Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Here's an article about Flarf being taken seriously.

The origin narrative of writing bad poems for an anthology of some sort is interesting because it is the opposite of the hoaxes of Ernst Malley and Ake Eriksson that I wrote about awhile back (by the way I read the Bernstein article and watched Kent's youtube clip so maybe I'll write about that tomorrow).

But instead of non-avant-gardists imitating avant-gardists to show that avant-gardism is a hoax, flarf hoaxed that anthology in order to create a kind of avant-gardist poetry.

In particular I like this paragraph:

"But then a funny thing happened: Their poems evolved from "bad" to "sort of great," Gardner says. "What we were really doing was throwing out rules that were constraining and ridiculous and weren't fitting anymore. Once we did that, we could do whatever we wanted—we weren't trying to ask: Is this magazine going to like this? Is this poet going to like this? Is my teacher going to like this? We just got rid of all of it and went nuts."

It reads a lot like Ake Eriksson's later admission that he had enjoyed writing his hoax, that he had come to value what he was supposed to be hoaxing.

It also ties into the article from Cabinet that prompted me to write that entry: that there is some element of modern poetry that entails assuming the role of a counterfeiter.


Blogger ag said...

"Taken seriously," in this case, means being accepted into the Poetry Establishment, proper. And insinuating by the halo effect that all Flarf is good poetry.

That the Flarfists are so proud to be featured in Poetry and in Poets & Writers is disappointing and repulsive.

Tristan Tzara is rolling over in his grave.

1:01 PM  
Blogger Iain said...

Where can I find Kent's youtube clip?

1:23 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

He left a link in the comment section to my Ernst Malley entry. But it got cut off. Search for it on youtube... It was from a talk at the Walker in Mpls.


1:26 PM  
Blogger ag said...

The Flarfists have become counterfeiters of counterfeiters and back full circle to counterfeiters.

The fact that they are referred to as "neo-Dadaists" is particularly disturbing. In the middle of the Iraq War, the only thing the Flarfists were "protesting" in the beginning were awful anthologies of bad poetry -- nothing remotely political.

On the other hand, the Dadaists: United in their frustration and disillusionment with the war and their disgust with the culture that allowed it, the Dadaists felt that only insurrection and protest could fully express their rage. "The beginnings of Dada," Tristan Tzara remarked, "were not the beginnings of art, but of disgust."[5] As Marcel Janco recalled: "We had lost confidence in our culture. Everything had to be demolished. We would begin again after the tabula rasa. At the Cabaret Voltaire we began by shocking the bourgeois, demolishing his idea of art, attacking common sense, public opinion, education, institutions, museums, good taste, in short, the whole prevailing order."[6] Through uproarious evenings filled with noise-music, abstract-poetry readings, and other performances, Dada began to voice its aggressive message. While Dada evenings soon became notorious for insurrection and powerful assaults on art and bourgeois culture, it was through Dada journals that the news of this developing movement reached all corners of Europe and even the United States.

The Dadaists weren't an exclusive group of upper middle-class professors and poets, but political protestors championing freedom of expression all over the globe. Rather than being exclusivist, they were all-inclusionary.

1:37 PM  
Blogger françois said...

"The Dadaists weren't an exclusive group of upper middle-class professors and poets, but political protestors championing freedom of expression all over the globe. Rather than being exclusivist, they were all-inclusionary."

Hum, what about Tzara's parents being upper-middle class and thus able to send him to private school? As for inclusivity, what of Tzara's feud with Richard Huelsenbeck?

And what to make of Tzara calling the police on Breton and the Surrealists for disrupting a Dada show in Paris?

2:18 PM  
Blogger Max said...

If an creative engine must always rely on some timely political outrage in order to function "properly" (as per ag's implied model), then I would say that this creative engine is quite limited--crippled even--by its scope.

3:23 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...


Yes Tzara was quite wealthy and also perhaps a rapist. But Hugo Ball and Emmy Hennings were basically starving. Not that this is of such grand importance.

Probably more importance was the inclusivity issue, and here I think they were very inclusive. Tzara and Janco, two Jewish Romanians who baredly could communicate with the Germans, showed up and were immediately brought into the fold etc. Ernst was accepted in Paris at a time when Germany was demonized. More importantly I think Dada represents a kind of aesthetics of homelessness (can't remember the critic who made that argument).

Zurich Dada exhibited art by Futurists, Picasso, all kinds of folks. And also, it spread and permutated between countries in interesting ways.

Their feud with Breton was largely a reaction against Breton's attempt to organize and streamline the avant-garde.

Well I'm exhausted but I will deal with the more important issue tomorrow - politics and why this is such an issue in American culture.


5:06 PM  
Blogger ag said...

Thank you for making my argument about exclusivity more succinctly than I could, Johannes. Dada was not a private American clique with a list-serv that purported that its method of artmaking was a proprietary(TM) formula. As has been noted in many of the debates on Flarf, Google cut-ups were being done by many other people before the Flarfists ever laid claim to the technique. And as Max noted, there is no political impetus behind Flarf except for the advancement of its members' careers in the Academie; hence, its scope is *more* than limited.

6:22 PM  
Blogger Max said...

So you're denying the possibility that the Dadaists might have had a listserv had they gone about their business in the age of the internet?

