Saturday, February 6, 2016

On Dada (Part 2 of 2)

With dada, Ball here, as in his poetry, dispenses with conventional, communicative language. Both dada as well as dada show themselves as a “question of connections, and of loosening them [the connections] up a bit to start with.” By dismissing the use of dada/dada as communication, Ball hopes to be granted access to a new language or a new use of or for language. Indeed, he aims to invent a new language altogether, where the affirmation of the da gets repeated and negated in the same breath and in the same word. Even more so, the complete word dada serves as not only the most basic homonymic replacement and translation for dada qua anti-art, but it also performs dada as anti-communication in its necessary and repetitive repetition. Hence, we can speak of and write dada/dada as the necessarily doubly doubled (da repeated four times) dispersal of non-/self-identity. With the doubling of dada/dada here, we are reminded of the necessary dispersal and dispensation of language, of texts, and of words, particularly as those words rupture and disperse themselves along the page: da da da da ad infinitum.

Ball sees in his poetry “a chance to get rid of all the filth that clings to this accursed language.” He insists, “I want the word where it ends and begins. Dada is the heart of words.” We should pause here to reflect on this last statement. How can we read this sentence? Dada qua new anti-art movement is the heart of words? Or does the word dada itself form the essence of all words? Perhaps we can even return to the term’s original communicative register to say that the essence of language is the French hobbyhorse or the German farewell. I would argue, and it seems that Blanchot would, to some extent, agree, that it is precisely this line of questioning along the internal rift of dissonances and ambiguities within language that bespeaks the heart of words as the da-da of the rhythmic heartbeat of language. Ball asserts, “I want my own stuff, my own rhythm, and vowels and consonants too, matching the rhythm and all my own.” Perhaps, after all, we are not so far off the mark with our rhythmic interpretation of the heart’s da-da.

Ball next explains how, by allowing the vowels to “fool around,” the word comes into being. In addition to the agency that language has, according to the text, to play or to get frisky, he also reveals that he lets “the vowels quite simply occur, as a cat meows.” Depicting a birth scene of language, he describes the shoulders and limbs appearing, though instead of coming from the birth canal (and because of the references to vowels), we can assume he is referring to the mouth and to spoken discourse. (The vowel, of course, denotes the orality of language. It is a spoken unit.) Finally, Ball briefly mentions the materiality of language: “Each thing has its word, but the word has become a thing by itself.” In this, we find yet another of surrealism’s concerns regarding the relationships (or non-relationships) among word, object, and thought. As we saw previously with the term dada, the word seems to fall back in or upon itself as it disperses itself. The word is a thing is a word, etc. We have a movement that both annuls and enacts language as a power of communication and the transference of meaning.

In directly addressing his audience, Ball speaks of the need for an audience and for a public: “The word, gentlemen, is a public concern of the first importance.” Such a use of the vocative implies that dada will indeed have (or already has) an audience. It complicates our reading of the manifesto in that it appears to be a simple, straightforward statement, much like the praise of Swiss hospitality. We can read this sentence naively outside the context of dada itself, or we can understand it ironically. That is, in addressing these “gentlemen,” Ball is merely imagining an audience that might not exist for dada. Or perhaps it is not the word after all that is of public concern. Perhaps there is no public at all who can hear about the word that is, to Ball, so important. In this way, Ball both expresses and finds himself incapable of expressing the word that may or may not have any importance to an audience who may or may not be listening or even existing.

Notwithstanding these hermeneutic pitfalls, words spread out to and through others in promulgation, even as their emergence can be constricted by selves who are effaced in their own ineffability or inability to express themselves. Here in the actual document of the manifesto, written to be performed, we have written language performed as speech that admits the impossibility of language as such—a declaration that language no longer can bear the burden of communication. If we consider that dada’s anti-art (and anti-war) stance stems from a repulsion for the atrocities of World War I, this facet of language, while claiming to be entirely non-communicative and irrational, becomes understandable in its striving for incomprehensibility.

Although dada insists on nonsense in art as well as in language, the nonsense itself carries with it the desire to be heard, read, seen, and therefore understood, at least within the logic of the irrational. Even the dada “nonsense” of “dada m’dada, dada m’dada dada mhm, dada dera dada, dada Hue, dada Tza” can have meaning for us, at least to some small extent. It is easy to consider, for example, that the last two phrases serve as repeated, though abbreviated and reordered, references to “Dada Tzara, dada Huelsenbeck” that begins the “sentence.” Even as we struggle to make sense out of our words, texts, and languages (as well as ourselves and our environments), our minds are always already gleaning sense even from something necessarily—at least ostensibly—devoid of communicative powers. This is both the great achievement and the utter ruination of dada as anti-art. We need only to visit a museum to appreciate to what extent dada’s supposed anti-art has been accepted (or co-opted) by art proper. Dada, however, may have another destiny.

