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The AustralianErudite, witty, often demented, Codrescu's book is an excellent introduction to the matter and spirit of dada.
— Justin Clemens
"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."—The Posthuman Dada Guide
The Posthuman Dada Guide is an impractical handbook for practical living in our posthuman world—all by way of examining the imagined 1916 chess game between Tristan Tzara, the daddy of Dada, and V. I. Lenin, the daddy of communism. This epic game at Zurich's Café de la Terrasse—a battle between radical visions of art and ...
"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."—The Posthuman Dada Guide
The Posthuman Dada Guide is an impractical handbook for practical living in our posthuman world—all by way of examining the imagined 1916 chess game between Tristan Tzara, the daddy of Dada, and V. I. Lenin, the daddy of communism. This epic game at Zurich's Café de la Terrasse—a battle between radical visions of art and ideological revolution—lasted for a century and may still be going on, although communism appears dead and Dada stronger than ever. As the poet faces the future mass murderer over the chessboard, neither realizes that they are playing for the world. Taking the match as metaphor for two poles of twentieth- and twenty-first-century thought, politics, and life, Andrei Codrescu has created his own brilliantly Dadaesque guide to Dada—and to what it can teach us about surviving our ultraconnected present and future. Here dadaists Duchamp, Ball, and von Freytag-Loringhoven and communists Trotsky, Radek, and Zinoviev appear live in company with later incarnations, including William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Gilles Deleuze, and Newt Gingrich. The Posthuman Dada Guide is arranged alphabetically for quick reference and (some) nostalgia for order, with entries such as "eros (women)," "internet(s)," and "war." Throughout, it is written in the belief "that posthumans lining the road to the future (which looks as if it exists, after all, even though Dada is against it) need the solace offered by the primal raw energy of Dada and its inhuman sources."
"Can't decide whether to cry or laugh? Laugh at absurdity, laugh at hardship, laugh at poverty, says Andrei Codrescu in his maddening, enlightening, self-contradictory, highly amusing new book. . . . [Codrescu] has rolled into one slim guide a postmodern self-help manual, a history lesson, a love letter to dissident poets, a hard jab at communism and a veiled autobiography. . . . The guide is, beneath it all, a mournful celebration of the achievements of pre-communist Romanian Jews, such as Tzara and modernist painter and architect (and Dadaist) Marcel Janco."—Carly Berwick, Los Angeles Times
"Any reader looking for a quirky, polemical, provocative introduction to Dada might like to try Andrei Codrescu's Posthuman Dada Guide, in which the author's key terms are alphabetically listed and 'hermeneutically filleted'. His linguistic glee also means that this dictionary can easily be read cover to cover."—Peter Read, Times Literary Supplement
"This Zagat-sized handbook, a Dadaist chop suey showcasing the astonishing intellectual range of English professor and NPR commentator Codrescu, is arranged alphabetically and topically, which permits one to dip in or to read it all. The occasionally outrageous encyclopedic juxtapositions of entries give a firsthand experience similar to the effect of Dada cutups and collages."—Publishers Weekly
"A hard-edged, rapier-like volume, perfect for sliding into a back pocket of skinny hipster pants or stabbing into the complacent underbelly of bourgeois (or bourgeois-bohemian) society. It offers a headier-than-usual tour of the early-1900s avant-garde, sprinkled with sex appeal for the would-be MySpace-age revolutionary. . . . As art theory, the Guide could even be preferable to a college seminar on modernism. . . . [Codrescu] also places Dada on a broader historical stage than it usually receives, mingling it with world politics."—Eli Epstein-Deutsch, Village Voice
"Even for professional provocateur Andrei Codrescu, he of the playful intelligence and sardonic wit, this new book is quite something. It's out there—a chronicle of an imagined chess game between V.I. Lenin and Tristan Tzara, the founder of Dada, set in the cafe culture of Zurich, Switzerland, in 1916, amid the ferment of bohemianism and revolution. It's a scholarly work, with extensive footnotes; it's a work of imagination; it's a guidebook to a strange new era. It's a call to remember humanity in a post-human time, and an incitement. To read it is to light a mental fuse."—Susan Larson, New Orleans Times-Picayune
"A profoundly provocative look at dada. . . . If you're vaguely familiar with Codrescu's NPR essays or other writings, than you already know that this is a book laced with wit and humor. He makes an erudite topic easy—and pleasurable—to follow."—Robert L. Pincus, San Diego Union Tribune
"A dictionary, a history of art movements, a manifesto, and a joke book; [The Posthuman Dada Guide] traverses high and low, seeking answers to our most persistent confusions about art, culture, and identity. . . . By the end, the reader has come to grips with Codrescu's stoic, but darkly hopeful, vision for a future that is no future at all."—D. Scot Miller, San Francisco Bay Guardian
"Codrescu's analysis of the chess game is written with attitude—itself a Dada-like performance—balancing critique with reinvention, aiming to reveal Dada's place in 'posthuman' life. This guide is true to its title, fitting comfortably in a pocket, ready to be deployed at the slightest provocation."—Alan Lucey, Bookforum
