SPEAKER 1: This is a production of Cornell University.
DAVID: Now let me just give the title of the lecture. The Gorgon's Head of a Boundless Terror Smiles out of the Fantastic Destruction-- and here's a semicolon-- Modern Art and the Mimetic Process.
HAL FOSTER: Let's see if we can get an image, I hope, somewhere. There we go. Can we have the lights lower? Thanks, David. That was great. Can you hear me OK? Let me know, if not.
So, oops. This is the moment where you find out of all my dirty laundry. Stay. I promised I would shoot myself when I got to the age where I needed reading glasses, but maybe after this talk, you will wish that I had.
This talk is rough, just a series of notes, really. But it follows on some of the things that Jay said yesterday-- I think, nicely. In a way, what Picasso does to his Damozel, my artists today do to themselves. I also want to test it out here, because some of its themes run back to my time at Cornell to what I learned from friends like Dominic LaCapra in Trauma, Susan Buck-Morss on Anesthetics, and David Bathrick on Benjamin and Bloch.
In a way, Dominic traumatized me, Susan anesthetized me, and David critiqued me. Mostly, he made fun of me, which I took to mean the same thing eventually. So this paper-- it's not really a paper-- it's the beginning of a project on three strategies that appear intermittently in the 20th century avant garde, which I call the bathetic, the brutal, and the banal. And David mentioned this last term already.
In the first instance, this project is an intervention in the familiar field of theories of the avant garde when it tries to open a third line in these accounts. The avant garde is usually located in two ways only, as vanguard in a position of radical innovation, or as resistant. And David also mentioned the involvement and idea of postmodern of the resistance-- in other words, in a position of stern refusal of the status quo.
My garde is neither avant nor rear in these ways, but caustically imminent. It adopts a posture of pneumatic adaptation-- often, exacerbation-- that I associate with this old challenge of the young Marx-- to make petrified social conditions dance by singing them their own song.
So, too, in 20th century arts studies, avant garde is usually seen to be driven by two motives only, the transgression of a given symbolic social order-- think of surrealism, for example-- or the legislation of a new one-- think of Russian constructivism, for example, after the revolution.
The avant garde that concerns me here is, again, different, not heroic. It does not pretend that it can break absolutely with an old order, or found a new one. Rather, it seeks only to trace fractures that already exist within the given order to pressure them further.
Another small point about this project, for a generation at least, two paradigms have governed studies of advanced art in the 20th century. The first is that of a pre-war avant garde, like Dada, say, followed by a postwar neo-avant garde, like pop, say. In the influential account, Peter Berger-- again, David mentioned him-- this neo-avant garde cannot help but be a repetition. And that's a recuperation of the transgressive ambitions of the pre-war avant garde.
Implicitly, another line from Marx drives the story-- the avant garde versus tragedy, and then as farce. That is one problem with this model, which I've tried to revise with the notion of [INAUDIBLE] or deferred action, whereby the neo-- rather than co-opt the original avant garde-- makes good on its traumatic promise.
Another problem is that this model posits a break between the two avant gardes-- a break forced by the suppressions of Nazism and Stalinism, and the dislocations of World War. Obviously, these things are real. But that the problem is, that this break casts avant garde activities at mid century into obscurity.
The second paradigm and its control of 20th century art study is that of a modernism followed by a postmodernism, as long promulgated by the October crowd, also posits a historical rupture that occludes essential practices at mid century. Moreover, both models are now fatigued. And they have very little to say about a phenomenon that has come to baffle art history, criticism, and museum alike, and no doubt, other disciplines and institutions too-- the category of the contemporary, a contemporary that seems to float free of any and all historical connection or theoretical determination.
Today, we need accounts that rely less on ruptures and more on rhythms of persistence. And I see my project in the bathetic the brutal, and the banal in this light. A final remark, and then I promise to get on with it. My subject this afternoon is the bathetic in Dada, which arises in ferocious response to war-- obviously, World War I. Another reason why I want to think about it here is to ask-- however tacitly-- why artistic responses to the present war or invasion occupation are so muted. Why this caustic reaction almost 100 years ago, and so little today?
As I say, this talk is about the bathetic, with Bathos understood conventionally as an unintended drop from the high to the low, the sublime to the ridiculous. The difference here is that Bathos and Dada is a conscious strategy of degradation-- of degradation largely as defense. It is conscious, too, about the rhyme between Bathos and Pathos.
Now, the Dada I'm about to present with the focus on Zurich and Cologne-- not Berlin, Paris, or New York, its other main sites-- is often associated with the grotesque and the carnivalesque. This is not wrong. In this Dada, as we will see, the individual body is often travestied as a figure of the social body. And yet, though there is erraticality here, there is little overturning-- only abnegation, or again, degradation.
That is why I hold the rubric of the bathetic, cued in part by my principal protagonist-- if that's the right word-- Hugo Ball-- it is he you see on the screen-- who once described the Dada cabaret he set up with his friends in Zurich called cabaret Voltaire, as follows. The ideals of culture and of art as a program for a variety show. That is our kind of candid against the times.
OK, that's a long build up to a brief talk. Again, it is rough, associative, citational-- a Frankenstein of fragments, 10 in all. But maybe that's appropriate to the topic. It has an epigram which comes from a 1918 Dada leaflet that is this-- to be a goddess means to let oneself be thrown by things.
One-- magical bishop. It is a familiar performance, but extraordinary, still. On the 23rd of June, 1916, at the cabaret Voltaire in Zurich-- a nightclub taken over by a motley crew of international artists, writers, and agitators in flight from the war, and soon to be known as Dadaists, the German, Hugo Ball, premieres his sound poems, or poems without words. My legs were in a cylinder of shiny blue cardboard, which came up to my hips so that it looked like an obelisk. He tells us, in flight out of time, his diagnostic diary of the years 1914 to 1921.
Over it, I wore a huge collar-- coat collar cut out from cardboard-- scarlet inside, and gold outside. I also wore a high blue and white striped witch doctor's hat. I was carried onto the stage in the dark and began, slowly and solemnly--
The stresses became heavier. The emphasis was increased to the sound, as the sound of the consonants became sharper. Then I noticed that my voice had no choice but to take on the ancient cadence of priestly lamentation-- that style of liturgical singing that wails and all the Catholic churches of east and west.
For a moment, it seemed as if there were a pale, bewildered face in my cubist mask-- that half-frightened, half-curious face of a 10-year-old boy, trembling and hanging avidly on the priest's words and the requiems and high masses in his home parish. Bathed in sweat, I was carried down off the stage like a magical bishop.
Now, in the performance, Ball is many things at once-- part shaman, part priest, but also a child once again entranced by ritual magic, less pope and blasphemer in one man than exorcist and possessed. Such pandemonium is one aim of the Dadaists-- pandemonium, as in, abode of all demons, place of lawless violence or uproar, utter confusion. Yet, in this instance, it proves too much for Ball-- oops, too much for my computer, too.
This is kind of the schizophrenic effect we wanted. Uh, help?
Exactly. All right, I hope no one has a pacemaker. Hope no one's liable for-- OK. Let all of us continue now and hope that Hugo Ball settles down. But I promise that he will. Ball, the magical bishop, is also a buffoon. The term appears more than once in his diary. And I wonder if he had in mind another buffoon, one who figures in the Sprach Zarathustra.
Ball wrote his dissertation on Nietzche. Early in the book, Zarathustra makes this famous statement-- man is a rope fastened between animal and Superman, a rope over an abyss.
We're in the abyss still. OK, stay there. Let's try the next slide, just to keep him in place. Man is a rope fastened between animal and Superman, a rope over an abyss. Man is also-- we soon discover-- the tightrope walker on this rope. Just as he had reached the middle of his course, Nietzche writes, the little door opened again. And a brightly-dressed fellow like a buffoon sprang out and followed the man with rapid steps. Forward, lame foot, cried his fearsome voice. Forward, slugger, intruder, pallid face. What are you doing here? You are blocking the way of a better man than you.
It is the buffoon who might be an avatar of Zarathustra-- not, as the man believes, the devil-- who causes the man to stumble and fall into the depths. Incidentally, the difference between Dada and expressionism is marked here. One group of expressionists, Die Brucke, took their name from this very passage, and thus, brought Zarathustra. They sought to be a bridge across this abyss-- not like Ball, an agent of the plunge into it.
Two-- the bliss of the epileptic. As Dadaism is sign and gesture, the opposite of Bolshevism, Ball asks in his diary on the 7th of June, 1917, strange incidents. When we had the cabaret Voltaire in Zurich-- at spiegogasa 1, there lived, at spiegogasa 6-- opposite, if I'm not mistaken-- Mr. Ulyanov Lenin. This is, of course, the coincidence that Tom Stoppard, travesties in Travesties, though he substitutes Tristan Zara for Ball, and adds Joyce, then at work on his own epic of Bathos, Ulysses.
