Purgative or Purgatory? Dada Machine Art and the Politics of the Aura

Peter Gaffney
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Dada has been described as an attack on the bourgeois institution of art (Peter Burger, Walter Benjamin), particularly as this term designates longstanding artistic conventions based on the contemplation of a unique and authentic work of art. Does Dada machine art from the period 1912-1922 signify the end of an era, or simply the end of the aura? What are the implications of an art that deliberately speeds up what is already, in Benjamin's conception, the inevitable 'decay of the aura,' adopting various techniques of mechanical reproduction, as well as an aesthetic inspired by electric circuitry, blueprints, factories and machines? Some scholars describe Dada's romance with the machine as a loss of faith in the orphic soul (Pierre Arnauld); yet Dadaists themselves called it a purgative (Duchamp), or described it in Nietzschean terms as the eternal present of a technological era. 'Monsieurs les artistes,' writes Picabia, 'foutez-nous donc la paix, vous êtes une bande de curés qui veulent encore nous faire coire à Dieu.' Is Dada machine art a purgative or a purgatory for the modern subject, and what does this tell us about the new terms of engagement for the human and its technological other?

Keywords: Machine Art, Dada and Dadaism, The Avant-Garde, Walter Benjamin, The Aura and Decay of the Aura, Francis Picabia, Marcel Duchamp, Technology
Stream: Arts Agendas, Analysing Artforms, Meaning and Representation
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.

Peter Gaffney

PhD Candidate (expected June, 2006), Program in Comparative Literature and Literary Theory, University of Pennsylvania

I am a graduate of Stanford University (B.A., 1995) and University of Pennsylvania (M.A., 2000), where I am currently a candidate for PhD (expected in June, 2006). I am writing a dissertation titled 'Demiurgic Machines: The Mechanics of the Dada Text' under the supervision of Professor Jean-Michel Rabaté. The thesis explores the genealogy of modernity as a set of aesthetic and cultural practices heavily invested in the metaphorical system of the machine. Specific topics include: machine art; automatism and 'écriture automatique'; scientific discourse in Duchamp's 'Boîte verte'; Rousselian mechanics of desire and the invention of the 'machine célibataire'; intersubjective relations in Surrealism and de Sade; the technology of cinema; Jarry's cyborg, and other dreams of a mechanomorphic body. I am particularly interested in the way machines provide a working model for Modernist — and specifically Dadaist — theories of artistic production, suggesting a 'demiurgic' reorganization of human thought and agency at the level of representation.

Ref: A06P0010