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The Posthuman Dada Guide: tzara and lenin play chess [Paperback]

Andrei Codrescu

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Book Description

Feb. 22 2009 Public Square

"This is a guide for instructing posthumans in living a Dada life. It is not advisable, nor was it ever, to lead a Dada life."--The Posthuman Dada Guide

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. Taking the match as metaphor for two poles of twentieth- and twenty-first-century thought, politics, and life, Andrei Codrescu has created his own brilliantly Dadaesque guide to Dada--and to what it can teach us about surviving our ultraconnected present and future. Here dadaists Duchamp, Ball, and von Freytag-Loringhoven and communists Trotsky, Radek, and Zinoviev appear live in company with later incarnations, including William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Gilles Deleuze, and Newt Gingrich. The Posthuman Dada Guide is arranged alphabetically for quick reference and (some) nostalgia for order, with entries such as "eros (women)," "internet(s)," and "war." Throughout, it is written in the belief "that posthumans lining the road to the future (which looks as if it exists, after all, even though Dada is against it) need the solace offered by the primal raw energy of Dada and its inhuman sources."


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Review

"One of our most prodigiously talented and magical writers."--New York Times Book Review

"Can't decide whether to cry or laugh? Laugh at absurdity, laugh at hardship, laugh at poverty, says Andrei Codrescu in his maddening, enlightening, self-contradictory, highly amusing new book. . . . [Codrescu] has rolled into one slim guide a postmodern self-help manual, a history lesson, a love letter to dissident poets, a hard jab at communism and a veiled autobiography. . . . The guide is, beneath it all, a mournful celebration of the achievements of pre-communist Romanian Jews, such as Tzara and modernist painter and architect (and Dadaist) Marcel Janco."--Carly Berwick, Los Angeles Times

"Any reader looking for a quirky, polemical, provocative introduction to Dada might like to try Andrei Codrescu's Posthuman Dada Guide, in which the author's key terms are alphabetically listed and 'hermeneutically filleted'. His linguistic glee also means that this dictionary can easily be read cover to cover."--Peter Read, Times Literary Supplement

"This Zagat-sized handbook, a Dadaist chop suey showcasing the astonishing intellectual range of English professor and NPR commentator Codrescu, is arranged alphabetically and topically, which permits one to dip in or to read it all. The occasionally outrageous encyclopedic juxtapositions of entries give a firsthand experience similar to the effect of Dada cutups and collages."--Publishers Weekly

"A hard-edged, rapier-like volume, perfect for sliding into a back pocket of skinny hipster pants or stabbing into the complacent underbelly of bourgeois (or bourgeois-bohemian) society. It offers a headier-than-usual tour of the early-1900s avant-garde, sprinkled with sex appeal for the would-be MySpace-age revolutionary. . . . As art theory, the Guide could even be preferable to a college seminar on modernism. . . . [Codrescu] also places Dada on a broader historical stage than it usually receives, mingling it with world politics."--Eli Epstein-Deutsch, Village Voice

"Even for professional provocateur Andrei Codrescu, he of the playful intelligence and sardonic wit, this new book is quite something. It's out there--a chronicle of an imagined chess game between V.I. Lenin and Tristan Tzara, the founder of Dada, set in the cafe culture of Zurich, Switzerland, in 1916, amid the ferment of bohemianism and revolution. It's a scholarly work, with extensive footnotes; it's a work of imagination; it's a guidebook to a strange new era. It's a call to remember humanity in a post-human time, and an incitement. To read it is to light a mental fuse."--Susan Larson, New Orleans Times-Picayune

"A profoundly provocative look at dada. . . . If you're vaguely familiar with Codrescu's NPR essays or other writings, than you already know that this is a book laced with wit and humor. He makes an erudite topic easy--and pleasurable--to follow."--Robert L. Pincus, San Diego Union Tribune

"A dictionary, a history of art movements, a manifesto, and a joke book; [The Posthuman Dada Guide] traverses high and low, seeking answers to our most persistent confusions about art, culture, and identity. . . . By the end, the reader has come to grips with Codrescu's stoic, but darkly hopeful, vision for a future that is no future at all."--D. Scot Miller, San Francisco Bay Guardian

"Codrescu's analysis of the chess game is written with attitude--itself a Dada-like performance--balancing critique with reinvention, aiming to reveal Dada's place in 'posthuman' life. This guide is true to its title, fitting comfortably in a pocket, ready to be deployed at the slightest provocation."--Alan Lucey, Bookforum