Friday, February 5, 2016

On Dada (Part 1 of 2)

What we seem to have here is a problem of genealogy. At times, Blanchot parses surrealism inflected as dada and at other times he seems to be writing solely about surrealism (or its methodology of automatism) apart from its dada heritage. He specifically writes that the “emancipation of words can occur only in a double sense” (88). One sense would be the freedom brought about by automatism, but we need to remember that in automatic writing it is not the word per se that actually becomes free. Freedom and word are one here, and the I who is imprinted by language imprints, in turn, itself upon language. There seems to be no distinction among freedom, word, and identity within this automatist aspect of language. The other sense would be the freedom that words achieve once they are no longer fastened and affixed to things, objects, or identities that would need to be expressed in language. If we refer to the first sense as surrealist proper, then we can label the second dada (in an adjectival sense). Furthermore, if we consider surrealism as the fusion or composition of both the Cartesian cogito and dada (and there is evidence here to suggest that this is the way in which Blanchot understands surrealism), then we can see how surrealism (as manifested in its chief methodology of automatism) shows itself (and language) as both free and not free, as both immediate and not immediate, and finally as both maintaining and dispersing Cartesian identity.

As language presents itself either through spoken or written means, it both expresses the world transparently and shows itself as that which is most opaque and meaningless. At least these are the two parameters within which language manifests, if at all. As language becomes subjectified, objectified, and reified, things that long to express and be expressed are vanquished beyond language’s parameters in a modality of nonexpression, which language, too, incorporates and integrates into its expressiveness. These things, which necessarily include human subjects, are decomposed and dispersed across the differential nexus of language as they become language itself, as they become languaged themselves.

According to Hugo Ball’s 1916 Dada Manifesto, the term dada itself displays this dual nature of language. We can use this one word as articulated in the manifesto to unpack and explain what Blanchot means by these necessarily conflicting and ambivalent powers of language. Ball explains that dada both has and does not have meaning. For his first premise, he lists the various possible translations of the term from European languages: “In French it means ‘hobby horse.’ In German it means ‘good-by,’ ‘Get off my back,’ ‘Be seeing you sometime.’ In Romanian: ‘Yes, indeed, you are right, that’s it. But of course, yes, definitely, right.’ It is just a word, after all, and it can be found in just about any dictionary in any (at least European) language. Right away, we notice that even within one language (German, for example), the meaning of this one term varies according to intonation and context. Yet dada, before the advent of the anti-art movement, remained little more than nonsense. Even more so, the word slips between various languages and language families (here, specifically Romance and Germanic), demonstrating its own incapacity for stability. This, of course, is the essence of language, but dada as well as dada show themselves through their capacity for instability and their linguistic slipperiness in a more extreme manner.

The word, which Ball suggests is “very easy to understand” and “quite terribly simple,” bespeaks the complications of the movement, in which poets can be found “writing with words but never writing the word itself.” The ambiguity of this sentence further vexes our ability to properly decipher the intentions of the manifesto. Do dada poets never write the word dada itself? Or do they simply not write the word with which they are already writing? Ball himself is very much a part of this group of dada poets “who are always writing around the actual point,” even within a document that ostensibly seeks to make manifest the policies and aims of dada. The manifesto’s most self-consciously direct statement, which signals its own directness, is itself a dada statement within the document’s larger context: “In plain language: the hospitality of the Swiss is something to be profoundly appreciated.” We could even say that this most banal, yet nevertheless straightforward, expository sentence is the most dada of the manifesto. In this way, Ball here subverts dada as well as communicative normalcy by making the manifesto’s most direct statement utterly devoid of meaning.