12:55 AM  
Blogger DUSIE said...

interesting comments here! which I read from the Dada Haus!!! most of the Zürich Dada/ists were foreigners...Arthur Cravan, Arp, Tauber perhaps being the exceptions...Zürich then, in it's reserved way probably assisted in its development...Zürich hasn't changed much btw, and many outside the arts still scoff whenever they hear DADA! they associate with all things freakish and strange...Dusie begins a reading series here in two weeks to be called the DaDuDaSie !!! super excited about that... I do not think academia is even near accepting flarf, btw...this seems more to be tactical...toward garnering readers...etc-

1:57 AM  
Blogger Ross Brighton said...

ag, I'm not sure about that statement about flarf being a means of advancement. I see it as being (potentially) a kind of ... excremental line-of-flight, in a similar way to the ideological foundations of Dadaism and Fluxus, out of territorialised discourses of "craft" and "art". Of course there is the danger/inevitability of reterritorialisation, but in the mean time it'll change things.

and there is the differece between intentionality and effect.

4:33 AM  
Blogger Matt said...

that seems pretty cynical of you, arnold garrison.

(i made up a name for you, ag--initials are lame)

7:00 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Academia has of course accepted Flarf in some quarters. I'm academia and I've taught many flarf books. Thus academia has accepted flarf.

Of course most writing teachers have likely not. And if you wanted to advance in academia, the best thing to do would be to write really inoffensive, indistinct poetry and go hobknobbing at Breadloaf and such places. Not writing poetry about unicorns.

Of course, the question is: is it a bad thing that flarf is taught in colleges? Is it a bad thing that it's published in Poetry Magazine? I obviously don't think so.


7:14 AM  
Blogger françois said...

@angela and Johannes: what I am trying to say is that I find the reification, beatification and glorification of Dada a bit silly. Sure, it's nice to quote Marcel Janco and sure, dada became political, with Tzara joining the Communist Party, but did it start this way? Was Cabaret Voltaire intentionally political? The idea of being faithful to dada when dada is dead is preposterous. I am thinking about one of Tzara's manifesto, where he claims dada does not care about the past or about the future.

Like Max (with whom I am strangely agreeing more and more), I also find it counterintuitive to say that they wouldn't have used listserv, had they been available to them.

Anyway, I don't see what is being achieved in denigrating flarf by comparing it to dada. One, I don't see this group as exclusive. This is not Oulipo. Sure, they will defend themselves from attacks, but those attacks tend to come from more conservative circles. Secondly, I can only see their practice expand. I am thinking about their translation into Italian by Gherardo Bortolotti, as well as Alessandro di Francesco's work, which has taken from flarf. I have thought off and on about translating flarf into French. God knows what's going to happen if it happens. But flarf's flattening of language is a territory that has already been covered in French by Christophe Tarkos and his friends (Gary Sullivan loves Christophe Tarkos).

Flarf might not be overtly political right now, but quite frankly, I don't see why it couldn't be.

10:23 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...


I really don't think I have made any of the points that you ascribe to me here. On the contrary, I agree that it's problematic to idealize Dada. And Flarf has never seemed very exclusive to me.

As far as politics, I think Dada was of course political from the start - I don't think there's any doubt about that (they ended up in Switzerland because of WWI afterall, so they didn't have much choice in the matter). But there is no reason that excludes other adjectives (like fun, ridiculous, grotesque, jazz-band-ish etc).

Time-warp games are fun to play: Dada did have a kind of pan-european list serve (or *was* a kind of pan euro listserve).

So basically I haven't made any of the points you ascribe to me. I've merely filled in a little info about Dadaism.

As my note about the academy makes pretty clear, I don't have anything invested in sell-out arguments. But I acknowledge that Angela might.

It is true that Max is becoming strangely more sensible by the minute.


11:31 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Also, I'm more interested in the idea of the hoax as a paradigm for modern authorship, one that Tzara in some ways began/t.


11:33 AM  
Blogger Angela Genusa said...

I am simply addressing comments elsewhere where I have seen Flarf referred to as Neo-Dadaist, which it is clearly not. Fluxus, yes. Flarf, no. And in a comment somewhere else, it said, "KSM, channeling Tzara...".

As far as the hoax aspect goes, it would have been one thing if they had maintained the level of a hoax for the entire experiment all along. But the righteousness with which they have defended and promoted it, I personally find repulsive.

And they ARE very exclusive. The list-serv is private. There are some 30-31 members (despite only 4-12 being fairly visible), but not just "anyone" can join Flarf.

What new agenda -- political or artistic -- are they promoting? Poems that are worth a few guffaws at the time, that then become wearisome? Or personal career advancement?

I don't find that the "movement" has advanced very far artistically from the days of "Flarf Balonacy Swingle," to "Annoying, Diabetic Bitch."

11:49 AM  
Blogger Matt said...

"And they ARE very exclusive. The list-serv is private. There are some 30-31 members (despite only 4-12 being fairly visible), but not just "anyone" can join Flarf."

yeah but see, you don't have to be an official member of the group to write flarf or flarfesque poems. just like with any other style of poetry, if you read enough of it you can learn "how it works" and then do it yourself. isn't that how pretty much all poetry we read got written? (except for the people who actually start a whole new style, and there can't be more than a handful of them, i'd guess...)

if the flarfists really were exclusive, they'd be all over the place shouting down would-be flarfists, saying "don't try to write flarf, only we can write flarf!" etc. i haven't seen any of them do that...

12:55 PM  
Blogger Max said...