A year and a half later in Bayern, Ball meets Walter Benjamin, whom he introduces to Ernst Bloch, recent author of The Spirit of Utopia, Benjamin is very impressed by Bloch. At this point, his scale of history still tips in favor of hope. Several years later, at the end of One-Way Street-- his textual montage from 1923 to 1926, that works to relay through images like vignettes and abrupt cuts, the shock experiences of industrial war and mediated metropolis, Benjamin writes-- in the knights of annihilation of the last war, the frame of mankind was shaken by a feeling that resembles the bliss of the epileptic. And the revolts that followed it were the first attempt of mankind to bring the new body under its control. The power of the proletariat is the measure of its convalescence.
Now, to evoke these experiences, now, for this collage from 1920, titled The Murderous Airplane by Max Ernst-- who was, in fact, a shot victim in the war. But mankind, as we know, doesn't get well. The proletariat is soon contained in Germany and disciplined in the Soviet Union, as its shaking is brought under different dictatorial control.
Perhaps this suppression is one reason why the Dada's miming of the bliss of the epileptic-- first enacted by Ball in his performance-- will recur intermittently, variously, and compulsively for decades to come. His acting out as more epileptic than cathartic.
Three-- Ecce Homo Novus. If not the opposite of Bolshevism, Dada does propose a new man very different from that of revolutionary artists in Russia, such as the constructivists. Of course, this has everything to do with the divergent possibilities of political contexts. The Dada is trapped and are exiled in places like Zurich and New York-- the constructivists, for the moment at least, with the wind in their sails.
In any case, they present contrary models of the new man, the Dadaist bachelor machine figures a reification and fragmentation that penetrates in capitalist industry to the individual. The constructivist engineer personalizes and personifies a rationalization that proceeds from the individual to communist society at large.
Here is one way to evoke this difference. On the left is ABCD, or portrait de l'artiste, from 1923-'24 by Raoul Hausmann, a key Berlin artist whose picture is captioned-- well, Hausmann is soul margarine-- along with images that range from stars to anatomical diagrams by way of two globes.
The work thus suggests a new language of universal fragmentation underscored by the repeated Stuka, and driven by cash. That's a Czechoslovakian bill at bottom left, and merits a fragment of commerts made into a motto by the Hannover Dadaist, Kurt Schwitters, in the center.
On the right is self-portrait, The Constructor. Another famous image from 1924, by the Russian, El Lissitzky. It proposes a new language of a very different order designed rationally by compass and grid, with mind, eye, and hand in perfect alignment, not shattered as in the Hausmann.
Quickly, another pair of Dadaist constructivist opposites. On the left is another collage by Ernst, Little Machine, constructed by minimax, Dadamax, and person from 1919, 1920, made up of found printer blocks, a bathetic deconstructed figure or a coupling of two. Note, the little penis faucet at left dripping a little drop of blood.
On the right is another figure by Lissitzky from 1920-'21 titled simply, The New-- confidently built up supremacist geometries and communist stars. Its limbs, so many steel girders stretching, like the Tatlin monument to the third International onward and upward.
On the one hand a tottering world in flight betrothed to the chimes of hell, Tristan Tzara writes in his Dada manifesto of 1918, as if apropos, this Dadaist, constructivist position. On the other hand, new man.
Here too, Tzara seems to gloss another Dadaist encounter, another Dadaist account of Der Neue Mensch by Richard Huelsenbeck, a Dadaist who moves between Zurich and Berlin, published in Neue Jungen on the 23rd of May, 1917, nearly a year after the Ball performance. And I wonder if Huelsenbeck has Ball in mind. In any case, here he is again. I hope he doesn't schiz out on us.
In this account, the tottering and the new are forced together as one. The new man-- this was all Huelsenbeck-- the new man stretches wide the wings of his soul. He orients his inner ear toward things to come. His knees find an altar before which to bend. He carries pandemonium within himself-- the pandemonium for or against which no one can do anything.
His neck is twisted and stiff. He gazes upward, staggering toward redemption like some fecure or stylite-- a wretched martyr of all centuries, anointed and sainted. He begs to be crushed. One day, to be consumed in the burning heart, wrapped and consumed. The new man, exalted, erring, ecstatic-- borne of ecstasy. Ahoy, ahoy, Husa, Josanna, whips, wars of the eons. And yet, human. The new man rises from all ashes, cured of all toxins, and fantastic worlds saturated stuff full to the point of disgust with the experience of all outcasts. The dehumanized beings of Europe, the Africans, the Polynesians, all kinds. Feces smeared with devilish ingredients. The sated of all genders. Ecce homo novus, here is the new man.
Perhaps this is what the Angelus Novus, by Paul Klee-- pictured by Benjamin in 1940-- is hurtled by the winds of history, looked like in 1917, when the high spirits prompted by political upheaval were not yet exhausted. When epileptic bliss had not yet hardened into political catatonia-- a portrait of the Angelus Novus as magical bishop.
Quick aside-- in a way, this talk is nothing but asides. Recently, I came across this skeptical note on the subject of The New Man by Brecht in his journal of December 1940. And it might be good to introduce it here as an antidote.
I find the postulate itself is a religious one, Brecht writes. It is the old new atom. In actual fact, the new man is the old man in new situations, i.e., the particular old man who is best fitted to cope with the new situations to push the new situations ahead, the new subject of politics. The new modes of acting and reacting constitute the new man. What remains old about him is the very fact that he is human. All postulates about mankind which go beyond the postulates inherent in the situation are to be rejected. Such concepts of newness are worthless.
Four-- a gladiator's gesture. Apart from Ball, Huelsenbeck, and Tzara, the main players in Zurich Dada, are Hans Arp, Sophie Taeuber, Marcel Janco, and Christian Shodd, while clone Dada is a two man band of Ernst and Alfred Grunwald, the son of a wealthy banker, who took the pseudonym, Johannes Baargeld-- Baargeld is in cash.
A key persona in both sides is the traumatic mime. In a key strategy of this traumatist is mimetic adaptation, whereby the Dadaist assumes the dire conditions of his time, the armoring of the military body, the fragmenting of the industrial worker, the commodifying of the capitalist subject, and inflates them through hyperbole or hypertrophy-- another term sometimes used by Dadaists. It means the enlargement of an organ due to excessive nutrition. This strategy is also active in Berlin.
On the left is an amputee war veteran attaching a tool to his prosthetic arm. On the left, is a mannequin assemblage made by Gross and John Hartfield for the infamous Dada Fair in Berlin in 1920. Its title is The Middle Class Philistine Hartfield Gone Wild.
Another example of Dada's hypertrophy. This time, from Cologne, a 1920 collage that Ernst made, simply by painting over a page from a catalogue of instruments for biology and chemistry. These Two Ambiguous Figures, the title of the collage, seemed to have adapted for better, or for worse, to new conditions. You see, he just took the page and painted over it.
Such hypertrophic buffoonery is a form of parody the Dada made its own. What we call Dada is a farce of nothingness in which all the higher questions are involved, Ball writes, on the 12 of June 1916, less than two weeks before his magical bishop performance. A gladiator's gesture, a play with shabby leftovers. Is this gladiator's gesture one of life or death? And perhaps it's both, but the accent might fall-- should fall, I think-- on gesture, maybe on the kind of grandiloquent gesture Ball embarks on pro-wrestling.
In wrestling, Ball writes in Mythologies, defeat is not a conventional sign, abandoned as soon as it is understood. It is not an outcome, but quite the contrary. It is a duration, a display that takes up the ancient myths of public suffering and humiliation-- the cross and the pillory.
And so it is, with Ball, at least. But it is sense of Dada-- his sense of Dada as a play with shabby leftovers that interests me here. For all that is world is a cast of fragments, the Dadaist does not give up on totality, Ball suggests. On the contrary, he is still convinced of the unity of all beings, of the totality of all things, that he suffers from the dissonances to the point of self-disintegration.
This is a crucial dialectic, if it is in fact, a dielectric. But amidst the dissonances, it is very difficult to maintain. And self-disintegration has its own paradoxical attractions. Now, for other creatures, mimetic adaptation is a biological technique of survival through camouflage in a hostile environment. With humans, however, the process can be pushed to a dangerous extreme, indeed, to the point of a pathological detumescence of the subject-- a schizophrenic devouring by space, as Roger Caillois put it in 1937, 20 years after Ball.
The best gloss on this horrific spaciality that I know in art is this 1921 drawing, a watercolor by Clay, Room Perspective With Inhabitants. Note how the figures in the floor and right wall are invaded, less inhabitants in space, or of space, than inhabited by space. He feels himself becoming space, Caillois writes, of such schizophrenic experience. Dark space, where things cannot be put.
