A Q&A with author Andrei Codrescu
If If you had to describe your book in a few sentences, what would you say?
When the inevitable film producer hands me the napkin for jot-ting down the concept, I’ll say that it’s a book about two guys playing chess in a smoky café in 1916 in Zurich, Switzerland. Only the two guys are Tristan Tzara, the founder of Dada, a radical art movement, and V. I. Lenin, the architect of the Russian Revolution. Oh, and it’s the most important chess game ever played, because the world’s never going to be the same when these guys get up from the table. Tristan Tzara goes on to change the look and meaning of the new century through poetry, art, paradox, absurdity, laughter, mixture of languages and people, abolishing borders (physical and symbolic), and the destruction of artistic servility, while Lenin employs logic, ruthlessness, gravity, military discipline, the subjection of art to the “people,” and mass murder, in the name of a utopian future. Now, in the twenty-first century, Leninism is dead, while Dada is still chugging on, erasing borders, and opening doors to the future.
What are you trying to accomplish with the Guide and what made you write it?
I would like to give young people solid intellectual, historical support for saying “screw you,” which is what they do anyway, even unsupported by serious scholarship. I also liked revisiting this extraordinary time during the First World War when the fate of the twentieth century was concentrated in Zurich, in neutral Switzerland. Remember that Carl Jung and Albert Einstein were also there. I’d like to remind older people, too, that refusing war and thinking radically new thoughts are vastly preferable to institutionalizing the little we think we know. I also wanted to retell the story with all the suspense and drama that was truly a part of the early avant-garde and revolutionary circles. And finally, Dada has never received its full due in critical literature because it’s still alive. Dada is pure dynamite, it mocks attempts to grasp it, and it is perennially rediscovered and in use by the discontented young. Dada’s most recent period of new glory was punk and postpunk cultures, but it flourished also in kitsch, camp, pop art, and street theater.
What can Dada teach us posthumans?
If we accept the idea that we are posthumans, then this Guide should be in the pocket of everybody’s safari jacket, because we are all tourists in this posthuman world that we don’t yet know very much about. Humans used their skills in the past to conquer and live with nature, an option no longer available to us. We have, for better or worse, become the custodians of nature, the grown-ups who must care for an infantilized and domesticated nature. If we don’t, we go down with it. On the other hand, being posthuman is not all about responsibility and reducing one’s carbon footprint; it’s also about play and creation. The cornucopia of forms unleashed by Dada and other artistic avant-gardes have redesigned our world for faster and freer communication, and therefore changed our symbolic values from money to imagination. The primary currency of the future will be poetry.
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File created: 10/21/2008