"Erudite, witty, often demented, Codrescu's book is an excellent introduction to the matter and spirit of dada."--Justin Clemens, The Australian

"A delicious book. . . . A fascinating mix of history, common and obscure . . . rigorously intellectual without being stuffy or dogmatic, serious without being solemn and . . . obviously and sneakily playful at the same time."--Michel Basilieres, Toronto Star

"Peppered with warnings not to make Dada a guide for living, the Guide makes it all the more alluring. Readers of this book acquire a delicious complicity with Dada. I can't stop intoning it. Dada dada dada dada. This is a subversive book."--Helen Scully, ArtVoices Magazine

"Ever want to run naked across a convention floor, pie-hit a bishop, or show up at a job interview in a firecracker hat, screaming poetry until security guards haul you away? Andrei Codrescu's The Posthuman Dada Guide may not be the literal how-to that the title implies, but it will definitely give you the historical and philosophical basis you need to justify a stunt to your cell mates while the authorities figure out what to do with you. . . . Fascinating and indispensible."--John-Ivan Palmer, Rain Taxi Review of Books

"He's all over the place, and no place in particular--almost the perfect definition of Dada. Best read as a poem pretending to be prose (both Tzara and Lenin were pseudonyms, after all), The Posthuman Dada Guide gives a barbaric yawp in the best tradition of Walt Whitman--and, in its own peculiar way, it's just as American."--Ben Steelman, Star News

"A roller-coaster ride of essay(s) and grab-bag of ideas, history, and recollections, The Posthuman Dada Guide is an appropriately loose and shifting piece. It is informative and entertaining."--M. A. Orthofer, Complete Review

"The chess game (both fictitious and ongoing) puts politic and parody at one and at war. The scene is a fast flashing, nonlinear montage taking us in, through and out of the 20th century and delivering us into the 21st, spinning. . . . It is recommended that you carry this guide with you at all times. Consider reading it aloud in the most public of places. . . . The perfect prescription against the posthuman condition--that place where our senses are all too well rehearsed and clearly limiting."--Katherine Anders, Baton Rouge Advocate

"[A] literary event, a spectacular splash of intelligence and erudition, of clean style and magical impressionability."--Nicholas Catanoy, World Literature Today

"While it takes its cue from an imaginary game of chess, the book is in fact a witty pointer into the real fabric of contemporary art and politics . . . refreshingly 'un-theoretical' in its approach, and Codrescu's writing is utterly pleasurable."--Cosana Eram, Vetiver blog

"By combining . . . vivid personal accounts with brilliant literary theory, The Posthuman Dada Guide becomes more than a review of the Dadaism's history. It represents a spiritual and intellectual journey in itself, a guide, as Codrescu states at the book's beginning for instructing posthumans in living a Dada life."--John Nizalolwski, Magill's Literary Annual

From the Back Cover

"This highly original, beautifully written, and charming book is vintage Andrei Codrescu. No one else has written anything remotely like it. One is carried along by the author's sheer energy and drive, his good humor, his ability to laugh at himself, and his own truly Dada personality. The Posthuman Dada Guide will introduce Dada thinking to a whole new readership."--Marjorie Perloff, author of The Vienna Paradox

"No other book has treated the relationship between the artistic and revolutionary avant-gardes as originally and provocatively as Codrescu's. This is both an immensely illuminating essay of intellectual history and a disturbing meditation on absolute ideals turned into alibis for tyranny. Magically blending sarcasm and gravity, Codrescu invites us to engage in an emancipatory laughter as an antidote to morose scholasticism and dogmatic obscurantism."--Vladimir Tismaneanu, author of Stalinism for All Seasons


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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dada Made Comprehensible - And Relevant April 19 2009
By Mike - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Codrescu brilliantly and humorously shows how productive the "anti-art" of Dada was - and is. He makes the best case I've read for the movement's historical importance and continued relevance, and he does it with sustained ebullience. Dada's stress on nonsense never made so much sense. By making Dada clear and useful, Codrescu risks betraying Dada's own principled stance of opposing all principles, but he remains true to Dada's negations while affirming them. This is a neat trick; this is a great little book.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Welcome Remedy for the Digitized Soul April 18 2009
By D. B. Dawson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I expected this slim volume, suitable (almost) for carrying in your hip pocket, to be more a work of sardonic humor or a collection of essays about the absurdity of modern life. Instead, Andrei Codrescu has put together a book that traces the Dada Non-Art Movement from its beginnings during WWI to the present. It's also a work of sardonic humor (which is very funny when Codrescu wants it to be), but rather than a series of brief essays, the book follows its themes across almost an entire century. He lets us know that Dada, which eschewed the future and art, had the unintended impact of begetting all manner of art movements, from Surrealism to Abstract Expressionism to the literary style wrongly known as "post-modernism" -- Vonnegut, Barth, Heller, Barthelme, etc.