He is similar-- not similar to something, but just similar. Such is the risk of an excessive identification with the corrupt conditions of a symbolic order. Yet, somehow maintained as a critical strategy, this miming can also expose this order has failed, or at least, is fragile.
Ball eludes to a tactic of exaggeration often in Flight Out Of Time. Everyone has become mediumistic, he writes on the 20th of April 1917-- from fear, from terror, from agony, or because there are no laws anymore. Who knows?
Now here are two masks by Marcel Janco used in such mediumistic performances at the cabaret Voltaire. This is Dada in extremis. What if the problem were not the oppressive presence of law, but its absence? We can always obey a law or transgress it. But what does one do if there are no laws anymore? Who knows?
This is one definition of the Dada's predicament. Yet again, this is Dada at the extreme. And in principle, the tactic of exaggeration is less nihilistic than immunological. The Dadaist again suffers from the dissonances to the point of self-disintegration, Ball writes on the 12th of June, 1916-- in order to fight against the agony and death throes of this age.
This model here, he tells us, is not the absolute anarchist, though he was an avid reader of Bacunan, so much as the perfect psychologist who has the power to shock or soothe with one in the same topic. As the organ of the outlandish, the Dadaist also threatens and soothes at the same time, Ball writes on the 2nd of March 1916. The threat produces a defense.
Here, his immunological language is almost apotropaic and Flight Out Of Time is peppered with Medusan metaphors. Nine days later, after Huelsenbeck drums out his primitivistic poems, Ball writes, the Gorgon's head of a boundless terror smiles out of fantastic destruction. To call mimetic adaptation apotropaic, however, is not to say that it is sublimatory. Medusa's head is now transformed into Athena's shield. A strong measure of fear, terror, and agony is retained.
For Ball, this heady mix is best captured in the unruly masks made by Janco for the cabaret soirees. The motive power of these masks was irresistibly conveyed to us, Ball recounts on the 24th of May 1916. They simply demanded that their wares start to move in a tragic, absurd dance. The horror of our time, the paralyzing background of events is made visible.
And this is Sophie Taeuber, dancing in a mask by Janco in a costume, likely by her husband Hans Arp, sometime in 1917. Taeuber is an extraordinary artist, too often overlooked. Here is one of her own Dada heads from 1918, this one subtitled Portrait of Hans Arp. It's a funny, malicious gesture, the woman who mistook her husband for a hat stand.
In the same year, Taeuber made a group of marionettes for a Dadaist production of 18th century satire, The King's Stag. The play was updated as a battle between psychoanalysts.
Taeuber called the figure in the center there, Freudian analyst. Here is another photo of Dada dancers. And this is where I am most associative-- I'm sorry-- this one from 1919. Now, to me, it bears an uncanny resemblance to some of the images from the region of the Pueblo Indians of North America, the Kachina dancers in particular. But another traumatist, the great art historian, Aby Warburg, showed in his famous lecture of that title at the Kreuzlingen Sanitarium in April 1923.
As some of you might know, Warburg was a patient of Ludwig Binswanger. And the deal was that if he could lecture coherently for an hour, he would be released. Forget his grade tax, forget his extraordinary library. For this reason alone, Warburg is the model of us academics.
Five-- sympathy for the devil. A wretched martyr of all centuries, anointed and sainted, he begs to be crushed. That is Huelsenbeck again. And surely, he does have Ball in mind here. He does, indeed, commit his dreams of humiliations and mortifications to his diary. His entry for the 28th of November 1915 reads, at night, I am Stephen being stoned. Rocks rained down. And I feel the ecstasy of one who is being ruthlessly beaten and crushed by stones for the sake of a little rough pyramid covered with blood.
This is beyond mediumistic-- again, his term for Dadaist trance. It is masochistic. Radical passivity not only as a mode of defense, as Freud might say, but as a form, perhaps, of [INAUDIBLE]. This is one allure of self-disintegration.
In Masochism In Modern Man of 1941, Theodor Reik analyzes Jesus Christ as a masochist who, in the parables and paradoxes of the New Testament, performs both linguistic inversions and ethical subversions. His analysis reads like a case study of Ball, who practices his own imitation of Christ.
In fact, Ball considers an identification that is even more masochistic, perhaps. If one sides with those who suffer, he writes in the 20th of November, 1915, must one not also side with those who suffer so much that they are no longer recognizable? If one now assumes that Satan's suffering is infinite, then this is a dangerous sympathy.
The male masochist is politically ambiguous to be sure. For Kaja Silverman, on the one hand, this figure magnifies the losses and divisions upon which cultural identity is based, refusing to be sutured or recompensed. For [INAUDIBLE], on the other hand, he epitomizes the subject in complete control, for whom all relationships are strictly contractual.
But these two faces might belong to the same persona. I can imagine a time, Ball writes, as early as the 20th of September 1915, when I will seek obedience as much as I have disobedience to the full. For him, there was no course other than to be a penitent, writes his wife, Emmy Hennings in her 1946 preface to Flight Out Of Time. But such as his satanic doubleness that Hennings also compares Ball to The Grand Inquisitor.
Incidentally, this doubleness again, links Ball to Baudelaire. I would be happy not only as a victim, Baurelaire remarked along similar lines, famously. It would not displease me to play the hangman as well.
Emmy Hennings, by the way, was another extraordinary figure. Here, you see her with a puppet of her own making for a 1916 performance. Poet, a prostitute, a charismatic entertainer-- if there was a star of cabaret Voltaire, it was she. An addict, a passport forger for draft evaders, a muse and nurse to Ball, many other things besides.
Six-- the shaman. If Ball presents the Dadaist as shaman in Zurich in 1916-1917. Max Ernst figures the Dadaist as shaman, or shay-man, in Cologne in 1919-1920. Here he is in a photo montage from 1920 with one, Caesar Buonarroti, that is, a travesty of Michelangelo Buonarroti, flayed and cross-dressed, a gesture keeping with other Dadaist mockings of master artists. The most famous one is, of course, the goateed Mona Lisa by Duchamp.
To accompany his notorious Dada early spring show in April 1920, Ernst publishes a little journal titled, Die Schammade. And here is one of his assemblages made up of found wood rods, spools, and curly Qs titled, Obras de Arte, and reproduced on the title page of Die Schammade. Ernst did many such pieces, inspired in part by the art of mentally ill, most of which-- like this one-- are now lost.
The title of the journal, Schammade, is one of the slipperiest of his many neologisms. Hans Viktor, the veteran of Zurich Dada, here is both schammade-- shaman-- and charrade-- charade-- in the term, a reading perhaps closer to Ball than to Ernst-- though, here, they are close enough.
The Ernst expert, Werner Spies, tells us the Schammade is a bucolic melody, and that the phrase, "schammade schlangen" means to sound the drum or trumpet signal for retreat. This melancholic surrender suits the pose of masochistic passivity. But a further combination is possible as well. Scham, which means not only shame, but also genitals-- a tell-tale association that must have triggered Freud in Civilization and its Discontents-- or "shamar", which means pubic hair with "made", which means "maggot".
This reading of the neologism renders a nasty image of maggoty pubes, of wormy penises and rotten vaginas, Medusa's head with limp snakes, perhaps with a hint of maggoty shame as well-- though, again, there is not much Ayenbite of Inwit among the Dadaists. Such a phallic scam or sham is a common ploy in Dada. And Die Schammade names it for Ernst.
Here is another of his assemblages. You can barely see it to the right and the rear, that exists now only in this blurry photograph. This photograph from 1921 is suggestive, though. It shows to the left, Louise Ernst, Max, and their infant son, Jimmy. Perhaps, not see-- I mean, it's very faint. And to the right, Paul and Gala Elwa. Ernst was caught up in a menage-a-trois with Paul and Gala, who would later on off with Dali. So it's not exactly a normative snapshot of family and friends.
The full tidal of the personage behind them, this figure-- one of these assemblages-- who is given a wood gun and a helmet hat, also spells trouble in the symbolic order. The title is, Old Lecher with Rifle Protects the Museum's Spring Apparel from Dadaist Interventions, L'état, C'est Moi, monumental sculpture. Here, then, Ernst figures tradition as nothing more than an old lecher. Subject and state, L'état, C'est Moi, are folded into one another, collapse pathetically. And this figure is the only appropriate monumental sculpture to such a condition.
When Ernst displayed it at the Dada early spring show, he hung a tray splashed with red paint by its crotch, on top of which he also set a medallion with the Albrecht Durer engraving of Adam and Eve And it was this piece that brought the police in to shut the show down. And his father never spoke to him again.
