Purgative or Purgatory? Dada Machine Art and the Politics of the Aura
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
PhD Candidate (expected June, 2006), Program in Comparative Literature and Literary Theory, University of Pennsylvania