supreme act of defense, in an ultimate refusal.
 
 

 

Then, the vacuum, the larvae of the vacuum that were already extending their soft pockets tentacularly toward me, threatening me with an abject endosmosis—the larvae, astonished after a few futile attempts on this prey that refused to give in, retreated in confusion and disappeared from view, leaving alive the man who deserved it so much.
 
 

 

Free, henceforth, on this front, I used my power of the moment, the exaltation of the unhoped-for victory, to weigh towards Earth, and repenetrated my motionless body, which the sheets and blanket had luckily prevented from growing cold.
 
 

 

With surprise, after this struggle of mine which outdid the efforts of giants, with surprise and joy mixed with disappointment I came back to the narrow closed horizons where human life, to be what it is, must be lived.

In the Company of Monsters

It soon became clear (from my adolescence on) that I had been born to live among monsters. For a long time they were terrible, then they ceased being terrible and after great virulence they weakened little by little. Finally they became inactive and I lived among them in serenity.

 

 

 

 

 

This was the time when others, still unsuspected, began to form and one day would come before me, active and terrible (for if they were to come and spring up only to be idle and kept on leash, do you think they would ever come?), but after filling the whole horizon with darkness they began to weaken and I lived among them in serenity, unperturbed, and this was a fine thing, especially since it had come close to being so hateful, almost fatal.

 

 

 

 

And they who at first had been so excessive, repulsive, disgusting, took on such delicate contours that despite their impossible forms, one would almost have classed them as a part of nature.
 
 

 

Age was doing this. Certainly. And what was the clear sign of this inoffensive stage? It’s quite simple. They no longer had eyes. With the organs of detection washed away, their faces—although monstrous in form—their heads their bodies were no more disturbing than the form of the cones, spheres, cylinders or volumes that nature displays in its rocks, its pebbles and in many other domains.

The Monster Lobe

After my third relapse, through inside vision I saw my brain all sticky and in folds, macroscopically I saw its lobes and centers, none of which were functioning any more, and instead, I expected to see pus or tumors forming inside there.
 
 

 

As I was searching for a lobe that might still be healthy, I saw one, unmasked by the shrinkage of the others. It was at the height of its activity and a very dangerous activity too, for it was a monster lobe. The more I saw it, the more certain I was.
 
 

 

It was the monster lobe, usually reduced to an inactive state, which, given the failure of the other lobes, suddenly, by a powerful act of substitution, was supplying me with life; but it—the life of monsters—was welded to mine. Now, all my life, I had always had the greatest difficulty in keeping them in their place.
 
 

 

Here, perhaps, was the ultimate attempt of my Being to survive. In what monstrosities I found support (and in what way!), I would not dare relate. Who would have thought that life was so precious to me?
 
 

 

From monster to monster, from caterpillars to giant larvae, I kept on clinging . . . 

The Monster on the Stairs

I met a monster on the stairs. When you looked at him, the trouble he had in climbing them hurt terribly.
 
 

 

Yet his thighs were impressive. He was even, so to speak, all thigh. Two heavy thighs on plantigrade paws.
 
 

 

The top did not seem clear to me. Little mouths of darkness, darkness or . . . ..? This being had no true body, except just enough soft, vaguely moist zones to tempt the dreaming penis of some idle man. But perhaps that wasn’t it at all, and this big monster, probably a hermaphrodite, crushed and bestial, was unhappily climbing a flight of stairs that would no doubt lead him nowhere. (Although I had the impression that he had not set out just to climb a few short steps.)
 
 

 

Seeing him was upsetting, and surely it was not a good sign to have met up with a monster like that.
 
 

 

You could see he was vile immediately. But in what way—that was not at all certain.
 
 

 

He seemed to carry lakes on his undefined mass, tiny lakes, or were they eyelids, enormous eyelids?

In the Hospital

The pain is atrocious. They have given me a room in the hospital at some distance from the others.
 
 

 

I share it with a coughing woman.
 
 

 

No doubt they expected that with the screams my suffering would soon wrench out of me I would destroy the sleep of all the patients in the ward.
 