Well, the internet isn't a perfect democracy. This is why, at most of its levels, individuals can have their own administrator's rights, granting access to few and blocking access to many.

Can anybody here seriously argue that it would be a good thing for Flarf if they just let anybody onto their listserv, including the slobbering neanderthals of conservative poesie who'd likely just fill it will trolling and other forms of unwanted disruption (I'm not entirely certain the Flarfists would be against "disruption," necessarily, but rather against the influx of predictable literary dogma).

Judging the democratic values of a style of writing based on the parameters of the listserv used by a few who write in that style seems kind of absurd to me. And why does everything we take part in, at every level of our lives, have to be a reflection of pure democracy to begin with? This is an idea that permeates the American mindset, and with particular gusto on the left. Yes, the Flarf listserv is moderated. Don't worry, they'll be taking away your right to vote in elections soon.

3:30 PM  
Blogger Ross Brighton said...

I'm not particularly interested in these ideas about "exclusivity" - because when it comes down to it, anyone can write a flarf poem, or an oulipo poem for that matter. You don't need to be welcomed into a group/listserv. I think the potential for this dispertion of the paradigm, a kind of "infection" if you will, is very interesting - hence (among other factors) my support of it's acceptance by academia (the host).

6:22 PM  
Blogger Ross Brighton said...

Id' go further than that. I'd say that "inventing a new style" invoves a whole lot of influence too - Just to write poetry in the first place you have to have a concept of poetry to start from, even if there is a lot of rebuilding involved.

7:52 PM  
Blogger Max said...

Ross -

Interesting notion of academia as the "host." But my anxiety about any style/aesthetic--or Writing in general, really--finding its home in academia is that academia really does seem to be the place where things go to die. In the final days of my MFA, I couldn't help but feel as though I was "rising from the dead" in a way. But maybe that's because I was ending a 4 year stint in Alabama. Who knows?

By comparison, I rather like the classical artist/philanthropist patronage relationship, even if it's much more spotty, slapdash, here-now-gone-tomorrow, and most importantly, not nearly as widely available as the MFA system. Because at least there is nothing like a meritocratic pretense to it, which is my main sticking point with writing in academia.

It is an inherently "normalizing" process, which I think is inevitable in any creative community to some extent, but the problem is that the impetus for MFA communities is random and irrational, and leads to a type of normalization that isn't the solidification of a unique set of ideas, but a "hybrid," a compromise, of vastly different sets of ideas. What many of us who've experienced MFA programs know, of course, is that this "hybrid" usually consists of the least offensive, most neutral aspects of each individual's aesthetics, because those are the aspects which inevitably play best in workshops.

Sort of tangential to your pithy comment about academia as host, but yeah...

I'm just worried about the fact that such an active, vocal community--one that I didn't really know existed, to be honest, until I started my MFA--may, by struggling for power within academia, merely be relegating itself to a comfortable graveyard.

9:26 PM  
Blogger troylloyd said...

it's playtime in Flarfland
& the bridal trash basket
goes humptymoon in Alice-hole

difficult intoxication fall down drunk
& stumble this junk lucky tumult,
O my contemporaries
I do not understand alphabetter

nor worse for silly softwares pixelbitten
shitting squeeze thru sweet release
& t.p. bung-hole deathmetal headshop

my mirror writes backward
like redrum killer flick
masking my asstracks
with perfumed toiletries

(swish this gift with jivey jingo)

Q: how many poets does
it take to screw in a lightbulb?

A: it depends on who's asshole
you're screwing it into

kablooey splatch whamwhomp
cartoonish violence popeyes my pipe
kuz felixbag makes moist magic
& gravity ain't nothin but a pianodrop

bunnyduck duckbunny
duckbunny bunnyduck
which is which,
bugsy with daffy dumps,
that's allover folks.

i was very happy to find that someone had posted Massimo Mattioli's " Squeak the Mouse " online, it's like Itchy & Scratchy before there was Itchy & Scratchy

11:24 PM  
Blogger troylloyd said...

witty G stein rabbitquack

12:58 AM  
Blogger Angela Genusa said...

That's not the point, Matt. Read again: The Dadaists weren't an exclusive group of upper middle-class professors and poets, but political protestors championing freedom of expression all over the globe. Rather than being exclusivist, they were all-inclusionary.

3:45 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

I think Angela is right that Flarf's defensive responses to criticism (I'm thinking of the Dan Hoy affair as well as Mike McGee's gay asians) have been low points.

As for MFAs, Max, there's nothing that inherently makes workshops sites of compromise and normalization (though it's often the case).

From what I see it's almost always the opposite, though it's true that I'm coming from an unusual perspective. This normalization is due to an overwhelmingly poor concept of pedagogy which relies on norms as a way of judgments instead of understanding works. But it doesn't have to be that way.

Also, your stance assumes that student come in with radical ideas, when usually they have been taught by professors who have already taught them that this "normalization" is in fact good, what they should go for. It seems like a lot of teaching grad students involves urging them to let go of that and develop their ideas to go all the way.

And of course this valorization of normalcy goes way beyond the undergrad classroom.

So I think you're putting to much blame on the MFA per se.


8:22 AM  
Blogger Ross Brighton said...

Max - I think your right in a way, but what you see as bad things I'm not necessarily against - the death of flarf, for instance. Dada died, surrealism died - it's an ecosystem in which species contribute to the evolution of the whole (literature) then go to their graves (be they in academia or otherwise). A movement or style can't remain edgey forever - poets must evolve.

