Irrational Modernism: A Neurasthenic History of New York Dada

Irrational Modernism: A Neurasthenic History of New York Dada

Amelia Jones

Language: English

Pages: 345


Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

In Irrational Modernism, Amelia Jones gives us a history of New York Dada, reinterpreted in relation to the life and works of Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven. Jones enlarges our conception of New York Dada beyond the male avant-garde heroics of Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, and Francis Picabia to include the rebellious body of the Baroness. If they practiced Dada, she lived it, with her unorthodox personal life, wild assemblage objects, radical poetry and prose, and the flamboyant self-displays by which she became her own work of art. Through this reinterpretation, Jones not only provides a revisionist history of an art movement but also suggests a new method of art history.

Jones argues that the accepted idea of New York Dada as epitomized by Duchamp’s readymades and their implicit cultural critique does not take into consideration the contradictions within the movement—its misogyny, for example—or the social turmoil of the period caused by industrialization, urbanization, and the upheaval of World War I and its aftermath, which coincided with the Baroness’s time in New York (1913-1923). Baroness Elsa, whose appearances in Jones’s narrative of New York Dada mirror her volcanic intrusions into the artistic circles of the time, can be seen to embody a new way to understand the history of avant-gardism—one that embraces the irrational and marginal rather than promoting the canonical.

Acknowledging her identification with the Baroness (as a “fellow neurasthenic”), and interrupting her own objective passages of art historical argument with what she describes in her introduction as “bursts of irrationality,” Jones explores the interestedness of all art history, and proposes a new “immersive” understanding of history (reflecting the historian’s own history) that parallels the irrational immersive trajectory of avant-gardism as practiced by Baroness Elsa.

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“ineffable” personal space (as Le Corbusier might say) that enabled Williams to retain his sense of self-containment and equanimity (as a family man but also as an avant-garde poet). In its full citation, Williams described the Baroness’s olfactory effect as follows: “close up, a reek stood out purple from her body, separating her forever form the clean muslin souls of Yankeedom. It was that peculiar, pungent smell of dirt and sweat, strong of the armpit.”55 Here Williams explicitly counterposes

are also played out in relation to the tantalizing possibilities laid open in relation to the enforced proximity to other men, whether in the army (as suggested earlier in my discussion of psychoanalytic discourses of neurasthenia) or in a still war-neutral nation’s roiling salons and parties filled with other questionably masculinized noncombatant male expatriates and the many women who stayed behind.137 Another Kirchner image, his 1915 painting Artillerymen in the Shower, makes such anxieties

influenza. He was unaware that the war in Europe was three days away from its final ending. His blissful ignorance and emotional distance, bought, again, at the price of escaping the siren call of masculine heroism, allowed him to work on his opus, the Large Glass. Halfway through the same letter, he mentions in passing, “you have without doubt learned in New York already of the death of my brother Raymond. . . . It is a frightful thing for you know how he was close and dear to me,” only to go on

it—because you are not aristocrat. . . . Why should I—proud engineer—be ashamed of my machinery . . . ? — Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, 192084 Aesthetics and plumbing are intimately connected, as classical historian J. C. Stobart makes clear in his pronouncement regarding good sanitation, and as the Baroness suggests throughout her lived Dada. They are connected, in fact, through their joint rationalizing functions. Both channel the flux of impurity to cleanse and sublimate that which must not see

of Duchamp in an unnamed bathroom from around 1916–17 [see fig. 2.8]: off guard, “pissed” with liquor, he sits fully dressed, slumped on the “porcelain goddess,” perhaps after “praying” to her in a purging of his system through the flux of vomit).89 Too, while it could be viewed as an indicator of the homoerotic social interactions afforded by public urinals (I am told that men who piss next to each other in such spaces inevitably enjoy surreptitiously gazing at and/or comparing the size of their

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