Seven-- the hat makes the man. Ernst stages phallic crisis in many of his Dadaist collages and assemblages, most of which are made of discarded things-- again, old printer plates and catalogue pages in the collages, wooden odds and ends in the assemblages-- with titles like Hypertrophic Trophy, which you see here-- it's faint-- and Phallastrad, which is an assemblage that's now lost.
His rickety figures mock any pretense of phallic autonomy, let alone any fantasy of modernist autogenesis. Exhibited in Dada early spring, Phallastrad was made up mostly of doll parts, apparently. Apparently, along the lines of the four unsteady stacks of semi-animate hats in the famous collage, The Hat Makes the Man of 1920. Phallastrad is another provocative neologism. Contraction of phallus and balustrade, Ernst later uses the word to model his conception of collage as the unexpected meeting of two or more heterogeneous elements. Might this be how he remembers his Dadaist works as a parade of penile stick figures, of phallic impostors, made up by the accidental coupling of shabby leftovers?
Consider The Hat Makes the Man. The men here are both mechanical-- they resemble for crooked pistons-- and commodified. They are nothing but stacked hats. As with two ambiguous figures, Ernst contrived them by painting over found advertisement.
A quasi-schizophrenic inscription on the collage reads in German, seed covered stacked of man, seedless water former. Well-fitting nervous system, also, tightly fitted nerves. And in French, the hat makes the man. Style is the tailor.
Here in Ernst's pictures, the crazy evolution of a new kind of man with a new sort of nervous system constructed out of standard parts and commodity images-- a mass ornament of one. And here, I'll just show you The Hat Makes the Man with two ambiguous figures. If this is an evolution, it is also a devolution-- an oxymoronically entropic progression.
Certainly, he pushes mimetic adaptation to a porotic extreme. Human has indeed become a mad hatter, the only true readymade. He is now a mere appendage to his own creation, a mere effect of the automatism of production and consumption.
Eight-- negative expressionism. The Dadaist shay-man, or shaman, is not without forerunners. For Ball, Dada is a synthesis of the romantic, dadaistic, and demonic theories of the 19th century. The great isolated minds of the last epoch have a tendency to persecution, epilepsy, and paralysis, he writes on the 3 of November, 1915. They are obsessed, rejected, and maniacal, all for the sake of their work.
They turn to the public as if it should interest itself in their sickness. They give it the material for assessing their condition. Ball sees Nietzsche as the great precedent of this mimetic performance. But for Benjamin, it is, of course, Baudelaire who had the physiognomy of a mime and an empathy with inorganic things.
Adorno turns this particular intuition into a general thesis. Art is modern art through mimesis of the hardened and alienated, he writes in Aesthetic Theory. Baudelaire neither railed against nor portrayed Reification. He protested against it and the experience of its archetypes.
Other avant gardes practice mimesis of the hardened to be sure, but in ways very different from Dada. The futurists also attempt to trope military industrial shock. Not satisfied with the defensive posture of shock turned into shield, they don't rail against Reification, they Labid-inize it. They fantasize a new metallic body and cathect it as an uber ego. In many ways, the Dadaists, who, of course were influenced by the futurists, do the opposite. Their hypertrophy, their organ of the outlandish is entirely other, dedicated to ego collapse.
In a different way, the surrealists eroticize the empathy with inorganic things. They exploit the sex appeal of the commodity in particular. There is little of this fetishism in Dada. Now both Benjamin and Adorno read the dandiest, thick, and demonic genealogy of modernism through the optic of Dada. In Philosophy of Modern Music in 1948, Adorno writes of Stravinsky.
Musical infantilism belongs to a movement which designed schizophrenic models everywhere as a mimetic defense against the insanity of war. Around 1918, Stravinsky was attacked as a Dadaist. In a scattered note on negative expressionism, Benjamin writes of the Russian Eccentrics-- a troupe of avant garde actors who like to mimic circus performers-- clown and natural peoples, sublation of inner impulses and of the body center, dislocation of shame, expression a true feeling of despair, displacement-- consequent discovery of deep expressive capacity. The man remains seated as the chair in which he sits is pulled out from under him-- connection to Picabia.
This last is a reference to Francis Picabia, who appears here in a particularly nasty Christmas greeting of 1920 sent to Arp and Ernst. Picabia was the great Dadaist vagabond. Its master clown of displacement, active in New York, Zurich, and Paris, among other places. And his card gathers many of our themes. Notice identification as Picabia lustik, the buffoon-- the vile mishmash of this collaged face. The defiling of Papa Nome di Pair on his forehead. His other identification is Francisla Rate, The Failed, on his chin. And these are things that you can just barely make out, I hope.
The little penis pipe hanging from his nose, the little bowler on top of his head. His hat does not make this man, a man. The general masochism of the implicit beating down he receives from the high heels, which are hardly fetishistic. At the masochism here, unlike in Ball, seems somehow dedicated to underhanded control. Note, his screwed up eyes and his nasty leer.
Nine-- Mickey, or Ordidek? That's supposed question, in a way. For Benjamin, the ultimate purpose of mimetic adaptation is to survive civilization, to remain seated after the chair is pulled out. There's a formulation he uses a few times in the early 1930s. The 1931 fragment on Mickey Mouse, whom I show you here a little perversely with The New of Lissitzky, Benjamin writes, in his films-- films of Mickey-- mankind makes preparations to survive civilization.
This is his explanation for the huge popularity of the Mickey films who had just begun to come to Germany at this point. The public recognizes its own life in them. But what exactly does it recognize in Mickey? Benjamin only remarks of his many trials and tribulations in the films. Like here, we see for the first time, that it is possible to have one's arm, even one's own body, stolen.
And these are the films which everything happens to Mickey. He's been torn apart by the machines-- in a way, like Chaplin. There is an association for Benjamin between the two. Our body has become so much property, our limbs so much capital. And here, it is as if Mickey anticipates our own neoliberal moment of capitalism with organs now, a global market.
On the other hand, Benjamin implies, Mickey also teaches us how to adapt without them-- without limbs, without organs-- and maybe even thrive as well. Dorda, of course, takes a different view-- a behaviorist one of the early Disney characters. The beating suffered by Donald Duck, whom he seems to prefer to Mickey-- at least, as an examplem-- simply teach workers to bear the punishments of capitalism quietly.
Implicitly, Benjamin goes the other way with Mickey, makes him a figure of a new positive concept of barbarism, as he writes in his 1933 essay, Experience In Poverty. Again, implicitly, Benjamin associates Mickey and shape-changing with the science fiction characters of the German writer, Paul Schubart. A crucial inspiration to the expressionists. Schubart is interested-- this is all Benjamin-- in inquiring how our telescopes, or airplanes, or rockets can transform human beings as we have been up to now, into completely new, lovable, and interesting creatures. Human likeness, a principle of humanism, is something they reject.
The Russians, too, like to give their children dehumanized names. They call them October, after the month of the revolution. It's too bad. Well, anyway-- Piatella Lipka after the five year plan, or Aviakim, after an airline. No technical renovation of language, but its mobilization in the service of a struggle or work-- at any rate, of changing reality instead of describing it.
Now, this is a stretch, of course, and it suggests how desperate Benjamin was. When he writes this little fragment, the Nazis had just come into power-- and how difficult it is to move from a position of traumatic mimeticism to one of positive barbarism.
Benjamin urges the move. The Dadaists do not often attempt it. In the end, Dada is more Donald than Mickey, and maybe more Odradek than either. I can't resist in this self-indulgent tissue of associations, a citation of this character in the 1919 Kafka short story, The Cares of a Family Man, whom I will evoke here with the Obshe De Arte of Ernst.
Dominic mentioned this figure yesterday, actually. At first glance, the Kafka narrator tells us, the creature called Odradek, looks like a flat, star-shaped spool for thread. And indeed, it does seem to have thread wound upon it. To be sure they are only old, broken off bits of thread, knotted and tangled together of the most varied sorts and colors. But it is not only a spool, for a small wooden cross bar sticks out of the middle of the star. Another small rod is joined to that for the right angle.
By means of this ladder rod on one side, and one of the points of the star on the other, the whole thing can stand upright as if on two legs. One is tempted to believe that the creature once had some sort of intelligible shape and is now only a broken down remnant. If this does not seem to be the case, at least there is no sign of it. Nowhere is there an unfinished or unbroken service to suggest anything of the kind. The whole thing looks senseless enough, but in its own way, perfectly finished.
In any case, closer scrutiny is impossible, since Odradek is extraordinarily nimble and can never be laid hold of. Of course, you put no difficult questions to him. You treat them. He is so diminutive, that you can't help it. Rather, like a child. Well, what's your name, you ask him? Odradek, he says. And where do you live? No fixed abode, he says, and laughs. But it is only the kind of laughter that has no lungs behind it. It sounds, rather, like the rustling of fall leaves.