 

 

No! Every morning I examine my strength on the one hand, and the progress of my pain on the other, and I decide as firmly to hold on today as,irrevocably, the next, to let myself give in to the screams of my infernal suffering that I can now only hold back with extreme difficulty whose overflow is imminent, imminent, if it has not already been reached. Yet the next day again I resist the growing pressure that is well beyond what I thought I would be able to stand.
 
 

 

But why, oh why did they give me a coughing woman who lacerates my rare moments of peace and is shredding to pieces, disastrously, the little continuity I can still manage to keep, in this terrible harassment of pain?

 

—originally published in Epreuves, Exorcismes 1940–1944, Gallimard, 1945; new edition, 1967.)

 

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/.

 

“you masturbate, and you look at the teapots in shopwindows for when you’ll set up housekeeping”


the “Introduction” section from Georges Bataille’s The Blue of Noon:

 

In London, in a cellar, in a neighborhood dive — the most squalid of unlikely places — Dirty was drunk. Utterly so. I was next to her (my hand was still bandaged from being cut by a broken glass.) Dirty that day was wearing a sumptuous evening gown (I was unshaven and unkempt.) As she stretched her long legs, she went into a violent convulsion. The place was crowded with men, and their eyes were getting ominous; the eyes of these perplexed men recalled spent cigars. Dirty clasped her naked thighs with both hands. She moaned as she bit into a grubby curtain. She was as drunk as she was beautiful. Staring at a gaslamp, she rolled round, irate eyes.

 

"What’s going on?" she shouted.

 

In the same instant, like a cannon going off in a cloud of dust, she jumped. From eyes that bulged like a scarecrow’s came a stream of tears.

 

She shouted again: "Troppmann!"

 

As she looked at me her eyes opened wider. With long dirty hands she stroked my sick head. My forehead was damp from fever. She was crying, with wild entreaty, the way one vomits. She was sobbing so hard her hair was drenched with tears.

 

The scene that preceded this nauseous carnival — afterwards, rats must have come crawling over the floor round the two sprawled bodies — was in every way worthy of Dostoevsky.

 

 

 

Drunkenness had committed us to dereliction, in pursuit of some grim response to the grimmest of compulsions. Before being wholly affected by drink, we had managed to retreat to a room at the Savoy. Dirty had noticed that the elevator attendant was very ugly (in spite of his handsome uniform, you might have taken him for a gravedigger.)

 

She pointed this out to me with a distracted laugh. Her speech was already awry — she spoke like a drunk woman.

 

"You know — ", racked as she was by hiccups, she kept stopping short, "when I was a kid . . . I remember . . . I came here with my mother. Here. About ten years ago. So I must have been twelve . . . . My mother was a faded old lady, sort of like the Queen of England . . . So, as it happened, coming out of the elevator, the elevator man — we just saw him —"

 

"Who — him?"

 

"Yes. The same one as today. He didn’t stop it level — the elevator went up too far — she fell flat on her face. She came tumbling down — my mother —"

 

Dirty burst out laughing, like some lunatic. She couldn’t stop.

 

Struggling to find my words, I said to her, "Don’t laugh any more. You’ll never get through your story."

 

She stopped laughing and began shouting: "Oh, my, I’m getting silly — I’ll have to . . . No, no, I’ll finish my story. My mother. Not stirring, with her skirt over her head, that enormous skirt of hers. Like someone dead. Not another stir out of her. They picked her up and began putting her to bed. She started to puke — she was stewed to the eyebrows, except that one second earlier you couldn’t tell — that woman . . . She was like a mastiff. She was scary. "

 

I said to Dirty, abjectly: "I’d like to fall down in front of you, just the way she did. . ."

 

"Would you throw up?" Dirty asked me, without even a smile. She kissed me inside the mouth.

 

"Maybe."

 

 

 

I went into the bathroom. I was very pale. For no reason at all I looked at myself in the mirror for a long time; I was horribly unkempt, almost coarse, with swollen features that were not even ugly, and the rank look of a man just out of bed.

 

Dirty was alone in the bedroom. It was a huge room lighted by a multitude of ceiling lamps. She wandered around, walking straight ahead, as though she would never stop. She seemed literally crazy.