If this didn't happen we'd all still be writing epics in dactylic hexameter, or the like.

8:23 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

"almost always the opposite.." Well in my experience as a teacher. At Iowa this was not the case, as I have thoroughly documented.

BTW, it's amazing to still get email attacking me for the Iowa post i wrote months ago.


8:33 AM  
Blogger Ross Brighton said...

I agree re MFA's - I Haven't got one (yet), but that seems to mirror my experiences of being in creative writing classes. I was taught by Claire Hero in my second undergrad year, who was amazing, challenging, and hit us up if we weren't giving it all we had. And she introduced me to some amazing work - Such as Lara's, among others. Claire's work is great by the way, worth checking out.

Unfortunately the rest of my experiences weren't so good, or open to non-normative practice - the tutor wasn't prepared for someone like me, and panicked, and tried to make me write more "publishable" stuff - it was messy.

But such experiences are not representative - Seth Abramson's post here is very good (if somewhat vitriolic), especially his comments on pedagogy:

But unfor

8:36 AM  
Blogger Kirby Olson said...

Tzara had a lineage in Romania that included Urmuz, a poet who blew his brains out just to show it could be done for no reason at all.

And before Tzara in Paris was Celine Arnauld, a Romanian woman whose real name was Carolina Goldstein who was married to the poet Paul Dermee (she arrived in Paris in 1915, a few years before Tzara).

She later asked Tzara why she was left out of the Dada histories, and it's probably for the same reason he didn't want anyone to know about Urmuz. When Ionesco translated Urmuz into French in the forties, Tzara blocked its publication.

So things come full circle.

I wrote about some of this in my book on Andrei Codrescu, whose feet are still dipped in Tzara and especially in Urmuz, and especially in the borderline case of serious and not serious, which is a legacy of that particular avant-garde to which I'm glad to see Flarf traced, since now it has roots, like.

9:27 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Tom Sandquist's "Dada East" traces Tzara's roots, not just to Romanian avant-gardism but also to jewish folk traditions.


9:40 AM  
Blogger Kirby Olson said...

I need to read the Sandqvist book. I was in touch with him briefly in the Spring, and sent him my Codrescu book recently.

Also, there is another Swedish connection. Greta Knutsen was a Swedish woman who was married to Tzara in the 20s, I think. They had a house in Montmartre (in the 18th arrondissement of Paris?) that was designed by Adolf Loos.

I saw the plaque once while strolling past.

But Knutsen to my knowledge (was that her name?) has never been translated into English. I don't know her story at all.

10:12 AM  
Blogger Kirby Olson said...

P.S. I found out about Carolina Goldstein aka Celine Arnauld from a new book by Ruth Hemus who teaches at Royal Holloway in London. The book is called Dada's Women (Yale UP 2009). It has the first chapter in english on Arnauld. I had seen her poems in years past in old Dada journals, and her photo appears in many of those journals as the only woman in many. She committed suicide in 1952 a month after her husband Paul Dermee died. Philippe Soupault briefly described this in his book Memoires d'un Oubli 1923-26, published by Lachenal and Ritter).

Tell us sometime what you know about Greta Knutsen if that is her name, and give us her story.

10:17 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Knutsen was a dancer in the Swedish Ballet of paris (also featured in Picabia's film from Relache). I'm not sure she wrote.

I was on a Dada panel with Ruth H in Belgium last summer. That's an interesting project.

10:28 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Of course i meant they were in relache.

10:35 AM  
Blogger troylloyd said...

i dropped out of highschool in the 10th grade & never went to university, so i can't speak very well on the topic of "The Academy".

i can say, however, that for quite a while i held a certain hostility for the Academy, due mainly to the powergrid of control which is imposed via the construction of a canon, but i realized this stance was only a stereotype i was perpetuating, just like most other Americans : a blind anti-intellectual distrust of elitist silverspoon'd eggheadz.

i came to realize that within the Academy there are scholars and those scholars couldn't exist anywhere else. The scholars often have intense enthusiasm & complete methodical research, no matter how insular & exclusive their world is, their work still trickles down
to the "common folk".

i am a fierce autodidactist & take my personal education seriously, even if it is very narrow...the professorial cottage industry of heavy books can be viewed as a parasitic entity, playing a dual role of being host (for the canon), but also feeding off the artists who produce that canon.

Joan Retallack's "Poethical Wager" is one of my favorite books of criticism, it's people like her that i have in mind when i equate "scholar" in a position of redemption...Steve McCaffery as well fits this role...i'm a sucker for such exploratory works because they're dropping things on me that i'd never be able to acquire on my own, however, such works often get weighed down inna density nearly impenetrable, i've been having a hard time trying to read "Imagining Joyce & Derrida: Between Finnegans Wake & Glas".

now, to the topic at hand:
i think perhaps the analogy between DaDa & Flarf may be undue, in that DaDa was a broad body which incorporated a wide variety of artistic pursuit, poetry being just one feather in their flaming wings.

Flarf is soley a poetic movement
so maybe a better analogy would be something like the
after all, Flarf was started as a revenge hoax.

the question then becomes how to equate the level of prestige that Flarf has gained & how they have handled that prestige.

10:59 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Great comment, Troy.


12:07 PM  
Blogger Angela Genusa said...

