7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on April 19, 2009
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I expected this slim volume, suitable (almost) for carrying in your hip pocket, to be more a work of sardonic humor or a collection of essays about the absurdity of modern life. Instead, Andrei Codrescu has put together a book that traces the Dada Non-Art Movement from its beginnings during WWI to the present. It's also a work of sardonic humor (which is very funny when Codrescu wants it to be), but rather than a series of brief essays, the book follows its themes across almost an entire century. He lets us know that Dada, which eschewed the future and art, had the unintended impact of begetting all manner of art movements, from Surrealism to Abstract Expressionism to the literary style wrongly known as "post-modernism" -- Vonnegut, Barth, Heller, Barthelme, etc.
In the end, Codrescu assures us, art can remain a redemptive force in a world in which the Posthuman has overtaken all other movements and philosophies. As we watch our world steadily become digitized, the general stance of Dada might be exactly what we need. I love this book.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on March 23, 2009
While most people might have heard of the term "Dada," few could actually muster up the courage to define it. What's great about this book is not only its design - it's lovely and small and features provocative art and really nice fonts - but also its willingness to explain Dadaism with Dadaism. Without getting too wacky.
I admire Codrescu's book for two reasons: One, he makes history fun - with loads of examples and insider stories and a sense of humor that is light yet heavy at the same time. He is not afraid to stick it to us "posthumans," reminding us that in our penchant for better iPods, faster Googling, and wireless boob jobs, we are placing the world "in parentheses" (maybe a reference to the structuralist "brackets" of Saussure that one would place actual things in so that the words that we chose to represent those things could be further studied) and are thus missing out on a lot of life.
My second reason for liking this book is that it made me want to seek out the nonsensical, play it up, enjoy life a little. Dada was all about liberating us from our cultural and metaphysical maps that we are so intent on staring at that we miss the scenery. Codrescu reminds us to look up. He does it at the expense of communism, which I can understand in one sense because Dada was born in a place that suffered under dictators who used Marx and Lenin to oppress the masses - the opposite of what communism is supposed to do.
So I guess that's my beef with it: Why you gotta pick on communism, Andrei? You seem to have a radical bent to your philosophy that would inure you to Marxism...Surely you believe that it *could* work and just hasn't or didn't? I don't know that Dada is the answer to the true oppression of the masses. But it was fun learning more about it.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
If you are like me, you always pay attention when Andrei Codrescu recites a commentary on National Public Radio. The man's Romanian accent is unmistakable, even though I can't help being reminded of that of Bela Lugosi and thus of Count Dracula. That Codrescu edits the website "Exquisite Corpse" helps reinforce this reference, but one must remember that "exquisite corpse" was a technique used by Dadaists to add words to a composition in sequence, not knowing what had gone before, and winding up with a sentence like, "The exquisite corpse will drink the new wine." In fact, that was one of the sentences they came up with (in French) when they first played the game, and it gave the game its name. Codrescu is devoted to Dadaists and Dadaism, and now has written _The Posthuman Dada Guide: Tzara & Lenin Play Chess_ (Princeton University Press), which is full of tricks. "Posthuman" is a term that came in science fiction twenty years ago; we are posthumans because technological enhancements allow us to be something more than mere biological specimens. So, as the book says, "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." Not only that, but if you are pursuing the goal of living a Dada life, you won't find this a self-help book worth a nickel. What you might find is a bit of history of the early Dada movement and its stars, a meditation on the continuing importance of Dadaism, and a great deal of sly, desultory, and self-deprecating wordplay. Plus, it comes in a handy, long, slim volume that easily slips into the posthuman's pocket for daily consultation. "We need a guide," says the _Guide_, "that is at once historical and liberating. Or just hysterical and tonic."
