Living the Dada Life: Andrei Codrescu Style

formerly published in Wild River Review

by Kimberly Nagy

Andrei Codrescu at Labyrinth Bookstore (Photo by Fred Young

Eat your heart out, H1N1. Move over, New York Stock Exchange! For God’s sake, sit down, American Idol.

Because in the dada world, poets (and other mischief makers) will always make the best headlines… and the dada world might very well be the REAL world according to Andrei Codrescu’s latest book, The Posthuman Dada Guide (Princeton University Press).

You see, headlines are dada, especially when you take out a pair of scissors and whip down a shot of whiskey while reconstructing prose. (I warn you, this is not easy—but neither is dada).

Dada is the art of making very little sense (in practical terms)—and loving it. But it’s more than that (and not exactly that too). In the words of The Guardian (UK) reviewer of The Post Human Dada Guide, “This book may damage your career, but it could just save your life.”

On May 6, at Labyrinth Books, award-winning writer and NPR commentator, Andrei Codrescu,  talked with Princeton University Professor, Brigid Doherty (author of Dada: Zurich, Berlin, Cologne, Hanover, New York, Paris)  about his new book and suggested that dada is still alive and well. As Codrescu put it, dada seems “impossible to kill.” In fact, dada might just be the best survival tool today, an antidote to the modern “loss of liberty” furnished by the luxury of cell phones, I-pods and the 24-7 “plugged-in” buzz of busy-ness.

“Sixty percent of your body is electronic now. I don’t know how you can exist without dada. I can’t,” Codrescu said in the signature wry tone that continues to delight NPR listeners.

I should mention that the dada movement stemmed from no lack of grave circumstances. Born in early twentieth century Europe amidst deep concern over colonialism and protest against the First World War–dada was a creative means of tearing down societal boundaries to combat the status quo through avenues like theater and art. It might be argued that dada’s absurdity served to buffer it from the pitfall of most revolutionaries (who, suspiciously often come to resemble those who they criticize)–taking themselves and their philosophy too seriously, so seriously that any and all behavior can be justified in its service.

So what’s Codrescu’s book all about?

The Posthuman Dada Guide is an impractical handbook for practical living in our posthuman world–all by way of examining the imagined 1916 chess game between Tristan Tzara, the daddy of Dada, and V. I. Lenin, the daddy of communism. This epic game at Zurich’s Café de la Terrasse–a battle between radical visions of art and ideological revolution–lasted for a century and may still be going on, although communism appears dead and Dada stronger than ever. As the poet faces the future mass murderer over the chessboard, neither realizes that they are playing for the world.”

Back at Labyrinth Bookstore, perhaps like a drug, the “primal raw energy of dada” overtook me in the very midst of Codrescu and Doherty’s conversation, just as the audience asked studiously about the importance of cities in dada and dada’s potential use in “teaching” poetry. (In one dose of dadaism, Codrescu instructed his afternoon poetry seminar to write their poems on various kinds of fruit. Not long thereafter, he allowed them to eat their words.”It was a late afternoon class. They were hungry,” shrugged Codrescu matter-of-factly.)

And I felt a little guilty at the end of the talk when, instead of posing an intelligent question, I suddenly imagined Codrescu leaning against a pool table playing various anonymous opponents (including author of “The World is Flat”  Thomas Friedman and overnight You-tube superstar, Susan Boyle) in Labyrinth’s well-stocked bookstore with no pool table in sight.

My imagination cared little for these limitations. I mean, who would nail the corner shot  with a satisfied Cheshire grin? Who would call stripes? More importantly, who would forget about the game altogether and start up a game of “truth or dare” or hopscotch (or a hybrid of the two)? Would someone (perhaps a customer) sit in the corner laughing over a well-thumbed copy of Angela Carter’s Wise Children or maybe even The Best of the Onion?

And when I turned on my laptop (in between checking my voice messages on my I-Phone) to write this blog, what I thought was: Perhaps the most important thing to be learned from living the dada life isn’t whether you win or lose, but just how well you learn how to PLAY.

May 14, 20096