"Erudite, witty, often demented, Codrescu's book is an excellent introduction to the matter and spirit of dada."—Justin Clemens, The Australian
"A delicious book. . . . A fascinating mix of history, common and obscure . . . rigorously intellectual without being stuffy or dogmatic, serious without being solemn and . . . obviously and sneakily playful at the same time."—Michel Basilieres, Toronto Star
"Peppered with warnings not to make Dada a guide for living, the Guide makes it all the more alluring. Readers of this book acquire a delicious complicity with Dada. I can't stop intoning it. Dada dada dada dada. This is a subversive book."—Helen Scully, ArtVoices Magazine
"Ever want to run naked across a convention floor, pie-hit a bishop, or show up at a job interview in a firecracker hat, screaming poetry until security guards haul you away? Andrei Codrescu's The Posthuman Dada Guide may not be the literal how-to that the title implies, but it will definitely give you the historical and philosophical basis you need to justify a stunt to your cell mates while the authorities figure out what to do with you. . . . Fascinating and indispensible."—John-Ivan Palmer, Rain Taxi Review of Books
"He's all over the place, and no place in particular—almost the perfect definition of Dada. Best read as a poem pretending to be prose (both Tzara and Lenin were pseudonyms, after all), The Posthuman Dada Guide gives a barbaric yawp in the best tradition of Walt Whitman—and, in its own peculiar way, it's just as American."—Ben Steelman, Star News
"A roller-coaster ride of essay(s) and grab-bag of ideas, history, and recollections, The Posthuman Dada Guide is an appropriately loose and shifting piece. It is informative and entertaining."—M. A. Orthofer, Complete Review
"The chess game (both fictitious and ongoing) puts politic and parody at one and at war. The scene is a fast flashing, nonlinear montage taking us in, through and out of the 20th century and delivering us into the 21st, spinning. . . . It is recommended that you carry this guide with you at all times. Consider reading it aloud in the most public of places. . . . The perfect prescription against the posthuman condition—that place where our senses are all too well rehearsed and clearly limiting."—Katherine Anders, Baton Rouge Advocate
"[A] literary event, a spectacular splash of intelligence and erudition, of clean style and magical impressionability."—Nicholas Catanoy, World Literature Today
"While it takes its cue from an imaginary game of chess, the book is in fact a witty pointer into the real fabric of contemporary art and politics . . . refreshingly 'un-theoretical' in its approach, and Codrescu's writing is utterly pleasurable."—Cosana Eram, Vetiver blog
"By combining . . . vivid personal accounts with brilliant literary theory, The Posthuman Dada Guide becomes more than a review of the Dadaism's history. It represents a spiritual and intellectual journey in itself, a guide, as Codrescu states at the book's beginning for instructing posthumans in living a Dada life."—John Nizalolwski, Magill's Literary Annual
If you have any doubt as to whether you are posthuman or merely human, take a look at the following parts of your body: the city, the house, the car, the iPhone, the laptop, the iPod, the pillbox, the nonflesh surround. If sixty percent of your body is now electronic or bioelectronic, living in space designed for efficiency, you will need Dada as a corrective to what will certainly be the loss of the modicum of liberty you still possess. The first Dadas lived in cities that contained the means for a thorough critique of the world: Zurich, Paris, New York, Vienna, Berlin, Bucharest, Prague, Zagreb, Budapest, Petersburg. They had virtual summations (libraries), revolution-planning centers (cafés), body-centering (or -decentering) loci (bordellos), hungry provincial student clusters (universities), geniuses (random selection), mass-media (printing presses, newspapers, the telegraph), the option of moving the body through space faster than the body could move on its own (trains, cars, carriages), models for imaginary worlds (cinema), the tools of propaganda (advertising, manifestos, podiums), memory (museums, statues, history books), sentiment (cabarets, songs, theater, carnivals), weapons (cobblestones), hope (money, God), social flexibility (learnable codes of manners, uniforms), ubiquity (the feeling that you know, or think that you know, everybody) and, most importantly, a sense that time was relative (some people had a lot of it and dreaded its immensity; others had only a little and dreaded its passing). The revelation of the substance of time preoccupied Freud, who saw it as a repository for repressed history, Carl Jung, who discovered (or thought he did) a space inhabited by prehistoric souffleurs who dictated their nature to ongoing generations of human actors, Albert Einstein, who added time to the three known dimensions, Heisenberg, who denied time altogether, and a variety of artists who adopted one or another dimension of time (futurists, the future; simultaneists, simultaneity; Dada, all or no directions). These cities were concentrations of virtualities that offered the possibilities of creative reinvention of the world. Within these rapidly morphing intensities, the fixities of societal conventions that led inevitably to war became painfully apparent. The bright energies remaking human beings drew their force from everything and anything, but mostly from laughter. Nothing fixed by convention could withstand the Gordian-knot-cutting laughter of Dada, though resistance was not futile (see lenin).