 

Her shoulders were bare to the point of indecency. In that light I found the glitter of her blond hair unbearable. She gave me a feeling of purity nonetheless. Even in her debauchery, there was such candor in her that I sometimes wanted to grovel at her feet. I was afraid of her. I saw that she was worn out. She was on the point of falling down. She began gasping for breath, panting like an animal; she was suffocating. Her mean, hunted look was driving me insane. She stopped — I think her legs were squirming under her dress. There was no doubt she was about to start raving. She rang the bell for the maid.

 

 

 

After a few moments, a redhaired, fresh-complexioned, and rather pretty maid came in. She seemed to gag on the smell. It was a highly unusual smell for so opulent a place: that of a lowdown brothel. Dirty had given up trying to stand on her feet unless she had a wall to lean on. She seemed to be in horrible pain. I don’t know at what point in the day she had smothered herself in cheap perfumes, but in addition to the indescribable state she had gotten herself into, she gave off a sour smell of armpit and crotch which, mingling with the perfume, recalled the stench of an infirmary. She also reeked of whisky, and she was belching…

 

The English girl was aghast.

 

"You’re just the personI need," Dirty announced, "but first you have to get the elevator man. There’s something I want to tell him."

 

The maid vanished; Dirty, now staggering, went and sat on a chair. With great difficulty she managed to set down a bottle and a glass on the floor beside her. Her eyes were growing heavy.

 

Her eyes tried to find me. I was no longer there. She lost her head. In a desperate voice she called out, "Troppmann!"

 

There was no reply.

 

She got up and several times nearly fell. She made it to the bathroom door; she saw me slumped on a bench, haggard and white. In my drunkenness I had just reopened the cut in my right hand. The bleeding, which I was trying to stanch with a towel, was dribbling rapidly onto the floor. Dirty, in front of me, was staring at me with eyes like an animal’s. I wiped my face, thus smearing blood over my forehead and nose. The electric light was getting blindingly bright. It was unbearable, this light that wore out the eyes.

 

There was a knock at the door. The maid came in, followed by the elevator attendant.

 

Dirty slumped onto the chair. After what seemed to me like a very long time, her eyes lowered and unseeing, she asked the elevator attendant, "You were here in 1924?"

 

The attendant answered yes.

 

"I want to ask you — the tall old lady . . . The one who fell down getting out of the elevator and vomited on the floor . . . You remember?"

 

Dirty was articulating through dead lips, seeing nothing.

 

In fearful embarrassment the two servants cast sidelong glances, questioning and observing one another.

 

"I do remember," the attendant admitted. "It’s true."

 

(This man, who was in his forties, may have had the face of a thieving gravedigger, but it was of such an unctuosity that it seemed to have been pickled in oil.)

 

"A glass of whisky?" Dirty asked.

 

No one answered. The two characters stood there in deferential, painful expectancy.

 

 

 

Dirty asked to be given her purse. Her gestures were so sluggish it took a long minute for her hand to reach the bottom of the purse; as soon as she found the stack of banknotes, she tossed it on the floor, saying merely, "Go shares."

 

The gravedigger had found something to do. He picked up the precious stack and began

counting out the pounds aloud. There were twenty in all. He handed ten to the maid.

 

"We may leave?" he asked after a while. "Oh, no, not yet. Please, sit down."

 

She seemed to be suffocating; blood was rushing to her face. Showing great deference, the two servants had remained standing; but they too became red and anxious, partly because of the staggering size of the tip, partly because of the implausible, incomprehensible situation.

 

Dirty remained mutely perched on the chair. There was a long silence: you could have heard our hearts inside their bodies. I walked over to the door, pale and sick, my face smeared with blood; I was hiccupping and on the point of vomiting. In terror the servants saw that water was trickling across the chair and down the legs of their beautiful guest. While the urine was gathering into a puddle that spread over the carpet, a noise of slackening bowels made itself ponderously evident beneath the young woman’s dress — beet-red, her eyes twisted upwards, she was squirming on her chair like a pig under the knife.