Yes, Troy, great comment! I'm not good at articulating things sometimes in comment boxes.

1:51 PM  
Blogger Kirby Olson said...

Greta Knutson wrote tons and tons, in French and in Swedish. She was mostly a critic, but she also painted, and collaborated with Breton and others on Exquisite Corpses, and many other things. She painted Giacometti, and had lots of other friends, and influences, and was rather a prominent intellectual. I don't think she ever danced at least not for a living.

1:52 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

I must have confused her with some other Swedish woman moving in these circles. Did you ever read her writings?


2:25 PM  
Blogger Kirby Olson said...

No, I haven't. There is now a volume in French. I could read it, but I don't have it. I think when I originally read about her in Wikipedia, I thought she was writing in Swedish, which I can't read.

She is not one of the women named in Dada's Women, or at least she doesn't get a whole chapter.

So, no. I saw an Exquisite Corpse that she made with Breton and Tzara, but I didn't know which part of it was hers (which was the point of those things).

3:31 PM  
Blogger Max said...


I don't know about that. It seemed that a lot of people I knew came into the MFA program with more radical ideas, and quickly learned that workshops were where they went to have their ideas serially misunderstood or tampered down. But you're right, I think it can happen both ways ... you can come in with traditional ideas and become more radical, or the reverse can occur. Of course, this just demonstrates the normalizing factor of the average MFA program: it will radicalize traditional notions and traditionalize radical notions, but only within a "reasonable" margin in each case. It's the equivalent of going into a sound editing program and cutting off the highest and lowest frequencies on a song.

As always, mileage will vary. You can easily go into an MFA program and just ignore all the things you don't like, and take only the useful criticism to heart. But I think there is something inherent in the university setting that creates the general problem of normalization. The first being that what we're doing is not writing, but research. This automatically implies that there is a "right" mindset to be in ... not necessarily a set style or form or anything like that ... but a research mindset is a definite way of thinking about what you're doing, what your role is in the university setting, etc. Second, "peer review" is a unique and necessary part of how universities grant credibility on graduate students. Yes, I'm sure we all learned to take workshop feedback with a grain of salt, but the implication of such a system is that your peers must keep you in line, make sure you're following a methodology, even if it's only a very basic, skeletal one. Again, you can avoid it, but the basic premise is inherent in academia, so avoiding it must be a proactive thing on your part.

So I do think that there are some qualities inherent to the university setting that make it impossible for MFA programs to break out of much of the dullery they've become associated with. Sure, program chairs could get radical and eschew all of the traditional constraints of academia, but how long will it be before the deans come knocking? After all, they can only indulge so much non-academic fluff before it begins to threaten institutional credibility. At UA, the MFA program was treated as sort of a token "art thing" to soften the university's image, etc. But I can't imagine most MFA programs--especially those without healthy endowments--enjoy the same status. Are tenure-track MFA professors really going to risk their jobs just to ease the constraints of traditional academia? I'm skeptical that they would.

6:30 PM  
Blogger Kirby Olson said...

I personally think Breton was on the right track to try to correct the excessive nihilism of Dada and to try to reinstitute some norms at least with regard to aesthetic quality, if not also to the global political realities of his time. Art isn't just a plaything, a hobbyhorse, but opens up to basic questions of why we're here, and what we're doing. Hoaxing can pull down a corrupt structure, but there is also the question of erecting a structure that provides vision and insight. Jesus was the best at this and is still the very forefront of the avant-garde at least until the MFA programs can teach poets to walk on water.

6:56 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

I think it's reductive to say that Dada didn't do anything except tear down. In many ways, things they came up with are still very influential (though more so in art than in poetry). And in their "hobbyhorsing" Dada clearly raised some very profound questions and critiques. I totally reject this characterization of dada.


5:44 AM  
Blogger Kirby Olson said...

I want to read Codrescu's new book in favor of Dada from Princeton UP.

I saw it on the front desk of Book Culture near Columbia UP last week, but didn't buy it, and wish I had. Two young women behind the counter were discussing it with a young man. They seemed to think it was thrilling.

I see Codrescu as a kind of Kierkegaardian knight of faith but with Dada instead of Christianity as his creed.

Aligned against the giant Hegelian-Marxist machine, it's like a rock thrown in favor of butterflies, a rock speeding toward the head of Goliath.

6:02 AM  
Blogger Kirby Olson said...

Johannes, why not give a few concrete examples of what you think Dada built? you were very vague about this.

10:43 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...


Dada's influence is really too huge to quickly note - but how about all the art of the 1960s? Happenings (the event-based idea of art that is still with us), the assemblages, the beats, various uses of montage, readymades etc. And by art, we could also note in literature, the influence on various underground movements as well as the direct influence on Ashbery and Berrigan etc.

A lot of this had to do with Motherwell's "The Dada Poets and Painters" and various museum shows (there was a famous Hulten-curated show at Moderna Museet in Stockholm).

As far as it being nihilistic; it did come largely out of an anti-nationalistic, anti-western idea. As Dada moved across borders it seems to have been largely seen as representative of the foreign and the modern; so to embrace it meant to embrace the un-national.

I don't know if that makes it nihilistic; if so, I'm totally proudly nihilistic.

And also, in Berlin they tried a variety of means of combating the rise of Hitler and Nazism with various publications, events and posters.