Today, a century later, the merger of software and wetwear is ongoing and speeding up. Dada has nothing, or maybe everything, against doing well and doing good. Buy biotechs. The fondest wish of all well-wishers, and that includes many dadas, is that we will say hello to a green organism that is born by natural birth, will lead a carbon-footprint-conscious life, and will biodegrade without toxic waste. Planetary thinking in its most digestible form makes sense, and the future seems open to every individual initiative that is aware of the collective predicament. Living aware is the current desideratum, and if we destroy non-renewable resources, we'll at least downsize or vanish with our eyes open. Dada is for all of that, but within (non)reason. For the majorities, profligacy is no longer desirable. In effect, desire is no longer desirable. If previous dada-minded people with nothing to lose (or so they thought!) could afford to be profligate, seminal, and ecstatic, this is no longer the case. Substitute "wishing" for "desire." Wishing accommodates acting, while desire is unpredictable. Posthuman life is based on the alleged awareness of all living connections, unlike the irrepressible and murderous peaks and valleys of human life in the past. The rational description of our posthumanity would have it that the societal mechanisms that were of such great concern to thinkers have been automated. Political structures larger than the family are projections of automatic economic systems. Borders are largely imaginary and will become wholly imaginary, soon to be replaced by aesthetic differences. In other words, there will be privately constructed borders created by everyone everywhere, enforced by pocket nukes capable of eliminating entire cities or regions. Arbitrary moral systems will back up private aesthetic borders, making it imperative for everyone to receive the correct medication. Unmedicated people will not be allowed pocket nukes, which makes it necessary that they be naked and searched often by local militias of art students. In this environment, which is almost completely current, the simulations of pleasure within zones of medicated liberty can be literally life-saving. These simulations will be a new medium (using all the media) for plotting escape routes and egress points that may or may not lead out of Eden. These potentially liberating simulations promise an escape into reality, but, reader beware, all realities adjoining present tightrope Eden may be virtual and not real at all. With that proviso, an alternative escape project called Dada is being made available here. Dada is the viral option to the virtual certainty. What the Dada life is will be explained in the following pages with a minimum of tedious reference, i.e., we will record only what can't be googled. In other words, only what hasn't yet been captured. Dada is the Western Now, a Zen that employs fullness instead of emptiness, so much fullness, in fact, that there isn't enough matter to fill its fullness, so it resorts to imagination in order to create ever more paradisiacal objets, better iPods made from shredded dreams. Each imagination unit (IU) expanded here will be spent for your instruction, reader, but you will notice that each entry is constructed to self-erase as soon as it is understood, and to generate its own IU as soon as it disappears. The claim to the nongooglable is pretty huge and I'm making it lightly. The good available information googled either from Google or out of books written by Dada chiefs will be used here to its utmost, that is to say, used in order to extract or prolong the vital fluids, which are as yet ungooglified. (At least until this is e-published). I know that Google, a mortal company, could go the way of Xerox, which used to be synonymous with copying, but in the grand collage that is Dada, past and future are equally usable. Look at the fragment from a newspaper inserted by Kurt Schwitters in his 1920 Collage: the actual newspaper, with its oh-so-urgent events of the day, is long forgotten, but the section preserved in Schwitters's collage is immortal. I am not saying that this guide, a simple book, will outlast both Xerox and Google, but it is possible. If the 20th century has taught us anything, it is that we will forget everything except the box it came in. The substance of what it was, what it felt like, what could be usefully gleaned from it, was buried with the persons who felt and gleaned. Memoirs and history further dismember the past by articulating it: every articulated experience is as good as forgotten. Forgetting is a human specialty that was greatly refined by the recently deposed century. We've kept the wrappings, though: the styles, the anecdotes, the narratives (the sexy ones, not the academic), and we are using them to deposit new contents inside. The end of the 19th century put an engine in a horse, and, even though there was no more horse, literally speaking, the form of the mechanically-powered horse was marvelous to behold. Today, of course, there is hardly any need to remember why a mechanical horse needs to look like a living horse because most of us don't know what a horse is: even the horse-form is being forgotten. As oblivion speeds up and facts store themselves in a memory stick, we are free to splash around in the funhouse of forms. Thank God for Dada, the engine of empty forms! This (or the next this) is a time to be human without the