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.

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