7:38 AM  
Blogger troylloyd said...

i totally agree w/ Johannes about this mischaracterization of DaDa.

a so-called pathos of "excessive nihilism" didn't just come out of thin air. Look at the cultural climate in Europe at the time! Any reactionary force was pushed to the extremities in order to make sense/desense of it all. In this manner, "excessive nihilism" is much more effective than "sublime naturalism".

Many of the dadaists were deep in the trenches during The Great War & suffered from shock after witnessing firsthand the grim bloody realities of war, what better way to exorcise the demons than to confront them head-on & rip the demons to hellish shards?

As far as poetry goes, DaDa was exemplar, one of my alltime favorite poems is this:


A b c d e f
g h i j k l
m n o p q r
s t u v w
x y z

---Louis Aragon 1920

& of course, the great dadadaddy Francis Picabia:


Sinister right - dexter left -superior hypocrisy
Spirits without light and Don Quixotes
Arts starboard, red and green port
without vessel.
Why change men into animal fetuses.
My tongue becomes a road of snow
Circles are formed around me
In bathrobe
Exterior events
Modern ideas
Profound artists reunited in canon
who deceive
Artists of speech
Who have only one hole for mouth and anus
I am the lover of the world
The lover of unknown persons
I am looking for a Sun.

- 1917

MIT Press has issued a wonderful collection of Picabia's writing, called I AM A BEAUTIFUL MONSTER & these translations have been long overdue.

"When he broke with Dada, Picabia wrote that the movement would live forever from people cashing in on it. He may not been able to anticipate the pseudodada trinkets for sale at museum exhibitions, but he knew dealers would make fortunes on the paintings well into the future. It was probably wishful thinking on his part, however, to predict that publishers would “treat themselves to cars” as a result of publishing Dada writing. Picabia’s publishers may or may not turn a profit on his words, but they thankfully succeed in keeping his thoughts alive."

11:43 AM  
Blogger troylloyd said...

(Your HTML cannot be accepted: Must be at most 4,096 characters)

Also, Kurt Schwitters' M E R Z B A U was far from nihilistic:

"The artist once remarked that everything that was of any importance to him was contained in the Merzbau. This statement refers not only to Schwitters' ideas and overall artistic concept but also to concrete, everyday objects: souvenirs of friends and other things of sentimental value were stored in niches and later walled in. There were grottoes, for example, for Hans Arp and Theo van Doesburg, two caves for Hannah Höch, a cave for Lissitzky and one for Mies van der Rohe, as well as grottoes dedicated to abstract things and ideas, e.g. a Goethe Grotto, a Murderers' Cave, and even a "Love Grotto". Consequently, the Merzbau was also a kind of "constructed autobiography, a building of personal and historical reminiscences. "

Another good example would be the work of John Heartfield , literally putting his life in danger, he didn't leave Europe until 1938, by counterattacking the Nazi propaganda machine with photomontage -- i would equate him to be the best montage collagist of all times.

Here is quite an indepth essay on the topic of DaDa's contributions, written by Jean-Jacques Thomas, the pdf can be found : h e r e :
, (the pdf has a font which is a bit askew, however, it's a very fitting font in relation to the subject matter, anyways, a more legible html version can be found * here * .

& here is a small excerpt:

"Every literary period has its monsters, and the tremors they produce often tell us more about the underlying displacements that make up the phenomenon of literature than the historical moments that literary historians dredge up in their search for a text's meaning. If the term avant-garde has any value at ail it is not as a name for the passing phenomenon of "fashionable" texts, but instead as a symptom of certain theoretical and practical issues that push writing's potential to its outer limits. Dada plays just such a role by fathoming the deepest recesses of our modernity and bringing to the fore certain principles that writing continually refuses to avow. Dada still engages interest, seventy years after its passing,whereas simultaneism, futurism, unanimism, paroxysm, and ultraism (to cite only a few) have long since been relegated to the dungeons of literary history. This is because the Dadaist project illustrates two procedures that are fundamentally poetic: a recourse to the fragment form and a basic refusal of language's role as an organized system of intersubjective communication. In order to set the following analysis in its proper framework, we begin by considering two issues that merit more elaborate treatment, as well as a broader application,than the one given here. Since this essay is of a limited scope we shall merely propose them as practical axioms delineating the contours of a general argument that certain Dada texts serve to illustrate."


11:44 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

The Picabia book is great. I reviewed it for Raintaxi last year.


11:47 AM  
Blogger Kirby Olson said...

Lots of tearing down. I still don't see any upbuilding discourse within Dada. This is what Breton objected to. Breton's politics are a lot more astute than Tzara's. Tzara ultimately joined the communist party. Breton was done with them by the early 30s and kept the door open to other ideas...

There are thousands of surrealists in Scandinavia now who are adapting their thinking to Lutheranism.

I think that Tzara and co. originally came out of Schopenhauer, and just wanted to unleash the chaos of the id to show people what it was.

They thought there was only that in life.

But it's possible to make institutions that are good father figures. This is what we must strive for -- we don't have to totally denounce the superego and get rid of all shalts.

Being against the Nazis is a no-brainer, even when it might cost you your life, it is still a no-brainer.

It takes guts, perhaps, but not thinking. What takes thinking is to create democracies, and reasonable institutions. Dada has not helped at all in that regard.

You need institutions that last longer than the life of a single being, and to which many people are devoted, and through which the life of a community can be positively directed.

