The other day I found a large dead cockroach laying upside down in the middle of the sidewalk in front of the post office. It was a variety of which I had rarely seen in the years I’ve lived here in Salonica, but very close to the type of palmetto bugs that are the norm in Miami, where I was born. I had no idea how it had gotten there, but I nonetheless had the distinct feeling it must have fallen from the sky. It certainly hadn’t mailed itself to Greece.
The sight of it took me off guard and I pondered its possible existential meaning for a few moments before I continued down the street towards a distant bus-stop. While riding the bus, I thought about the life of a cockroach … and its end, whether by poisoning, being cannibalized by other bugs, or falling victim to a crushing flip-flop. I confess trying to find some Zen-like answer for its sudden appearance in my life at that particular moment. In truth, I never found an answer, and in fact I still have no idea why I even feel compelled to write about it in this post.
It was just one of those insignificant transient moments in life that shake you to your very core. In the words of ‘Billy’ Shakespeare, however, it was really just ‘much ado about nothing’. Yet, even today, it’s still hard to just let go of the significance of that ‘unprocessed’ moment … because it remains an insult to both my ego the super-ego. (Note: the id conscientiously objected to comment.)
It’s our own narcissistic idiosyncrasies that urge us to feel the need to attach meaning to everything in life. It’s not enough to just accept things as they are; we yearn to control everything by defining it according to our limited understanding, let alone intellect. We take pride in our abilities to reason with logic as we assume that because ‘we think, therefore we are’. Nothing could be further from the truth.
With our physical eyes we strive to see things that are not there. With our corporeal brains, we try to fathom that which is non-corporeal. With our limited vocabulary we strive to name and define all we can imagine. As a species, we are control-freaks, spreading our power-mongering anal-retentiveness throughout the planet.
Swallowed in the form of art and anti-art, Dada is an antidote for this rampant egotism, as well as other cancer-like manifestations of human vanity, conquering our existence. It does not come in the form of a pill, but it is medicine … bitter medicine at times, though an acquired taste.
When Marcel Duchamp, under the pseudonym of ‘R. Mutt’, submitted a urinal to the exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in 1917, the organizing committee became apoplectic. Described as an antidote to ‘retinal art’, his ‘readymade’ art form was rejected. The usual argument of ‘form versus function’ didn’t enter into this discussion; bruised ego did.
When Dadaism came to light, the whole art world tilted on its axis … because no one knew what the word meant. Similarly, when John Lennon and Yoko Ono created ‘Bagism’, journalists at a press conference were baffled, not just because they couldn’t control the interview (with a bag), but because they didn’t get the joke … that it wasn’t a joke. Neither was Dada … and neither is life, the grandest of all cosmic jokes.
However, most people don’t have much of a sense of humor. When faced with the absurd, fight or flight responses rarely come into play, but fear creeps in slowly and ninja-like. At first, we laugh nervously as beads of sweat form on our eyebrows. Eventually, denial of our own inability to ‘just let go’ sets in, leading to indignation and the eventual fall to acerbic criticism. Blood pools in our face as we march off in a huff, stamping our feet in rhythm to our quickening pulse.
Hans Jean Arp suggested, “Since the time of the cavemen, man has glorified himself, has made himself divine, and his monstrous vanity has caused human catastrophe. Art has collaborated in this false development. I find this concept of art which has sustained man’s vanity to be loathsome.”
Indeed! Vanity and egotism invokes our pride to get the best of us. We rant and rave because we can’t control the moment like some time-lord junkie. If self-centered logical decorum does not apply, we discriminate. That which does not compute we reject … or sometimes cannibalize.
Why can’t we accept art for what it is? It’s for the same reason we discriminate on the basis of our own misconceptions with regard to race, color, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, and even age and disability. We are narrow-minded bigots and have created societies and industries to reinforce our ignorance.
Dada to the rescue! With surgical precision, Tristan Tzara cut right down to the ‘bone of contention’ in his Dada Manifesto, “I destroy the drawers of the brain, and those of social organization: to sow demoralization everywhere, and throw heaven’s hand into hell, hell’s eyes into heaven, to reinstate the fertile wheel of a universal circus in the Powers of reality, and the fantasy of every individual.”
And there you have it. The purpose of art is to assault our senses and make us feel alive, not to stroke our egos. Art should make us think, not reason. Dada is hot. Logic is cold. Need I say more? Of course! Free Pussy Riot!
My Other Posts On Dadaism
- Dadaisn’tism: Copious Habeas (and other assorted frothy nothings)
- Don Dada (When Words Fail)
- In Dada We Trust
- In A Dada Vita (Rethinking Kindergarten)
‘Why Not’ Reading Links
- 391 Archive
- Bagism (Wikipedia)
- John Lennon & Yoko Ono: Bagism Press Conference 3/31/1969
- One Year After Pussy Riot Verdict, Children Still Coming To Grips With Mothers’ Jailing
“Better Than A Fist Full Of Ferrets” by The Sneaky Sea Lions – Help support independent artists!