At the heart of the book is the chess game played between Tristan Tzara, "the daddy of Dada", and Vladimir Lenin, "the daddy of Communism". And maybe there was such a game, though there is no evidence for it, and no reason even to believe that the two influential thinkers ever met, although it's within the realm of possibility. In 1916 in Zurich, Lenin was making plots just a few blocks from where Tzara was making performances. But as far as Codrescu is concerned, "These two daddies battled each other over the chessboard of history, proposing two different paths for human development." They were both fighting against the tyranny of tradition, but in completely different ways. "Dada played for chaos, libido, the creative, and the absurd. Communism deployed its energy for reason, order, and understandable social taxonomy, predictable structures, and the creation of `new man.'" The game was high stakes indeed. "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." There are plenty of paradoxes here; for one, "These two people do not agree to society's rules, yet they obey the laws of chess!" Also, chess is played without words, but these were both great talkers, silent for the duration. Nothing was the same after the game when the players go their separate ways: "Tristan Tzara to Cabaret Voltaire where the nightly Dada performance is unraveling centuries of certitudes about art, Lenin to a secret meeting with an envoy of the German ambassador Romberg, who will eventually convince the German General Staff to provide Lenin and his list of carefully chosen comrades safe passage to Russia where the Tsar has just abdicated."
There is plenty of history here, unreliable or not, and in its way, the _Guide_ is its own manifesto for the movement. There are many jokes and impenetrable portions, as befits any Dadaist guide. "In current popular discourse," says Codrescu, "nature has come to mean `nature,' or `the nature channel,' and thus is wilderness removed from it and its destructive _and_ creative force neutralized." Dada, the _Guide_ shows, will ever be instructive, puzzling, and entertaining. The _Guide_ is laid out in encyclopedic form, so it need not be read page after page (and perhaps it should be read randomly going from sentence to sentence), but the "organization" is eccentric; for instance, if you want to look up Hugo Ball, who created "The Dadaist Manifesto," remember to look under H for "hugo, ball". "We were mistaken in the previous paragraph," Codrescu at one point explains (or fails to), "the marvelous was not a dog, but a parrot in a gold cage guarded by dogs. We apologize." No apologies necessary.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 8, 2009
The Posthuman DaDa Guide
by Andrei Codrescu
Codrescu's heroes are suitably Romanian: Tzara, Ionesco, Brâncusi, Eliade, & perhaps E. Cioran. Although I've read too few of his books, he is in danger of joining my line-up of dangerous heroes, a band of rebel Jewish exiles: Marx, Freud, Trotsky. (Does the Diaspora never end? Good for Goys, bad for Them?) These guys didn't go or rest easy.
How can we achieve Kensho, seek the True, the Beautiful & the Good while doing DaDa, a risky mocking & collage making of the Present? It seems desirable to have a life of Buddhist tranquility, to practice a Platonic Orientation, & to show the nonsense in our sangsaric, kaleidoscopic world. Codrescu does seem to be calm & to seek those ideals while pointing out the dangerous necessity for smashing, cutting up & rearranging the pieces. [Meditate, seek the Platonic, use Merzian scissors.] And all our postmodern add-ons tend to make us posthumans in need of this unusual help. In the Guide he tells us that the Balkanization of his birthplace contributed to his inclination toward collage [perhaps even to a world view of Welten Merz!].
I hardy dig Codrescu deep enough to locate, mine & put his thoughts & pieces all together--the world's rearranged Mirz is certainly yet to be. For other readers the prospect may be the exciting same. We have the box, we have the pieces, we just don't have the picture. We put pieces down, we pick them up. We slowly turn the rough edges in our hand. We try it here, we try it there. No, not that way--well, turn it 90° or 180°--yes! And repeat & repeat the loop. And partake. And learn. It's Andrei's better world, slowly turning on a different not at all Fascist axis, coming our way, coming into view!
In 1916 his hero, the Romanian Dadaist & collagist Tristan Tzara plays chess with Lenin for the world. Lenin seems to win. The rowdy life of the Zurich dive in which those chess games played out repeats in New Orleans. As Tristan with Vladimir, so Andrei with our incompetent masters. They seem to be winning. But, as the text points out, so did Lenin.
Back in the 60's The Limelighters had a fun/fake "Romania, Romania" folk song. Mamaliga was featured & mocked. I'm not sure now if this porridge is not best eaten cold. Andrei serves his critiques hot & funny, thoughtful & sad. This book is a brilliant examination of the origins & perils of DaDa, the characters, their exile. All this by a multilingual literary genius, wit & social critic. Highly recommended!