I ask myself to no purpose, what is likely to happen to him? Can he possibly die? Anything that dies has some kind of aim in life, some kind of activity, which has worn out. But that does not apply to Odradek. He does no harm to anyone that one can see. But the idea that he is likely to survive me, I find almost painful.
10-- muscle man. To survive civilization, such then is the ultimate goal of mimetic adaptation in Dada as well. And finally, it is why Ball and Ernst practiced the buffoonery of the bashed ego. And I borrow this term from Peter Sloterdijk.
More desperate than the cynical reason of Duchamp and Picabia, the bashed ego resists in the form of unresisting accommodation. For many critics, this is the political limitation of Dada. It advances a critique that flaunts its own futility-- a defense that knows the damage is already done. But like the traumatized war veterans-- and some of them were contemporaries of Dada discussed by Freud in Beyond the Pleasure Principle of 1920, as he struggled toward his theory of the death drive.
After Ball designates the Dadaist as the organ of the outlandish, he adds, but since it turns out to be harmless, the spectator begins to laugh at himself about his fear. Yet, again, this catharsis is not of purging. It is a sickening. And it only compounds the hopelessness. Paradoxically, however, it is this very hopelessness that gives the bashed ego its critical edge, its unaccommodated negativity.
The farce of these times reflected in our nerves has reached a degree of infantilism and godlessness that cannot be expressed in words, Paul writes on the 10th of February, 1917. Not even a man without qualities, the Dadaist is a man without a man-- the opposite of a superman, he is an unman. The Dadaists virtualize this figure of dehumanization as a form of defense in critique against world war, brutal industrialization, nationalist madness, repressive government. They could not have foreseen that such dehumanization would be realized in the concentration camps.
In many ways, the camps render the figure of the Dadaist mime, null and void. But perhaps not entirely so. Perhaps an artist like Andy Warhol suggests what a postwar version of this figure might be-- a version refitted to consumerist society.
Here is his famous Campbell's Soup Cans of 1960-'62, determined by the flavors then available. This is the first installation of these iconic works. And that's why I show you this installation shot. He just made the flavors that were available to him. And he made them, as you see here, as if on a market shelf.
But let me end with an example that might not be quite so familiar to you. In the early 1960s-- about the same time that Warhol produces his Death in America images-- the Belgian poet/artist Marcel Broodthaers writes his poems, Pense-Bete.
And here, you see this book. It was an actual book of poems that he then cast in plaster as his first artwork next to one of his signature paintings, Stuck, with mussel shells. The title alone of the poems, Pense-Bete, points to an affinity with Dadaist buffoonery. Broodthaers worked to make Reification, at once literal and allegorical, into mime a pre-emptive embrace that might also be a reflexive defense.
His La Moule, The Muscle, reads, this clever thing has avoided society's mold. She casts herself in her very own. Other lookalikes share with her the anti-see. She is perfect. That's where I end. Thanks for listening.
DAVID: Now we'll entertain some questions. I have Marie and Anton. And you have to speak up so that the people in the back can hear.
AUDIENCE: I was just curious and intrigued by your inclusion of Emmy Hennings and Sophie Taeuber. And it seems like genders are an underlying and explicit theme throughout the talk-- sort of a crisis of masculinity. And this is a very broad question, but I was just wondering if you could say a little bit more about the place and purpose of Hennings and Taeuber in the sort of images that you're making.
HAL FOSTER: Yeah. You know, as is obvious, this is just material that I've thrown up in the air, in a way. In my Dadaist ways, I've not worked it out. I'm reluctant to say that these Dadaist guys appropriate the position of the masocist associated with the feminine. I don't think that that's exactly what happens. I'm not sure that they simply displace the women in their midst. Because actually, Dada was one of the few avant gardes in the 20th century, at least, before World War II that had a place for women at all.
And in constructivists, that was another example. But I think because I'm hesitant to run Dada into surrealism, where questions of sexual difference or sexuality is foremost. I want to hold onto its difference. And there, I haven't quite figured out what the role of gender is.
Emmy Hennings was a gender bender in her own right. I mean, she was transgressive in all kinds of ways socially. But it's a very odd couple. Maybe I should have shown you some photographs of the two of them together. And Ball looks, as he is described in that performance, as this kind of pallid boy all the time. And she is beautiful and tough. And it's very hard to locate them in terms of traditional categories of gender.
It's really the same thing with Sophie Taeuber. And she's really an extraordinary artist. In many ways, who cares about first, I suppose. But in my business, we do still. You could say that she was the first one to do abstract art. And she did these abstract grids. She actually wove them at times in 1915, and totally abstract. And for a long time, Arp-- Hans Arp-- got credit for the work that Sophie Taeuber did. And those heads and those marionettes, they're really extraordinary and kind of a-symbolic in a way that makes them, for me, just prime Dada objects. But you're very kind about this question, because it is an area that I haven't really worked yet. But I shall, I promise. I'll get back to you.
DAVID: Do you have anything, the two things?
AUDIENCE: Well, no, I just wanted to hear more.
AUDIENCE: More of a clarification than anything else-- to quote Emmy Hennings in saying that Hugo Ball had something of a grand inquisitor in him. And I'm wondering, is she thinking about historical grand inquisitors like the ones operating in Spain? Or is she thinking about the grand inquisitor in Ivan Karamazov's story at the end of The Brothers Karamazov? It would make a big difference.
HAL FOSTER: Yeah, yeah it would.
AUDIENCE: That story is one of those stories about the superseding of one definition of mankind, and starting up with another one.
HAL FOSTER: Yeah. You know, it's just a line in her preface. And I haven't seen any other allusion. It struck me too, but I don't know exactly where to go yet to figure out which one she might have met. What Ball does do-- and here, Andy Rabinbach has written a terrific text on Ball and post-Dada. He returns to the church, and he writes this extraordinary genealogy of German intellectuals from the Reformation on, and condemns them all, essentially.
And he feels that they went wrong with Protestantism, essentially. So in a way, he does become a grand inquisitor of another sort. And maybe that's in part what he has in mind. But I don't know. It's another thing I should check out.
AUDIENCE: In the context of the works that they each had, in terms of when they're done, I wonder if you have any thoughts about time to eventuality in politics, since so much of this work-- first of all-- corresponds to a period when ardent philosophy of both, probably the level of cultural production, you can see a transformation in how time is a real conceptualized possible experience. And also, a lot of the words that you look at seem to take on a certain sort of event structures.
So you can talk about the poem as a performance. You would hope that gesture of the wrestler, as the masks of the sort of dance. Is this your concern with the questions of political advocacy here? And I wonder if you have any interest in how this sort of becoming punctual, becoming eventual of art in this period might be related to politics?
In that respect also, I'm interested in the question of, I guess, contingency. The performance that you talked about in the beginning, the account of the performance that Ball gives, something happens there. He gets up on stage, he starts reciting the poem. And then he's started to channel on voices of archaic priests. But that happens. It's an event in the performance. And it seems like it might have not happened, too. So, in a certain sort of political--
HAL FOSTER: What do you mean it might not have happened?
AUDIENCE: Performances go badly.
Slides start going across the screen. But somehow, this art is bound up with time. It is bound up with a certain sense of eventuality. And if it is political, what if it just falls flat? What happens against him?
HAL FOSTER: You know, that topic is a real concern of mine in my own thinking about the avant garde, in part vis-a-vie the Peter Berger model, I wanted to argue that that art is never punctual. And maybe, in a way, I did with Jaded with Mademoiselle yesterday. Make it punctual. Make it all important at that moment, even though Mademoiselle had this delayed reception.
And in many ways, Dada did, too. It had these very local effects, but it was in, really, the telling and retelling of these stories-- the band's performances that had its effectivity. But I do think that Dada-- I mean, if the futurists wanted to be the future, Dadaists really wanted to be present in a way that kind of demand for presence also took a while to develop as a key desire of the avant garde, I think.
I mean, avant garde is-- all of futurism is about the projection. And it's only in the mid century where performance and presence becomes everything, really. And this is to speak in grand terms. But for me, the punctuality of the Ball performance, in a funny way, of course, it has to do with performance. But for me, almost, it has more to do with language-- this desire to break it down and to undo the temporality that is embedded in language.
And that's also in the diary-- this strange quest to restore the language. This not only erratic, but absolutely numinous effect.
DAVID: You think it's something continuous in figures like Dada in this sense, that there's also a time to kind of homeopathic strategy-- that you mimic what is, obstensibly, an object of criticism. And in some sense, the mimicry takes it apart, re-composes it, allows you to see it from a different angle. But there's always the problem of the hyperbolic, of the hypertrophic. That is to say, the tendency to overdose on the antidote. And what is it that you're overdosing on the antidote?