The Dadaists gave up on that thanks to their experience in the trenches (Tzara escaped this), but they never did the hard work that people like Hannah Arendt did, in terms of imagining alternatives to Nazism.

It must still be done. Don't give up on this. Just creating exciting explosions individual orgasms isn't enough. We need something to offer to children, too, and to the feeble-minded, and the broken in spirit.

2:38 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...


You haven't really reasoned with the points Troy and I made. you're using a cliche idea of Dada.

I don't knwo what you mean by your Scandinavian comment.


5:55 PM  
Blogger Kirby Olson said...

Johannes, I was probably joking. I didn't understand your points well enough, I think.

I think you are working with old ideas of Dada, in fact, working with Tzara's own ideas of Dada, which were placed as dynamite against the problems (nationalism, for example) which they saw as what had ignited the problems of WWI.

And then they saw in the 40s the notion of internationalism as something along the lines of an answer.

But I wasn't really sure if this is what you were thinking, so I was joking around a little, trying to shake a nut loose.

Sorry, I don't know enough about your thinking to engage any better than that, and don't know Troy at all.

My best, Kirby

6:58 PM  
Blogger Kirby Olson said...

I guess you could say that those ideas (nationalism, etc.) were once thought to be the problem. Soupault was still talking like that in his dotage, but they really aren't the problems.

The problem (I think) is to create norms as laws that people can live with, and yet provide the best modes of life possible for the majority.

This seems to me to be largely a religious question, posed against the notions of Democracy versus one-party rule (within any given country).

Dissolution of borders and all that which the Dadaists were working on doesn't seem relevant to our time, and is probably in fact irrelevant.

I mean, you can't make it happen, and I can't make it happen, so it ought to be discarded as a realistic strategy. To the extent that it is happening -- for instance, the porous border with Mexico -- it is largely a social disaster, as people from countries that can't make norms and laws spill into what's left of a country that can.

And thereby disrupt what's left of the order on this side of the border.

At any rate, I don't think our mental universes can quite engage at this point.

So I wish you the best.


7:02 PM  
Blogger Kirby Olson said...

I had to think more about how to further the conversation.

The main thing is that when and where there's a problem people describe the problem. A bad description can become part of a bad prescription.

If the problem is: there are too many Jews, the prescription might be, let's lessen the number of Jews, or kill them off entirely.

If you follow the description, then you can understand the most likely prescription.

In WWI, the notion was that nationalism had caused the war between France and Germany. The solution would then be to create internationalism, and thus the EU is born eighty years later. It might work in ending war between France and Germany. The other problems that this particular prescription might ultimately cause have yet to emerge.

In our current tussles, many see the church as having too much power, so that it prevents gays from marrying, and discourages people from having all the sex they want and then settling up by killing unwanted babies that are the unfortunate side effect of having rampant sex without thinking at all, and using the CDC to patch up all the sexual diseases that inflame the genitals of those engaged in the sexual revolution. But the church says just say no, no to abortion and no to extramarital sex. So the prescription of the left is to destroy the church.

Dada would have found REASON ITSELF to be part of the problem, and that the prescription was to ask the unconscious to step forward. To release the ID created as a side result a release of the marvelous, and it is marvelous to see the poems of the era, as they are in many ways ecstatic fascinating poems (Picabia is fascinating).

If you follow the description carefully, you can then follow the the prescription.

So, to spit on priests or on anyone who represents a father-figure, and to unleash the elements of the mind thought demonic, and to destroy national borders became the prescription for the problem.

I think it was interesting, but not sufficient, in the long run. We have deeper problems now.

How is Dada going to help us in our issues with the Islamic peoples?

Dada is largely a Jewish secular response, arising from within Romania, in particular. It didn't work. Almost all those Jews have now been dispersed, or gassed.

Romania had 2 million Jews before WWII. Now they are down to about ten thousand.

Some got out and live in Israel, or elsewhere. But how exactly will Dada help the remaining Romanian Jews to survive?

If survival is the description of the problem, how will Dada prescribe an answer? It did provide answers that at the time seemed right, but ultimately, they didn't help.

Nazis did overrun borders, and destroy everything in sight. In a sense, they WERE DADAISTS, in that they wanted to destroy western civilization in order to save it.

Somehow, I think we need to turn elsewhere for a prescription to the problems we face. The Lutheran churches of Scandinavia and elsewhere, seem to have some of the answers, at least to me.

6:54 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...


Art will not provide you with a foreign policy.

Dada was not about the ID. That's more of a Surrealist idea.

The Nazi connection is ridiculous. You are working with these extreme simplifications and stereotypes of Dadaism.

I'm not saying Lets go Dada 2009. I'm saying it was an important and influential art movement in the 1910s and 20s.


7:36 AM  
Blogger Kirby Olson said...

Johannes, I have no argument about your last statement: that Dada was an important and influential art movement in its own day.

But I do argue that art also in one way or another does influence politics. Tzara was very interested in political questions not only when he was in Zurich, but throughout the period in Paris.

All the Dadaists and all the surrealists were interested in questions of foreign policy. Tzara ended up working within splinter groups of the French communist party. Breton made important pronouncements with regard to Vietnam, China, and whether or not LF Celine should be rehabilitated.

Soupault ran Radio Tunis -- an important anti-Vichy radio service for which he was imprisoned during WWII.

Artists must be interested in foreign policy, and all the better ones were.