The Dada Manifesto aims to trace its own genealogy by directly listing its progenitors: dada Tristan Tzara, dada Richard Huelsenbeck, dada Ludwig Rubiner, dada Ernesto? Korrodi, dada Anastasius Lilienstein [literary character from Ball’s Tenderenda the Fantast?], dada Johann Fuchsgang Goethe (Goethe but with a new middle name: instead of Wolfgang, it is Fuchsgang, Fuchs being fox), dada Stendhal, dada Dalai Lama, Buddha, Bible, and Nietzsche. Before those listed (which include artists, poets, a musician, an architect?, a literary character?, religious leaders, a book, and a philologist), the word dada interposes itself adjectivally. That is, not only are these references accepted into the dada pantheon by virtue of being named in the manifesto, but they are doubly subsumed by dada by being labeled with and by that term. Here we see instances that support Ball’s second claim that dada has no meaning. Repeated throughout the 574-word manifesto, dada appears thirty-seven times. It is the most repeated word of the text, appearing more often than both the and and. In a very material and literal way, then, the Dada Manifesto manifests the word dada. In the instances just mentioned, it is employed as an adjective. Elsewhere, it names the new anti-art movement. But it is also incorporated into the text as mere nonsense syllable: “dada m’dada, dada m’dada dada mhm, dada dera dada, dada Hue, dada Tza.” Not only does this term—like all terms—slide between and among various registers of meaning and various language families, but it also slips into the meaningless.

Part 2 will be published tomorrow.

Thursday, January 7, 2016


I resolve…
to trouble myself, to trouble self, to trouble trouble;
to paint it black, learn to fiddle for when it burns;
to light the first match, throw the first brick;
to not allow myself the all-too-easy distractions of comfort, happiness;
to devalue false values (fame, wealth, celebrity, knowledge, security);
to destroy all metaphysics;
to maintain a critical attitude, especially toward my own values;
to live in fear in order to engage in beautiful and meaningful work;
to not dumb it down, not snob you out;
to continue the work of de-disciplining;
to not abdicate responsibility;
to not give credence to the delusions of binary thinking, to know that binary thinking is not thought;
to demand justice;
to expect violence.

Monday, December 28, 2015

NEH Evaluations, or Academics are Cunts

I applied for an NEH Fellowship for my Blanchot book. Today I received my evaluations. I want everyone to know what cunts are in charge of our nation's intellectual work.
Thank you for requesting additional information on the review of your NEH Fellowships application, which you submitted in spring 2015. The Endowment received 1,251 applications; the budget allowed for 80 awards.

As with all applications submitted to the NEH, your proposal was read and discussed by knowledgeable persons outside the agency, who advised the Endowment about its merits. The NEH staff commented on matters of fact or on significant issues that otherwise would have been missing from these evaluations and made recommendations to the National Council on the Humanities. The National Council met to advise the NEH chairman on grants. The chairman took into account the advice provided during the review process and made all funding decisions, as is prescribed by law.

Copies of the panelists' ratings and written evaluations of your proposal are included with this memorandum. The range of possible ratings is Excellent (E), Very Good (VG), Good (G), Some Merit (SM), and Not Competitive (NC). Please keep in mind that panels are one stage of NEH review.  The panelists provided both initial comments on each application before their panel meeting and final comments after discussion of each application during the meeting.  Panelists' opinions and ratings may have changed in the course of the deliberations.
Evaluation from Panelist 1
The project seems to lie in the history of literary theory. The applicant indicates that in between hermeneutics and deconstruction, there was a phenomenology-inspired school of literary theory. He plans to use Maurice Blanchet as a case study. I don't see a developed idea in the proposal, other than to look at Blanchet in this particular light. It is hard to tell whether that's a fruitful way to go.
Your initial rating for this project: SM, Some Merit
Your final rating for this project: SM, Some Merit 
Panelist 1 is a USDA Grade A Cunt who can't even get basic information correct, like the spelling of Blanchot's name. I like how my project "seems to lie in the history of literary theory" after I specifically and repeatedly stated in my application that this project is in the field of literary theory. That is some insightful analysis of my application!
Evaluation from Panelist 2
Garrett proposes a book showing that Blanchot is a philosopher in the phenomenological tradition, this in turn is claimed to help us to better understand the history of literary theory.  The proposal left me wondering whether Garrett’s work will contribute to an existing conversation/debate/discussion among other scholars in phenomenology and literary theory, and, if so, what this contribution might be.  The bibliography consists solely of book-length works, so I’m wondering whether there’s a journal literature that’s being overlooked.  The proposal as it’s written gives very little indication of how Garrett’s views about Blanchot are positioned within a broader academic conversation.
Your initial rating for this project: NC, Not Competitive
Your final rating for this project: NC, Not Competitive
Panelist 2 makes some very good points for someone who didn't bother to read or understand my proposal, which included an essay about how my research will contribute to the existing conversations among other scholars regarding Blanchot and the canon of literary theory. The required one-page bibliography–as per the instructions–was not to be exhaustive (and could not be exhaustive because it could only be one page!) but rather was to give an indication of the types of texts/material to be analyzed.
Evaluation from Panelist 3
This work might be significant to humanities scholars working in literature and literary theory, or to scholars working in Continental philosophy. The applicant has been productive as an independent scholar, with a number of publications and manuscripts, but has published only one article in an anonymously peer-reviewed journals. The project is clearly defined, but I am not well-placed to assess the quality of its conception.  If the applicant seeks further support, I would suggest he reorder the fields of the project, putting Literature first and Philosophy second or third. The plan is feasible. The applicant is productive and likely to complete the project.