In the end, Codrescu assures us, art can remain a redemptive force in a world in which the Posthuman has overtaken all other movements and philosophies. As we watch our world steadily become digitized, the general stance of Dada might be exactly what we need. I love this book.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars not for beginners, but good food for thought March 22 2009
By Michele Bowman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
While most people might have heard of the term "Dada," few could actually muster up the courage to define it. What's great about this book is not only its design - it's lovely and small and features provocative art and really nice fonts - but also its willingness to explain Dadaism with Dadaism. Without getting too wacky.

I admire Codrescu's book for two reasons: One, he makes history fun - with loads of examples and insider stories and a sense of humor that is light yet heavy at the same time. He is not afraid to stick it to us "posthumans," reminding us that in our penchant for better iPods, faster Googling, and wireless boob jobs, we are placing the world "in parentheses" (maybe a reference to the structuralist "brackets" of Saussure that one would place actual things in so that the words that we chose to represent those things could be further studied) and are thus missing out on a lot of life.

My second reason for liking this book is that it made me want to seek out the nonsensical, play it up, enjoy life a little. Dada was all about liberating us from our cultural and metaphysical maps that we are so intent on staring at that we miss the scenery. Codrescu reminds us to look up. He does it at the expense of communism, which I can understand in one sense because Dada was born in a place that suffered under dictators who used Marx and Lenin to oppress the masses - the opposite of what communism is supposed to do.

So I guess that's my beef with it: Why you gotta pick on communism, Andrei? You seem to have a radical bent to your philosophy that would inure you to Marxism...Surely you believe that it *could* work and just hasn't or didn't? I don't know that Dada is the answer to the true oppression of the masses. But it was fun learning more about it.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Posthumans of the World: Go Dada! Dec 24 2009
By R. Hardy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
If you are like me, you always pay attention when Andrei Codrescu recites a commentary on National Public Radio. The man's Romanian accent is unmistakable, even though I can't help being reminded of that of Bela Lugosi and thus of Count Dracula. That Codrescu edits the website "Exquisite Corpse" helps reinforce this reference, but one must remember that "exquisite corpse" was a technique used by Dadaists to add words to a composition in sequence, not knowing what had gone before, and winding up with a sentence like, "The exquisite corpse will drink the new wine." In fact, that was one of the sentences they came up with (in French) when they first played the game, and it gave the game its name. Codrescu is devoted to Dadaists and Dadaism, and now has written _The Posthuman Dada Guide: Tzara & Lenin Play Chess_ (Princeton University Press), which is full of tricks. "Posthuman" is a term that came in science fiction twenty years ago; we are posthumans because technological enhancements allow us to be something more than mere biological specimens. So, as the book says, "This is a guide for instructing posthumans in living a Dada life. It is not advisable, nor was it ever, to lead a Dada life." Not only that, but if you are pursuing the goal of living a Dada life, you won't find this a self-help book worth a nickel. What you might find is a bit of history of the early Dada movement and its stars, a meditation on the continuing importance of Dadaism, and a great deal of sly, desultory, and self-deprecating wordplay. Plus, it comes in a handy, long, slim volume that easily slips into the posthuman's pocket for daily consultation. "We need a guide," says the _Guide_, "that is at once historical and liberating. Or just hysterical and tonic."