weight of history, beliefs, feelings, vendettas, or school grades. We are in a Dada state of grace. For the Dada Guide-users, you and me, there isn't even a point in the dated distinctions between "human" and "nonhuman," "remembered" or "forgotten," because the literature of those distinctions is ubiquitous and serves no purpose other than mutual accusation: those who think of themselves as "human" will claim that they have a "soul" and an indelible "history," while posthumans will claim to be part of everything and that everything has a soul, including the web they are presently setting to vibrating with their indignant thumping. This is a useless argument and if anyone feels uncomfortable about being called "posthuman," please call yourself whatever you want. My distinction is this: a posthuman is a human who has put nature (including herm own)4 between parentheses. (Or convinced hermself that everything nonhuman is human and, therefore, human = nature. This used to be called "anthropomorphism," but lately it is known as a "user-friendly interface." In current popular discourse, nature has come to mean "nature," or "the nature channel," and thus is wilderness removed from it and its destructive and creative force neutralized. Putting the world between either parentheses or quotes is an effective way to erase it, indifferent of how warmly we feel about it. We are replacing wilderness by self-reflection and are making huge (virtual) efforts to make the self-reflective sensorium look demiurgic and various like nature. If early in the 20th century only poets had the gall to conceive of themselves as "pequeños dios" in César Vallejo's phrase, now everyone feels entitled to a god-degree because the tools for faking it are part of every body (see e-body). Dada intends to open the doors at night to let the wilderness back in. Dada is a tool for removing parentheses and removing the world from between quotes with the forceps of inspiration. Sometimes this will call for disruptive spontaneous action, creating and holding TAZ (Temporary Autonomous Zones), actualizing dreams, running with gangs, living with animals, and making peace with weather. Sometimes it will mean going after parts of speech, like "like," or other rhetorical devices, but we will never discourage direct address, on the off chance that someone is listening. Historical Dada was a metaphor factory, but we will try to abstain and be as dry as a properly made Cabernet. Dada, like every living thing, has a problematic relationship with language, which is why it has employed it collectively, nonsensically, mystically, and in combination with other media, such as paint, pixels, bodies, couture, sex, sound, newspapers, advertising, and necromancy. Language has been slipping like a coarse blanket from humanity's nightmare-racked body for centuries, but 20th-century dadas like Ludwig Wittgenstein and George Steiner (who were not officially Dada) and Tzara (who was, see tristan, tzara) revealed that it had been yanked off by Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, and Mao (big yankers) and by myriads of smaller yankers who use language to poke holes in reality and to put nature between parentheses. Big and small yankers (language-users) have been fueling their enterprise with portions of liberty, mine and yours. The motor for creating posthumans runs on stolen freedom. Now there are two entities: language, lying at the foot of the bed, as freezing thieves with a yen for power crawl toward it, and a flesh body that is quickly becoming a metaphor for all that used to be called "human." The Dada project is to make the body warm by covering it with the blanket again and demetaphorizing it. This project requires abandoning all the humanities' approximate definitions of "human," because "the approximate man" (see, again, tristan, tzara) turns out not to be a man at all. Or a woman. Those lovely forms have vanished and can now be found only as skeuromorphs in media, including writing. The vague yearning for the "not human" is now no longer vague, it is pure efficiency. We look nostalgically at waste: there isn't any. All is now open for Dada (as Nietzsche suspected) but not everyone knows how to live the Dada life, to press the "restore" button. In other words, nobody knows how to act when all knowledge seems available, and claims to difference look like either reinventing the wheel or retrofitting the posthuman lump ("body without organs," Antonin Artaud) with dated forms. Mysticism and metaphysics are the popular forms of Dada now in vogue, particularly in science fiction, the New Age, Oprah, churches, mosques, and pagan-trancing moonlit groves. There is a lot wrong with those practices, namely, that they are all about the consciousness of humans on their way to perfecting posthumanity. Most of them pretend to worship or at least acknowledge the nonhuman, but it's only a cover, superstitious salt thrown into the eyes of whatever looks back at us, amused or annoyed, Nietzsche's abyss with eyes. Dada, too, is a form of mystical currency, but it likes to think of itself as too radical for narrative and parable, and too agnostic to take itself seriously. We will see. We need a guide that is at once historical and liberating. Or just hysterical and tonic.
Excerpted from The Posthuman Dada Guide by Andrei Codrescu Copyright © 2009 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted November 3, 2012
Posted November 3, 2012