HAL FOSTER: I love that. Ball is Derrida, Derrida is Ball. I'm not exactly sure what to do with it. I would like to set Derrida on a coaster. Yeah, it's very good. Well, certainly, in terms of hypertrophy and--
AUDIENCE: --exorbitance, and oppression in method?
HAL FOSTER: Yeah, absolutely.
AUDIENCE: I mean, mimetic adaptation is ignoring this idea of how we've gotten our pick of it, right? I mean, he thinks that's just what the reason is. So he says, we are like a hippopotamus, stuck in our own survival mechanism. So that mimetic application is exactly our predicament, so that the mimetic application to that is mimetic adaptation to mimetic adaptation.
DAVID: But he also says that mimetic is related to magic, which horrifies us, from which we want our distance.
HAL FOSTER: Well, some of us do. And that's one reason why I had got in Barboro, because he was very concerned to reclaim, in a way, very different from Picasso. But to reclaim this dimension in cultural practice and historical practice.
DAVID: Let's do Louisa, and then you, and then we can come back to Jay, OK? Louisa, go ahead.
AUDIENCE: I'm wondering about the concept [INAUDIBLE] how can Ball relate to these strategies to the [INAUDIBLE] or what makes it radically different?
HAL FOSTER: From the form?
AUDIENCE: Yeah. As in operation [INAUDIBLE]
HAL FOSTER: Yeah. I mean, don't you all know this is like summer vacation?
We're not supposed to think very hard.
AUDIENCE: There's this heated frenzy.
HAL FOSTER: I mean, that's a great question. And in part, the reason why I started with that digression about the need for models that are not about rupture, but about rhythms of persistence is that it's not only to get away from models of avant garde, neo-avant garde, modernism, and post-modernism. In a way, it's to follow the lead of people, like in the October crowd, Rosalind Krauss and Yve-Alain Du Bois, who did develop this patine idea of the art form as a kind of intermittent but persistent concern, kind of an attack on form that emerges at different times throughout the 20th century avant garde.
And in a way, my interest in mimesis of the hard is the complement. I see that there's an appeal to this position too. And it might also be an attack on form, I'm not really sure. But again, this is a point that I began to think about and haven't really worked out. But for me, there is a connection. And there is a connection just where I ended, with this important artist, Marcel Broodthaers. Originally, his poem, La Moule it's paired with the poem La Medusé, which is The Jellyfish. And this is how it reads. Let me just read La Moule again. For me, in a way, it's an emblem of this figure of the hardened.
This clever thing has avoided society's mold. She's cast herself in her very own. Other look alikes share with her the anti-sea. She is perfect. Now, right next to it in palm spathe, is La Medusé, which in translation reads, She's Perfect. No mold, nothing but body and grenades set in sand. Kiss of lips unspoiled, bride always a bride. In dazzling terms, crystal of scorn, great purprise at last, gob of spit, wave wavering.
And gob of spit, that's out of the Batine dictionary too. It's the very figure of the old form. So clearly, for Broodthaers, these two figures-- figure of the muscle, and the figure of the jellyfish-- are allegorical types of how an artist can deal with this condition. Now, Broodthaers you happen to be a student of Lucien Goldmann. So Reification was his course. If you were in the School of Theory and Criticism, that would be his course.
So, for him, at least, it's not. I think, maybe for Krauss and du Bois, there is some relation between-- certainly, for me, between-- interests in the art form and the interest in this other trajectory. But that concerns me. But do you have any suggestions?
AUDIENCE: No, we'll probably talk about this later.
DAVID: Go ahead.
AUDIENCE: I want to get back to your question regarding contemporary. [INAUDIBLE]
And I particularly was curious about the way in which he might relate the contemporarity of Ball and [INAUDIBLE] as far as their prophetic mimetic channelistic to later artists, such as Joseph Beuys or Hans Hofmann, or others who might be simplifying on similar types of categories.
HAL FOSTER: Yeah. Well, I think Dominic is right. You know, most of us are trained to be skeptical of the magical and the ritualistic. And it's an aspect of Beuys-- Joseph Beuys-- that has always made me nervous. But in a way, Ball is both Warhol and Beuys of all of that. And there's some relation between those two persona that he embodies in this very difficult way.
Yeah. I see all kinds of connections, but not really-- I mean, maybe you just wanted to get to the contemporary in terms of recent artists. But what I meant-- and this has very little to do with the talk-- what I meant is a thing that really plagues me now, as a person who is invested in-- to a certain extent-- in the history of modernism and avant garde, I find more and more-- and I am curious to know if this is true in other fields-- that art really has drifted free of any historical connections. It's very difficult to map contemporary art in relation to any precedents.
I mean, you still can, and think, as you suggested with Beuys maybe Hacha, and even down to my generation you can. But there is a way in which-- and this is an effect of the global, an effect of the market that operates very differently in art than other arts and disciplines-- where practices don't even have to touch each other, let alone contest each other.
They're not in a field like the kind of field where these different Dadaists emerge, vehiculated by international journals-- very aware of each other, very aware of this very different thing called futurism, this other very different thing called constructivism, and on and on. And that's just not the situation now. And maybe it's just that I don't have any distance, or I don't have any take on it whatsoever.
But I can go on for hours about this. But it is a real predicament. Maybe it's just a professional predicament for people like me. But it also is a predicament for the museums. You go to the Museum of Modern Art, and there's a certain story that we've all critiqued. But it may just give up after about 1970, and you descend to the bottom floors. There's these huge galleries, and it's a playpen of anomic entropic stuff, you know?
And no doubt, there'll be other determinations that we can figure out after the fact. But right now, it's a condition of bewilderment. And I imagine there's a similar problem, or similar opportunity-- as they say on Wall Street-- in contemporary poetry, perhaps in contemporary fiction, contemporary films as well. But I think, as a critic-- and a critic who is also a historian-- part of the project is to come up with terms that allow for connections that make sense at least for the moment. It's very difficult to do right now, I think. But in a way, it's a different story. But that's really what I meant. I do see all kinds of connections in terms of the strategy of mimetic excess to semi-contemporary figures. But I think, in a way, contemporary art is a whole other place. No connection to any of the avant gardes, even the old new avant gardes.
DAVID: Jay, do you want to?
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] you just said began to answer and wanted to at least talk about and think about is mainly your question about why the possibilities of response to World War I and the absence of them today. I really want to think about that and push on [INAUDIBLE]. The first is-- and I have to say, to me, this is the most convincing way I've ever heard anyone talk about Dada. Because to get rid of the idea of either resistance or rupture, and to think in terms of adaptation, just seems to me startling, and right, and compelling. That these are mechanisms of defense rather than what we used to think of as critique.
HAL FOSTER: I take everything back I said bad about you yesterday.
HAL FOSTER: Uh-oh, there's--
HAL FOSTER: He intends to continue now. There's a big "but" coming.
HAL FOSTER: Yeah, yeah.
HAL FOSTER: Oh, yeah. Thanks, good night.
AUDIENCE: No. So that idea of [INAUDIBLE] defense seemed to me deep. And particularly, I liked the thought of at the end, the notion of the vast ego surviving civilization, the [INAUDIBLE] that know that the damage is already done, which I think is stunning.
And I think, by the way, that there are some other artists, not Dadaists, who we might be tempted to think about that with respect to. Two obvious ones I think are Mondrian, on the one hand, who I think is an adaptive, always thought of holding place until the revolution. And [INAUDIBLE] another.
But my surprise was-- I was busy writing notes because I was intrigued by this, since I have a deep resistance to Dada, which you were breaking down. And that you mentioned Sloterdijk. And the Sloterdijk really intrigued me, but I also thought you didn't use Sloterdijk the way I thought you were going to.
So here is the thought that, it seems to me, we need. I mean, I think Sloterdijk is a useful framework for all of this. Because Sloterdijk distinguishes between cynicism and what he calls his own baby kinicism.
And the idea is, I think-- and I kind of agree with Sloterdijkm and most of all his important book-- that we suffer from a problem of cynicism. We suffer from a problem of knowingness and sophistication. And that means in part that the naivete of the strategies of Dada are unavailable to us. So my thought on hearing you is that they were not cynics at all, but Sloterdijkian kinics.
HAL FOSTER: Yeah, no--
AUDIENCE: They had a strategy like that, and then that's different. [INAUDIBLE] seems to me worth thinking about.
HAL FOSTER: I think that's absolutely right. And he actually alludes to the Dadaists. And--
HAL FOSTER: --after that long digression about, well, contemporary is now free of all these historical examples or precedents, it does occur to me that there are a few kinical artists out there that I know and that could be associated not with cynicism, but kinicism in this Sloterdijkian way. I won't say much about them, because they won't be familiar to you. But let me just describe a project or two.
