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Destruction was my Beatrice

DADA was a between-the-world-wars movement that is either responsible for or guilty of many of the art 'isms' that would decorate the twentieth century, depending on one's view about that history. Helen S. Lanier Distinguished Professor of English Jed Rasula has a new book out on the subject of DADA, recently reviewed in The Economist and the Los Angeles Times:

When telling a story of individuals as incandescent as the Dadaists, it’s easy to disregard the influence of their social and cultural context. But no matter how radical, experimental, or iconoclastic a movement might be, it still exists in the world. Rasula therefore smartly structures the book geographically, focusing on “key locales,” rather than presenting the events and works chronologically, or structuring the book around the artists themselves. Starting in Zurich, he travels with the “virgin microbe” to Berlin, New York City, Paris, Hanover, Eastern Europe, and the rest of the world. In some ways it is impossible for contemporary readers, removed as we are from the restrictions of the Victorian age, to understand the emotional impact of Dada; but, by specifically locating the people and events, and describing the reaction of various audiences, Rasula begins to communicate the world of the artists and the challenges they faced. We may not be able to fully empathize, but we at least come away with a sense of why a performer like Hugo Ball “intoning a language of magical potions,” composed of nonsense sounds like “gadji beri bimba” or “blassa galassasa tuffm i zimbrabhim,” might drive an audience to violence.

Whatever your stance on DADA (and mine has been all over the map), it reflects a robust period in intellectual comedy aesthetics and liberation of thought, and there's no doubt that it influenced what would follow. How did it influence those things? Well, books could be written, and Dr. Rasula has contributed what sounds like a very good one. More on this to come, I'm sure.

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