 

 

 

The trembling, nauseated maid had to wash Dirty, who seemed calm and content once again. She let herself be wiped and soaped. The elevator man aired the room until the smell had completely disappeared. He then bandaged my cut to stop the bleeding. Things were all back in their proper place. The maid was putting away the last articles of clothing. Washed, perfumed, more beautiful than ever, Dirty was stretched out on the bed, still drinking. She made the attendant sit down. He sat next to her in an armchair. At this point, drunkenness gave her the forsaken candor of a child, of a little girl. Even when she remained silent, she seemed forsaken. Occasionally she would laugh to herself.

 

"Tell me," she at last said to the elevator attendant, "during all the years you’ve been at the Savoy, you must have had lots of repulsive experiences."

 

"Oh, not all that many, "he replied, although not before finishing his whisky, which seemed to give him a boost and restore his composure. "The guests here are

well-behaved, as a rule."

 

"Oh, well-behaved — that’s a whole way of life isn’t it? Just like my departed mother when she took a tumble in front of you and puked all over your sleeves…"

 

And Dirty burst into dissonant laughter, to which, in that emptiness, there was no response.

 

She went on: "And do you know why they’re all well-behaved? They’re scared, do you understand? Their teeth are chattering — that’s why they never dare let anything show. I can sense that because I’m scared myself — yes, my good man, I am. Can’t you tell? Even of you. Scared to death."

 

"Wouldn’t Madame like a glass of water?" the maid asked fearfully.

 

"Shit!" Dirty curtly answered, sticking out her tongue at her, "I happen to be sick, don’t forget that. I also happen to have a few brains in my head. "Then: "You don’t give a fuck, but things like that make me want to vomit, do you hear?"

 

With a mild gesture I managed to interrupt her. As I made her take another swallow of Scotch, I said to the attendant, "Admit that if it was up to you, you’d strangle her."

 

"You’re right,’ Dirty yelped, "look at those huge paws, those gorilla’s paws of his. They’re hairy as balls."

 

"But, Madame," the attendant protested "you know I’m here to oblige you."

 

"What an idea! No, you idiot, I don’t need your balls. I’m feeling sick to my stomach."

 

As she chortled, she belched.

 

The maid dashed out and came back with a basin. She seemed all servility, and utterly decent. I sat there pale and listless. I kept drinking more and more.

 

"And as for you — you, the nice girl, " Dirty began, this time addressing the maid, "you masturbate, and you look at the teapots in shopwindows for when you’ll set up housekeeping. If I had a fanny like yours I’d let everybody see it. Otherwise, one day you‘ll happen to find the hole while you’re scratching and die of shame."

 

Appalled I abruptly told the maid, "Sprinkle some water on her face — can’t you see she’s getting all hot?"

 

 

 

The maid immediately started bustling about. She put a wet towel on Dirty’s forehead. Dirty dragged herself over to the window. Beneath her she saw the Thames and, in the background, some of the most hideous buildings in London, now magnified in the darkness. She quickly vomited in the open air. In her relief she called for me, and, as I held her forehead I stared at that foul sewer of a landscape: the river and the warehouses. In the vicinity of the hotel the lights of luxury apartments loomed insolently.

 

Gazing out at London, I almost wept, I was so distraught with anxiety. As I breathed in the cool air, childhood memories — of little girls, for instance, with whom I used to play at telephone and diabolo — merged with the vision of the elevator attendant’s apelike paws.

 

What was happening, moreover, seemed to me trivial and somehow ludicrous. I myself was empty. I was scarcely even capable of inventing new horrors to fill the emptiness. I felt powerless and degraded. It was in this uncompliant and indifferent frame of mind that I followed Dirty outside. Dirty kept me going; nevertheless, I could not conceive of any human creature being more derelict and adrift.

 

This anxiety that never for a moment let the body slacken provided the only explanation for a wonderful ability: we managed, with no respect for conventional pigeonholes, to eliminate every possible urge, in the room at the Savoy as well as in the dive, wherever we had to.

 

 

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.

 

the opening of donald barthelme’s snow white

Bookseller Photo 
 

 

SHE is a tall dark beauty containing a great many beauty spots: one above the breast, one above the belly, one above the knee, one above the ankle, one above the buttock, one on the back of the neck. All of these are on the left side, more or less in a row, as you go up and down:

 

 

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The hair is black as ebony, the skin white as snow.