There's this British artist named Mark Wallinger who did a project last year at the Tate Britain. And what he did is that he took over this protest, this demonstration that a British subject, who was just this guy named Brian Haw, cobbled together out of cardboard, and just stuff, with all kinds of documents about Iraq, all kinds of photos of atrocities. And this Brian Haw guy began to do this around the sanctions in Iraq-- it was well before 9/11, well before the invasion. And he got up this, in a way Dadaist, stage set right across from the Houses of Parliament.
And he's still there. But he was harassed, and he was forced to move it. There was actually a law instigated where any such demonstration had to be one kilometer away from the Houses of Parliament. They gave him a little site to continue, but any other had to be one kilometer away.
So what this artist Mark Wallinger did is he recreated this demonstration meticulously and installed it in the main galleries of Tate Britain, which is exactly one kilometer away from the Houses of Parliament. So it was, in a way, a mimesis of a mimesis. And you could say that it was an appropriation, but it was extremely effective. Because people who went to Tate Britain to see the patrimony saw a very different version of the country.
And there's another artist, a Swiss artist, Thomas Hirschhorn, who I really recommend to you, who does, again, in Dadaist fashion-- he makes these different altars, and shrines, and monuments to different figures that he wants to recover for a public culture. So sometimes they're semi-obscure, like Robert Walser, a kind of great, semi-crazy, Swiss writer. Sometimes they're more familiar-- there's a Deleuze monument, a Battaille monument.
But he will get together information and place them-- get up mimetic performance around these different figures-- and place them in just different sites in a given city. And in a very non-cynical way, he does installations about the war, too. And they're very grim, because he gets information, gets images that do not circulate in this country and just throws them out there and this sort of-- almost a sort of innocence.
So there are a couple of other people like--
DAVID: Why not include Indian art? For example, Southwest Indian art, which is--
HAL FOSTER: I did. I got that in there for you.
DAVID: Oh, but I mean in terms of this kind of answer. What's happening now? Where is art going?
There are a number of other movements that are not simply parallel movements. I think that there were things happening in terms of interactions. We saw in the gallery in Santa Fe a really interesting collage entitled "Ratzinger Among The Bunnies." And it was Ratzinger, pre-Pope Ratzinger, in his little Hitler outfit, with bunnies hopping around him. And it had the incredible effect of estrangement with respect to this figure and what he stood for, and an excavation of his past.
And there was a lot else going on both in terms of traditional [INAUDIBLE] and other art forms that I think might bear-- what [INAUDIBLE] wrote about to prove his sanity was, of course, the Hopi snake dance. Kind of a weird topic if you want to prove your sanity.
HAL FOSTER: Right. No, I mean obviously, my lacunae-- my diagnosis speaks to my ignorance of projects that do exist. By and large, it seems to me that the reaction from the art world and the academic world to the war is rather muted. It's very slow. And that--
DAVID: [INAUDIBLE] contrasted that too.
HAL FOSTER: Yeah. No, of course. Precisely. Why were there-- I mean, we all know why, in a way. The conditions were as that there could be such a reaction then. Can we go home now?
AUDIENCE: The obvious follow-up that it matters that Dada followed World War I. We think of--
HAL FOSTER: [INAUDIBLE]
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE]. But the event of the 20th century was World War I.
DAVID: Not quite. [INAUDIBLE] will argue a yes or no.
AUDIENCE: OK. But it was the cause. [INAUDIBLE] we have other arguments.
But what did happen is it was the moment of the devastation of enlightened ideology. So that the notion of response to it was of a different kind. It just seems to me that our cynicism-- the reason I'm suggesting the issue here is I think the question of cynicism or kinicism is not merely about art practices but about the culture in which it is received. That is, these are cultural opportunities and not merely whether someone can be satirical, or clever, or the like. [INAUDIBLE] a lot of [INAUDIBLE] artists around.
It's what kind of culture are we? And what kind of art do we get in the light of our culture? And I thought that was really the framing that you were looking for.
DAVID: I'll just say one other thing, because I think it's interesting. [INAUDIBLE] of what Hal has been talking about. The incredible number of mutilated people at the World War I who were there who were on display, who were not hidden, who were exposed. In contrast to what's happening, for example, to people from Iraq and Afghanistan-- how well-concealed they've been.
DAVID: OK, Ramsey, and there was someone else, I'm sorry. Yes, OK. Ramsey and [INAUDIBLE].
AUDIENCE: This is more of an extended comment that will hopefully turn into a question [INAUDIBLE] an attempt to think through what--
AUDIENCE: Go for it.
AUDIENCE: --Jay was just saying and what we've been discussing. I'm interested-- I really like that you began with the question of how do we produce continuity between a pre- and a post-war avant-garde. And one thing that seems to be underneath all of this is also the simultaneous explosion of the popular arts-- this thing that you call the popular. Certain forms of [INAUDIBLE] culture like film, et cetera.
And what I'm interested is if we're talking about the avant-garde as a kind of creative adaptation to these circumstances, there's one form that's really not talked about here is the comic strip, which seems to me a central form that pre-exists this avant-garde moment. And is wound up in it in that it was a popular form that trained people to deal with the visual arts of the 20th century that reduces film back down to its basic form. It teaches, trains people how to read, but also is absurd in its own way. So that in the early 20th century, we get [INAUDIBLE], "Krazy Kat." And I think of "Krazy Kat" as actually quite looking like avant-garde work often in its kind of repetition, in its kind of absurdity, et cetera.
So rather than making the claim that so many people made, that oh, post-war art suddenly found consumer culture, and then it figured it out, there's a way in which I feel like that's always been around. The existence of popular forms that we're similarly doing-- I feel like comics actually trained people to read avant-garde work, or to be able to deal with it, to be able to see it in its multiplicity. And so that's just one element that I'm interested in hearing you say something about.
And similarly, that when you talk about how has art now, in a sense, failed us in its attempt to figure out what is going on post-9/11, et cetera. Again, I think the popular helps us understand this, so that it seems that film has picked up so much on what art might not be doing, which is mapping out global networks of conspiracy, doing the kind of work that we might not always be seeing in contemporary art. Which I think that it is in contemporary art-- I don't think that that's not. But I think that there has to be the question of how are popular forms interacting with these forms so [INAUDIBLE].
HAL FOSTER: No, that's a great point. I actually don't have too much to add. I find the early comics-- as you say, they're very Dadaist. They're really wild.
And just the play with the representation in the early period of cartoons and comics-- and they go back well before the 20th century-- this was a semiotic invention. It's extraordinary. And that's actually a thing that pop artists like Lichtenstein in particular picked up on. Everyone thinks it's just a matter of low and high, but I think he was really interested in play with representation.
And I think, in another way, so are these Dadaists. They were-- well, the New York Dadaists were very involved in the cartoons that began to emerge in the New York papers, and they read them assiduously. But just the idea of the comic, of the variety show-- Ball really took up as a model vaudeville, in a way.
But then it's really extraordinary the way Benjamin early on is very serious about Mickey. And others were, too. David, perhaps, can say more than I can. I'm sure he can. But they drop Disney with Snow White, because there's this--
AUDIENCE: Betty Boop for a door knob. What is going on there?
HAL FOSTER: But as soon as there's this-- there's a moment when Disney goes illusionist. Illusionist space kicks in, and there's a narrative, and there's space that one can enter, and so on. And there's none of the radical invention of the early comics.
And I think that's where there's a certain break. And maybe for good and for bad, artist intellectuals lose interest-- or at least, some of them do. And it's weird-- when the pop artists come to comics, they go back to the early figures too, like Mickey and Donald. But I'm no expert.
AUDIENCE: I had a question that's trying to think through space and maybe put a little bit of pressure on the word or the idea of immunological, the immune system of the new man. The ideas surrounding this term, I thought, were provocative for my own studies on the avant-garde. But then thinking more specifically about what the immunity of the body is doing, or seeing it only as a response to the environment, doesn't allow-- just by following that metaphor through, for, it seems to me, but you could correct me or expand this-- it doesn't allow for a re-creation, a reproduction of the environment. It's simply a response to this, right?
So I'm thinking of this and trying to get through from Duchamp through Dada to Warhol, which is a brief sketch of something that you were doing, trying to show continuity through the war period so it's not such a strict break. And the way you frame Dada against Duchamp, I thought, was remarkable, just in showing, if we restrict Duchamp to his found objects, or Duchamp, what he found is simply bringing into the institutional body this outside, disturbing object, there's no real creation other than a terminological creation.
Where the Dada use of the found object is not merely to bring into the institutional body. It's one of assembly. It follows the course of development of assembly production itself.
