DADA is not DEAD, It’s simply EDAD. AEDD. DAED. DDEA. DDAE. DEAD.
There is a literature that does not reach the voracious mass. It is the work of creators, issued from a real necessity in the author, produced for himself. It expresses the knowledge of a supreme egoism, in which laws wither away. Every page must explode, either by profound heavy seriousness, the whirlwind, poetic frenzy, the new, the eternal, the crushing joke, enthusiasm for principles, or by the way in which it is printed. On the one hand a tottering world in flight, betrothed to the glockenspiel of hell, on the other hand: new men. Rough, bouncing, riding on hiccups. Behind them a crippled world and literary quacks with a mania for improvement.
This is the opening of Tristan Tzara’s Dadist Manifesto from 1918: Quite a bold statement. We are nearly six years away from celebrating the centennial of the Dadist’s initial quest for liberation and questioning of aesthetics and social norms. As I ponder this statement I wonder whether or not it still echoes in the spaces that reason has been unable to fill. If we step back and look at where we are culturally, I think we can find the spirit of Dada is still alive, thought alive in a more subtle way, and perhaps for a different purpose. I should clarify that for this article, the Dada that I write about is less about the Nihilist Philosophy of an abstract idea (like say Taoism), but rather in the sense of Dada being more of a verb, an action as to how we apply its principles in our everyday lives and decisions. This brings me to David Brooks.
David Brooks compelling book Bobo’s in Paradise explores the unlikely marriage of Bohemian ideals to Bourgeois lifestyle. It was a progression through the 20th century toward a transfer of wealth from the old aristocratic elite, to a new educated elite; an elite that places more value of wealth in education and life experience, instead of just being born into high class society. This new educated elite has different values, desires, and views on the essence of a happy life. In the arena of life and art, Bobos in Paradise evokes the spirit of surrealistic agitation of the Dadists of a century ago. In relation to Dada, it seems Brooks would contend that the educated elite probably view Dada as a pretentious, high-brow philosophy, but at the same time a spiritually enlightening life to try on for a day. Furthermore and perhaps more importantly, today’s Bobo class would view Dada as an opportunity in counter-cultural capitalism; because the credo of Bobo culture is “What can I get out of this that is useful to furthering my business as well as my knowledge of life?” Here’s a brief synopsis of David Brooks’ views of Bobo life.
There are hordes of educated youth coming out of college, looking for work, but more importantly looking for work that will enhance a reason for existence. Caught in dichotomies, the youth of today want to live their lives to the fullest, we want time off, we value independence, and we place friendships higher than corporate jobs.
However, we also are searching for a career that is going to fulfill us, and we are more competitive and obsessed with finding this work than the generation before. We hold life so precious and so fleeting that we refuse to waste our time in doing anything that is not seeking our own happiness. Life is too short. Now it’s, “I look for a job that completes me.” We have careful planning around spontaneity. We look outward to other cultures for adventure and seek out the spirituality offered in traveling and mingling with people in far off lands. Furthermore, we don’t just ground ourselves in one community; we seek out many communities as we move around searching for the next adventure. Brooks likens it to channel surfing; tempted by the possibility of there a being a better program than the one we’ve settled on leaves us in a constant search of something better, thus we never end up really watching anything.
The summit that we seek has become the idea of “Experience”. Life is seen as a collection of experiences that enhance one’s spirituality and knowledge of existence: Not quite Nihilist like the Dadas, which seemingly believed that nothing had meaning. (I personally do not believe the Dadists were Nihilists; if they were they wouldn’t have bothered creating anything) Nihilism was not meant to be an end in itself, but used merely as a tool to ask questions, to challenge, rather than become complacent in the ideas of aesthetics. Nihilism was used as a disobedience to challenge the established social and cultural mores and gain a new aspect of beauty. In doing so it found that all was beautiful and at the same time, all was ugly. This idea continued and evolved with the Surrealists, and eventually led to Post-Modern Art. It is in this spirit of questioning that directly relates the Dadists to today’s Bobo’s.
Today’s culture is tied to commerce, to capitalism, and consumption. It runs our lives and I think many of us certainly become Nihilist’s from time to time in that regard. Because of this, there is the longing for many to escape this modern world. Deep down, we are all caught in the machine of consumption but the inner self wishes for the simple life. We seek balance in our busy schedules; we seek relief from the ever-pressing weight of money and bills. We see life as something more valuable than buying a home, starting a family, and working for the Company.
These attitudes are derived out of two things: the competitive spirit of our day and age, and the impact of the University system of education. The University taught us to appreciate the History of Greek Art and Philosophy as well as Accounting and the Stock Market. And today’s Bobo’s feel like they want to have both in their lives.
Dada was a seeking of nothingness. It was a rebellion against all things conventional, it was anti-war, it was environmental, and it sought a “getting back to nature.” It seems to me that these attitudes still exist very strongly today, people have a deep rebellion within them, however we also want our latte. And though we value uncertainty, we long for stability. We want the authentic feeling of freefall, but we are too afraid to take the leap. It’s interesting that we are coming upon the twentieth anniversary of Nirvana’s Nevermind. That was a record that really brought Dada back. Well, these are the same contradictions that caused Kurt Cobain to take his own life. We are caught in the hypocrisy of commerce and freedom. Pureness in art inevitably becomes a commodity, and once it does, it’s tainted.
And what about the art community? We can’t help but think that the lack of funding due to illegal downloading on the surface seems like a tragedy, but it is also an opportunity. Musically and artistically, it is cleaning house. Now more than ever the artist has to take it upon herself to create what’s truly in her heart. Not only that, but she has the option to reach the “Voracious Mass” if she so chooses. And the Voracious Mass has the ability to choose its art based on what it is seeking, not on what it’s being fed. And that brings us full circle. The responsibility is back on the artist to question aesthetics, because if they don’t, Bobo’s won’t buy it.