I agree that Dada was and moreover IS important.

But it doesn't offer sufficient intellectual resources for us to fight either Nazism, or Islamic revolutionists, or many other current problems.

For that, I suggest a look at the resources within Lutheranism.

Not only did Lutheran countries successfully fight off the Nazis (the Finns made a temporary alliance with Hitler to stave off Stalin, but ultimately drove out the Nazis at tremendous cost). Mannerheim never gave up one Jew.

Within Nazi Germany, Dadaism did nothing. Within Vichy France, Dadaism was more or less inept at dealing with Nazi horrors. Lutherans within Germany did attempt assassinations, but failed. Nevertheless, the church remained intact, and was one of the few surviving institutions that could speak against the Nazis. For this, the Soviets allowed the church to stand after the takeover by Stalin of the East bloc.

The Danish also fairly successfully defended their Jews.

In Norway, the Lutheran church remained a bulwark against the Nazis. their bishop remained under house arrest throughout the occupation.

Throughout the East bloc in the communist period Lutheranism remained a bulward against communist totalitarianism. And in Romania's Timisoara in 1989 it was a Lutheran church under Bishop Tokes that started the explosion that ended with the downfall of N. Ceausescu.

If you're not interested in these things, but are only interested in artwork per se, as a closed entity, that has no repercussions outside the realm of art history, then that's fine.

I personally don't find it to be a sufficient vision. I think there must be some larger vision emerging from art if it is to be of any consequence.

Ecology, art, politics, poetry, science, and other areas are not disconnected. At least in my world!

Best to you and yours,

Kirby Olson

8:31 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

I agree that art is political, but I don't think it is likely to provide you with a specific law or something like that. It's absurd to argue that Dadaism failed in this regard because very few art movements have succeeded in this regard to create specific policy.

You're totally overidealizing Scandinavia and Lutheranism.


8:47 AM  
Blogger Kirby Olson said...

Lutheranism is not an ideal, nor is it idealistic, which is why it functions so well (Two Kingdoms ideology).

All the contemporary art movements needed some kind of moral structure. Surrealist thought outbid the Dadaists because it claimed to at least be moving in that direction (they Marxism, then anarchism, then guttered out into occultism). Existentialists then outbid the surrealists (the young during the war wanted something that offered more than fun and games and they found it in the engagement of existentialist thought).

Now that the wall has fallen and almost everyone has given up on Marxism because of its atrocious if short history, where to turn?

Dada will not make a comeback unless it's allied with something.

The realism of Luther is what makes Scandinavia so successful in terms of providing a modicum of justice, and a modicum of freedom.

All five countries of Scandinavia do not have even the population of France, but I think they are worth looking at, but the Lutheran substrata is what has made them functional.

I'm not talking about ideals. Well, I am, but I want it underwritten with realism. Wow, did Luther sort THAT out.

that's why I'm proposing that surrealism return under the doctrine of Luther. It's inevitable that this will be the next great wave, if there is to be any future. Any future beauty in the arts will be Lutheran surrealist, or else it will be only compulsive, if not convulsive, but even that will not be conclusive, or exclusive.

sorry, I got carried away at the end.

1:29 PM  
Blogger Ross Brighton said...

This is ridiculous. Calling a religious movement, or any movement for that matter "realist" is a category mistake.
And having Dada or Surrealism "return under the doctrine of Luther" is patently absurd, as both, in their ideological functionings, were anti-doctrinal (to greater or lesser degrees).

And there's more than a little conflation going on -surrealism one moment, Dada the next....

8:39 PM  
Blogger Kirby Olson said...

There's a messianic impulse in surrealism at least, and Breton clearly chose religious thinkers to guide him. Hegel and even Fourier were quite Christian (Hegel was a very strong Lutheran, and even Marx frequently cited Luther, especially when Luther discussed not wanting to send German money to the Pope, or wanting to spend money on indulgences, and to get down to brass tacks so that people could eat and survive -- Luther provided a strong underpinning for Marxist economics).

In Nadja and in other texts you find tremendous passages about the occult, which was surely a kind of religious movement. Breton later on cites Gurdjieff, who was a Sufi-inspired Armenian gnostic, with lots and lots of Orthodox Greek ideas mixed in (truly synthetic). Rene Daumal knew Gurdjieff personally, and worked with him from time to tmie.

You can't separate out these strands. You definitely can't say that the surrealists were secularists pure and simple.

As for Tzara and the Dadaists they ended up working with the surrealists and being invited back into the fold. There was never a clear division. Soupault was ejected in 1926 for having remained a Dadaist, remained true to Dadaism, but in the forties during WWII, and after, he and Breton began to see one another again, and remained on friendly terms until Breton's death in 1966.

Tzara and Breton were on friendly terms, too.

There was never a clear break. They inspired one another throughout.

In terms of the marvelous, which was the great surrealist term, what could be more marvelous than someone walking on water, making delicious wine, and serving fish to thousands of people out of a single fish?

Dali is clearly inspired by Christ, and his imagery recalls Christian piety in many cases.

Again, there's no clear separation. Breton had grown up very Catholic, and never really left it. He is constantly talking about miracles, and the marvelous.

He was upset that the church backed WWI, as was Soupault, but there are still angels around every corner in their verses, and even in the paintings of Ernst, and others, they draw on Christian imagery, rather constantly.

Christ was the first surrealist.

9:46 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home