It's one that is something like a [INAUDIBLE] cognitive mapping. It's thinking of the historical particulars in terms of historical determining production system. So in that way, it's mapping and creating a global center that's related to this [INAUDIBLE] context.
Also, just to go with that, just one step further, the Dadaists, unlike Duchamp or some of the other-- even Picasso and the other avant-garde art at the time, they're trying to, maybe in light of what Ramsey was saying, competing with the pressures of pop culture, are bringing this art out into public performance space. So again, there is this reciprocal concern with outside inside that's not strictly response. And it takes the form of not just art performances like the marionettes.
It also takes the form of career-- economic, self sustaining. I think of Merz, and it has a whole advertising production. [INAUDIBLE] just builds a career trying to make money on this art form.
So moving to Warhol, to me, Warhol, in terms of this idea of immunology as a response-- if you can think of it in terms of recreating the environment, going back outside those institutions, I find Warhol not a continuity, but a return back to Duchamp. Where it seems like he's thinking of, in terms of commodity production, a kind of reification of art as commodity only in terms of-- that seems more like immunological to me. It's just a response inside the institution of art. I don't see that trying to push space outside of that arena. I'm not wording this the most clearly--
HAL FOSTER: No, no.
AUDIENCE: But I wonder if there's anything to chew on there. And I guess the problem I see is just the word or the idea of the immunological, the nervous system.
HAL FOSTER: Yeah. No, I've felt this problem as I have heard this talk today, that there is this real slippage. And in part, it comes from Ball-- not to blame him, but it comes from his feverish attempts to come to terms with what they have done, or what they're about to do.
What do they want to call it? Is it immunological? Is it mimetic? Is it the Gorgon? Is it apotropaic? And in a way, I have mimed their confusion, because I think I've blurred the differences among those different strategies.
I don't think with Ball, it's immunological. And there are times when it's apotropaic. But the mimetic-- this idea of mimetic excess is somehow different.
It's not simply a defense, which would be the immunological. And it's not simply reversal attack, which would be the apotropaic. That's much more maybe what [INAUDIBLE] is about.
But it's what Jay said. It's a mimesis of a mimesis. If what we do is mimetically adapt anyway, it's to push it to the point where that just no longer works. It just breaks up.
And that's where the whole idea of performance has failed-- that's a success. There's that thing, I think, that earlier in that instance.
I actually disagree with you about Warhol. I think he does very much create a space and create a society. And I see him in terms of-- everyone sees him as a cynic. I see him as a kinic. I see him as a real figure of the bashed ego.
And I'm actually-- I work on yet another text on Warhol that focuses on his Screen Tests, these extraordinary films-- 472-- that he made of almost anyone who came to his studio-- "The Factory," another creation of a space that extends out into the world. He had almost everyone who came to sit before a camera. And sometimes he wasn't even behind the camera. And just-- it was a screen test for nothing. There was no role, no movie.
And you watch these things-- and I've watched nearly all of them now. They're three minutes. They're just as long as a roll of film, [INAUDIBLE] film.
And he showed them slower, so it's even more anguished in that kind of, what do you do in front of a camera? And again and again, the test is how difficult it is to get up a body image, to get up an ego image in front of the apparatus. And it's really an exercise in that difficulty and the negativity of that difficulty. It's an attempt to recover through that difficulty and negativity, to me.
And so I think-- I don't see Warhol as simply a guy who gamed the art institution at all. That's Arthur Danto, and he's wrong. I think he is an exemplary figure in terms of this Dadaist kinical strategy.
DAVID: OK, well we have-- I'm sorry. [INAUDIBLE] OK, how about [INAUDIBLE]. OK, [INAUDIBLE] either way. [INAUDIBLE].
AUDIENCE: Yeah, I'd like to thank you for coming. [INAUDIBLE] ask a question about masochism. It came up before [INAUDIBLE] question [INAUDIBLE]. What you were saying about trying to redefine Dada as an intermediate kind of category, [INAUDIBLE].
And you were bringing out the war as a [INAUDIBLE]. And [INAUDIBLE] in the essay you distributed referred to-- [INAUDIBLE] refers to the horror and suffering of the war [INAUDIBLE].
And I'm also intrigued by your comment just now that the failed performance is a success. And I think that's the great moment. When things get out of control is when they-- when it somehow really has an impact on the audience sometimes.
A question arises in terms of masochism for me in relation to suffering. On the one hand, sort of pass their suffering as a performance. And so the question about popular politics and masochism. Whether it's also a kind of an active resistance, an aggression. I think one finds this in [INAUDIBLE] and generally [INAUDIBLE]. I was wondering if you might comment on that masochism and that sense, and whether it has some relevance for your project.
HAL FOSTER: Yeah, I just touch on it here, because I think it-- certainly, it is thought, in this intensely ambivalent way, the masochist is-- he or she, usually-- well, it who suffers, it that suffers, on one account. On the other account, that subject position is the position of control. And that, for me, was a way to think about what happens in these performances and in these events, how one could be simultaneously in both positions. So that's why I touched on that idea. I really haven't-- this is another spot that I have not developed much.
But it's certainly true in performance as a mode of art, as it develops in the century-- at least the performances that I know well-- as performance comes back, sometimes very much with Dada in mind-- sometimes not-- in the 1960s, it becomes, in a way, a theater of masochism and sadism. It begins to draw on masochism as a double with sadism. If you think about the performances of Vito Acconci or Bruce Nauman.
And there are all kinds of other reasons why this happens. Part of it, it seems to me, is that there's a real failure in the logic and the language of the traditional mediums. And the body becomes a medium.
And it's marked as both sheer presence and always already a site of representation. And this drives Acconci crazy. And at times, he's absolutely masochistic in his performances, and sometimes, he is wildly sadistic.
But so it's there. It's touched upon. It's activated in performance often.
But I don't really have a theory about it. I just-- it's more description, how it does come up. I don't know if it's somehow intrinsic to the medium, if you can call performance a medium. But it's certainly very strong-- projects that kind of theater again and again.
It's not just people like Acconci and Nauman. There are lots of other figures-- [INAUDIBLE]. And there are all kinds of-- Marina Abramovich. There are all kinds of figures who work in this theater, too. But again, I don't-- I need to think more about it.
AUDIENCE: It seems to be an area that's crying out for theorizing [INAUDIBLE].
HAL FOSTER: Yeah. They're--
DAVID: More theory, less practice.
AUDIENCE: Just a really quick question [INAUDIBLE] World War I, post-World War I, and then the last part, the US involvement Iraq War. And my question was, has the nation really experienced war in the same way, in a continual line, because of the movement from a kind of conscript army to a voluntary army made up of specific classes of people? In other words, who makes up the body of artists, and are they experiencing the war by extension quite the same way?
I could see an entire body politic experiencing World War I very differently than the way, let's say, this [INAUDIBLE] and this [INAUDIBLE] this disposition towards the [INAUDIBLE]. How war is experienced by a body politic, I think, differs if you have a voluntary army.
HAL FOSTER: Yeah. I think--
DAVID: Quote, unquote, "voluntary army."
HAL FOSTER: No, I think that's right. And maybe it is a matter of other mediums, other practices. I'm actually very sensitive about this moment in this talk where I talk about this Dadaist unman and the figure-- the kind of Musselman in the concentration camps. There's a whole other little fragment that I might have included-- Primo Levi, and on and on.
All of this is to say is that-- and I haven't seen all the Iraq war movies by any means, but I have seen a couple. And one, Stop Loss, gets at a condition in this country now, which is very much like a model of the social a la the camp, almost in the sense of [INAUDIBLE]. It's about these soldiers who-- one soldier in particular who just will not be sent back under the stop-loss-- catch-22. And he enters into this sub-legal world of hideouts and extra-legal communities.
And it's an extraordinary-- in a way, it's a road movie, because he attempts to go from Texas to Washington to talk to his senator about his problem. But the landscape of this country that it proposes is it's like an extended camp. And this is not to compare it to any concentration camp. But just the sense that you get, it's actually very powerful in this movie.
And it's a popular form. It's a big-screen movie. So some of this critique, as you suggest, might-- it has occurred elsewhere. But I think we're in agreement about why this hasn't happened so much in art.
DAVID: OK, should we thank Hal very much?
We've received your request
You will be notified by email when the transcript and captions are available. The process may take up to 5 business days. Please contact email@example.com if you have any questions about this request.
Hal Foster, the Townsend Martin Class of 1917 Professor and Chair of Art and Archaeology at Princeton University, gave a lecture titled "The Gorgon's Head of a Boundless Terror Smiles out of the Fantastic Destruction: Modern Art and Mimetic Excess," in Hollis Cornell Auditorium on July 15, 2008.
Foster is an internationally renowned critic and author of books on post-modernism in art.
The event was sponsored by the School of Criticism and Theory.