"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Reflections: Dada Writ Large

I may do this as an occasional department, titled "Reflections." Mostly just expansions on thoughts that occur to me relevant-- or tangential -- to something else.

So, "Dada Write Large"? I think there's a strong element of Dada in where we are right now, not only as country, but as a world.

Dada was designed to be ghost-like and short-lived. An intransigent and inconsequential mockery of the vain conceit that cultural monuments stood for something immortal, something ever-lasting. Self-immolation was written into Dada's very DNA, its main aesthetic tenant its brevity and self-destructiveness. There are no world-renowned Dadaists on the scale of a Hemingway, or a Shostakovich, or a Picasso, and no Dadaist produced a particularly large body of work-- not least because so many of the good ones killed themselves as the ultimate expression in Dadaist performance art. If you've never even heard of the movement, you're hardly to be blamed-- the Dadaists were simply there one day-- like a wisp of smoke swirling briefly, illuminated by a moonbeam-- and the next were gone. Rarely do artistic movements fulfill their stated intentions so completely-- Dada was a fully-realized, soulless expression of Dionysian excess. A howl of existential despair. And a casualty of war.

Expand that beyond the bounds of "art" (a boundary that I think is artificial and ultimately destructive -- art is about life; when it stops being about life, it loses its value). We've just elected the American id as president, and the world is reeling. (No, it's not just us in a state of shock, although most world leaders are offering at least pro forma congratulations -- albeit with some gentle -- or not so gentle reminders of what our shared values actually are. But if you look at where the most effusive congratulations are coming from -- Golden Dawn, the right-wing exremists in Greece; Marine le Pen, the leader of the neo-Nazi rightists in France; the right-wing extremist premier of Hungary -- you get a very different take on the world's reaction.)

But, back to the Dada aspects of this: The foundation, the part that was stressed by my art history teachers, was a sort of over-riding nihilism. Ironically enough, the last thing on the minds of those who elected Trump was destroying the social order -- just the opposite: they feel that the social order is under attack and they're trying to get back to the "real America" -- the one they grew up with. They're not wired to accept change very easily, but, sadly for them, life is change. That applies to cultures no less than organisms. So there's a new social order that doesn't match their expectations. In trying to get back to the safe, comfortable place they remember, they've taken a step toward destroying what is without any hope of replacing it with what was.

This is instructive:

One thing was certain though -- the Dadaists weren't in the game as mere dilettantes, or hobbyists. Their outrage was real, a genuine reaction to the horrors of the war. And shock and awe (to borrow a modern-day locution) seem to have been their modus operandi. None of the Dada art that survives can be called aesthetically pleasing in any usual sense-- to be displeasing was, after all, the whole idea.

There you have the Trump campaign. Wonder how that's going to translate into the Trump presidency.

Fasten your seatbelts -- it's going to be a bumpy ride.

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