 

 

 

BILL is tired of Snow White now. But he cannot tell her. No, that would not be the way. Bill can’t bear to be touched. That is new too. To have anyone touch him is unbearable. Not just Snow White but also Kevin, Edward, Hubert, Henry, Clem or Dan. That is a peculiar aspect of Bill, the leader. We speculate that he doesn’t want to be involved in human situations any more. A withdrawal. Withdrawal is one of the four modes of dealing with anxiety. We speculate that his reluctance to be touched springs from that. Dan does not go along with the anxiety theory. Dan does not believe in anxiety. Dan speculates that Bill’s reluctance to be touched is a physical manifestation of a metaphysical condition that is not anxiety. But he is the only one who speculates that. The rest of us support anxiety. Bill has let us know in subtle ways that he doesn’t want to be touched. If he falls down, you are not to pick him up. If someone holds out a hand in greeting, Bill smiles. If it is time to wash the buildings, he will pick up his own bucket. Don’t hand him a bucket, for in that circumstance there is a chance that your hands will touch. Bill is tired of Snow White. She must have noticed that he doesn’t go to the shower room, now. We are sure she has noticed that. But Bill has not told her in so many words that he is tired of her. He has not had the heart to unfold those cruel words, we speculate. Those cruel words remain locked in his lack of heart. Snow White must assume that his absence from the shower room, in these days, is an aspect of his not liking to be touched. We are certain she has assumed that. But to what does she attribute the "not-liking" itself? We don’t know.

 

 

 

"OH I wish there were some words in the world that were not the words I always hear!" Snow White exclaimed loudly. We regarded each other sitting around the breakfast table with its big cardboard boxes of "Fear," "Chix," and "Rats." Words in the world that were not the words she always heard? What words could those be? "Fish slime," Howard said, but he was a visitor, and rather crude too, and we instantly regretted that we had lent him a sleeping bag, and took it away from him, and took away his bowl too, and the Chix that were in it, and the milk on top of the Chix, and his spoon and napkin and chair, and began pelting him with boxes, to indicate that his welcome had been used up. We soon got rid of him. But the problem remained. What words were those? "Now we have been left sucking the mop again," Kevin said, but Kevin is easily discouraged. "Injunctions!" Bill said, and when he said that we were glad he was still our leader, although some of us had been wondering about him lately. "Murder and create!" Henry said, and that was weak, but we applauded, and Snow White said, "That is one I’ve never heard before ever," and that gave us courage, and we all began to say things, things that were more or less satisfactory, or at least adequate, to serve the purpose, for the time being. The whole thing was papered over, for the time being, and didn’t break out into the open. If it had broken out into the open, then we would really have been left sucking the mop in a big way, that Monday.

 

 

 

THEN we went out to wash the buildings. Clean buildings fill your eyes with sunlight, and your heart with the idea that man is perfectible. Also they are good places to look at girls from, those high, swaying wooden platforms: you get a rare view, gazing at the tops of their red and gold and plum-colored heads. Viewed from above they are like targets, the plum-colored head the center of the target, the wavy navy skirt the bold circumference. The white or black legs flopping out in front are like someone waving his arms over the top of the target and calling, "You missed the center by not allowing sufficiently for the wind!" We are very much tempted to shoot our arrows into them, those targets. You know what that means. But we also pay attention to the buildings, gray and noble in their false architecture and cladding. There are Tiparillos in our faces and heavy jangling belts around our waists, and water in our buckets and squeegees on our poles. And we have our beer bottles up there too, and drink beer for a second breakfast, even though that is against the law, but we are so high up, no one can be sure. It’s too bad Hogo de Bergerac isn’t up here with us, because maybe the experience would be good for him, would make him less loathsome. But he would probably just seize the occasion to perform some new loathsome act. He would probably just throw beer cans down into the street, to make irritating lumps under the feet of those girls who, right this minute, are trying to find the right typewriter, in the correct building.

 

—the opening of Donald Barthelme’s Snow White