The Posthuman Dada Guide
The Posthuman Dada Guide, by Andrei Codrescu, is far more than its title suggests. While it does survey the birth, development, and continuing influence of Dadaismthe early twentieth century antiart and antiwar movement that laid the groundwork for Surrealismit also explores Dadaism’s relationship to other sociocultural, philosophical, and political movements of the early twentieth century, as well as the movement’s roots in western European artistic developments, eastern European history, and the Jewish experience. Moreover, Codrescu weaves into the book his own unique experiences in postwar Rumania and America, as well as his encounters with countercultural figures and contemporary poets. The result is a fascinating blend of cultural history, philosophical exploration, and personal narrativewith Dada at its core.
Codrescu’s organizational method places The Posthuman Dada Guide within the category of the ABC book, an eastern European nonfiction literary form composed of brief, alphabetically arranged essays. The structure is reminiscent of a game of chess, in that there is a rigid organizational principle within which there may be many interesting and unexpected juxtapositions of pieces. The form also allows the author to follow a nonlinear path that nevertheless possesses a structural sequence.
Chess also represents an explicit organizational thread in The Posthuman Dada Guide, resulting from the intellectual environment in which the movement began. Codrescu describes the culturally rich environment of Zurich, Switzerland, in 1915, when poet Hugo Ball and his wife Emmy Hennings transformed the Meierei Restaurant into the Cabaret Voltaire, the birthplace of Dada. Fleeing the insanity of World War I, many of the twentieth century’s greatest philosophers, poets, and artists found their way to Zurich, where they joined with native Swiss talent to form an amazingly creative and intellectual sphere that included James Joyce, Vladimir Lenin, Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, and early Dadaists such as Tristan Tzara and Richard Huelsenbeck.
In this fertile environment, major artists and thinkers often crossed paths, and Codrescu imagines that in 1916, Lenin and Tzara, the founder of Dadaism, met in the Café de la Terrasse, an important Dadaist haunt just up the street from Lenin’s apartment, and played a game of chess. For Codrescu, this chess match symbolizes the conflict between communism and Dadaism, and he poses the question: Which side won? Soviet-style communism ended in 1991, making it appear that Dadaism triumphed, but according to Codrescu, the contemporary world still lacks creative, emotional, and spiritual joy. As Codrescu writes, “Could it be that late-capitalism posthumans have arrived in a leninist future without communism?” Throughout The Posthuman Dada Guide, Codrescu returns to this chess game as the book’s touchstone.
Codrescu finds the roots of Dadaism in ancient poet-philosophers such as Orpheus, Sappho, Lao-tzu, and the Zen beggars who challenged the established order and announced the freedom found beyond conventional understanding. This spirit continued in the Middle Ages with its wandering troubadours, commedia dell’arte theatrical troupes, and the visual and sexual excesses of annual festivals. In the early twentieth century, this bohemian thread combined with the last poetic utterances of the symbolist movement, the dawn of modernism, the psychology of Freud and Jung, the new physics of Einstein, and the radical artistic visions of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Then, the violent absurdities of World War I called into question the European framework of governmental authority, capitalism, nationalism, family, and the Christian worldview.
This general portrait of the early twentieth century suffices to explain the origins of Dadaism in most classic explorations of the movement. Codrescu, however, as a Romanian Jewan identity he shares with Tzarabrings to The Posthuman Dada Guide a deeper understanding of Dada’s ethnic and regional sources. To Codrescu, it is no accident that a Romanian Jew founded Dadaism. Tzara and his childhood friend Marcel Janco brought to Zurich, according to the author, “the knowledge of Balkan cultures deeply invested in vivid folk traditions rife with supernatural creatures, ritual masking, pre-Christian fairy tales, drinking songs, bawdy skits, and mystery plays.” Codrescu explains that many of these folk traditions emerged from Jewish cultural institutions such as Yiddish theater, which blossomed...
(The entire section is 1872 words.)