Your initial rating for this project: NC, Not Competitive
Your final rating for this project: NC, Not Competitive
Panelist 3 fetishizes his/her academic career and the tenure-track system. Anonymously peer-reviewed journals are only for people who have the possibility of an academic career. I had no such possibility, even though I did manage to get such a publication because of the quality of my graduate work (that is, I got one of my term papers published a couple of years before I even completed coursework, so fuck you). Since then, my work was invited to be included in an edited volume, and my work was included in an edited volume that I co-edited, so I also have the experience and skill set to edit a volume of philosophy that was published by an esteemed university press. Again: fuck you and your academic wankery, you piece of motherfucking useless shit for brains (said with all due respect).

The NEH has no academic requirement from its applicants except that they have completed a terminal degree. No publication history, no academic affiliation, no tenure-track career path. None.
Evaluation from Panelist 4
This project has merit in its promise to enrich our understanding of Blanchot through phenomenology, and its appeal would likely be limited to scholars in those areas.  The applicant is relatively well prepared to take on this project, having published work in this area before.  The proposal itself does not indicate specifically what the applicant will be able to say about Blanchot's views or methods, as revealed by a phenomenological treatment.  The work plan is reasonable, and the prospects for successful completion of the envisioned book appear to be reasonably good.
Your initial rating for this project: SM, Some Merit
Your final rating for this project: SM, Some Merit
Panelist 4 is somewhat reasonable, though he/she relies too heavily on the future possible tense: "The proposal itself does not indicate specifically what the applicant will be able to say…." You know, do what a proposal has never done before. I did, however, complete my application with everything the NEH required, which unfortunately for me, did not include the unforeseeable futurity of possibility. Next year I'll consult the appropriate Sibyl.
Evaluation from Panelist 5
The proposal is to continue work on a book emphasizing the importance of phenomenology on the literary theory, philosophy, and fiction of Blanchot.  It seems somewhat narrow, but the narrative does a nice of job placing the project in a larger context of recent history of literary theory.  It should be of interest to those working in phenomenology and literary theory. The applicant is a recent Ph.D. and there isn’t much of a track record of publication. The project seems to be well focused; I wonder about the general interest of the work for philosophy, given that Blanchot, as the applicant notes, is usually placed at the margins of philosophy.  More importantly, it wasn’t made entirely clear to me what the payoff would be of thinking of Blanchot as a phenomenologist.  How does this enrich our understanding of his thought? The work plan seems feasible. Despite the lack of institutional support, the author seems to have made good progress, so it’s likely that the Garrett would take good advantage of the fellowship to get a lot done.

Your initial rating for this project: SM, Some Merit
Your final rating for this project: SM, Some Merit
You are correct, Panelist 5, "the Garrett would take good advantage of the fellowship." Unfortunately, he was denied the futurity of that possibility (see above). Again, we have some jerk-ass academic in love with his or her own privilege and delusions of grandeur ("much of a track record of publication"). Again, the NEH requires no history of publication. Hell, the NEH doesn't even require that I publish my research at the end of the fellowship.

I do love how Panelist 5 completely and utterly contradicts Panelist 2 regarding how I position Blanchot and myself within the larger conversation. I also enjoy many of the panelists' complaints about my research basically not being interesting to them. You know, because the NEH requires work to be interesting to everybody.

Fuck academics. Fuck assholes. Fuck smug shitheads and their bullshit CVs listing their truly interesting and important anonymously peer-reviewed jerk-off stains on each others' faces. As Grandma used to say: Fuck all y'all.

I've already applied for another NEH grant; I'll keep you posted. And I've already applied to be a panelist for future NEH fellowship applications, now that I know the position will provide me an opportunity to be a cunt.