At the heart of the book is the chess game played between Tristan Tzara, "the daddy of Dada", and Vladimir Lenin, "the daddy of Communism". And maybe there was such a game, though there is no evidence for it, and no reason even to believe that the two influential thinkers ever met, although it's within the realm of possibility. In 1916 in Zurich, Lenin was making plots just a few blocks from where Tzara was making performances. But as far as Codrescu is concerned, "These two daddies battled each other over the chessboard of history, proposing two different paths for human development." They were both fighting against the tyranny of tradition, but in completely different ways. "Dada played for chaos, libido, the creative, and the absurd. Communism deployed its energy for reason, order, and understandable social taxonomy, predictable structures, and the creation of `new man.'" The game was high stakes indeed. "Tzara, the revolutionary poet, is playing chess with Lenin, a mass-murdering ideologue. The winner will win the world, a prize neither is thinking about in 1916." There are plenty of paradoxes here; for one, "These two people do not agree to society's rules, yet they obey the laws of chess!" Also, chess is played without words, but these were both great talkers, silent for the duration. Nothing was the same after the game when the players go their separate ways: "Tristan Tzara to Cabaret Voltaire where the nightly Dada performance is unraveling centuries of certitudes about art, Lenin to a secret meeting with an envoy of the German ambassador Romberg, who will eventually convince the German General Staff to provide Lenin and his list of carefully chosen comrades safe passage to Russia where the Tsar has just abdicated."

There is plenty of history here, unreliable or not, and in its way, the _Guide_ is its own manifesto for the movement. There are many jokes and impenetrable portions, as befits any Dadaist guide. "In current popular discourse," says Codrescu, "nature has come to mean `nature,' or `the nature channel,' and thus is wilderness removed from it and its destructive _and_ creative force neutralized." Dada, the _Guide_ shows, will ever be instructive, puzzling, and entertaining. The _Guide_ is laid out in encyclopedic form, so it need not be read page after page (and perhaps it should be read randomly going from sentence to sentence), but the "organization" is eccentric; for instance, if you want to look up Hugo Ball, who created "The Dadaist Manifesto," remember to look under H for "hugo, ball". "We were mistaken in the previous paragraph," Codrescu at one point explains (or fails to), "the marvelous was not a dog, but a parrot in a gold cage guarded by dogs. We apologize." No apologies necessary.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Way of Andrei Codrescu Aug. 8 2009
By Bob J. Baker - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The Posthuman DaDa Guide
by Andrei Codrescu

Codrescu's heroes are suitably Romanian: Tzara, Ionesco, Brâncusi, Eliade, & perhaps E. Cioran. Although I've read too few of his books, he is in danger of joining my line-up of dangerous heroes, a band of rebel Jewish exiles: Marx, Freud, Trotsky. (Does the Diaspora never end? Good for Goys, bad for Them?) These guys didn't go or rest easy.

How can we achieve Kensho, seek the True, the Beautiful & the Good while doing DaDa, a risky mocking & collage making of the Present? It seems desirable to have a life of Buddhist tranquility, to practice a Platonic Orientation, & to show the nonsense in our sangsaric, kaleidoscopic world. Codrescu does seem to be calm & to seek those ideals while pointing out the dangerous necessity for smashing, cutting up & rearranging the pieces. [Meditate, seek the Platonic, use Merzian scissors.] And all our postmodern add-ons tend to make us posthumans in need of this unusual help. In the Guide he tells us that the Balkanization of his birthplace contributed to his inclination toward collage [perhaps even to a world view of Welten Merz!].

I hardy dig Codrescu deep enough to locate, mine & put his thoughts & pieces all together--the world's rearranged Mirz is certainly yet to be. For other readers the prospect may be the exciting same. We have the box, we have the pieces, we just don't have the picture. We put pieces down, we pick them up. We slowly turn the rough edges in our hand. We try it here, we try it there. No, not that way--well, turn it 90° or 180°--yes! And repeat & repeat the loop. And partake. And learn. It's Andrei's better world, slowly turning on a different not at all Fascist axis, coming our way, coming into view!

In 1916 his hero, the Romanian Dadaist & collagist Tristan Tzara plays chess with Lenin for the world. Lenin seems to win. The rowdy life of the Zurich dive in which those chess games played out repeats in New Orleans. As Tristan with Vladimir, so Andrei with our incompetent masters. They seem to be winning. But, as the text points out, so did Lenin.

Back in the 60's The Limelighters had a fun/fake "Romania, Romania" folk song. Mamaliga was featured & mocked. I'm not sure now if this porridge is not best eaten cold. Andrei serves his critiques hot & funny, thoughtful & sad. This book is a brilliant examination of the origins & perils of DaDa, the characters, their exile. All this by a multilingual literary genius, wit & social critic. Highly recommended!

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