Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Gravitas, Pietas, Dignitas, and Surrealism

Today we are trying to spread knowledge everywhere. Who knows if in centuries to come there will not be universities for re-establishing our former ignorance? —Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799)

What will we do with generations of educators-sans culottes who preach self-indulgent hyper-sensitivity to a population of semi-feral middle-class citizens? How is the West going to cope with the re-training we must have to make ourselves great, or even to survive in the face of our collective moral, social, and intellectual melt-down? How many people will see a need in themselves to pursue the lost values of gravitas, dignitas, and pietas? From whence the autodidact rebel?

Friday 5 May 2006
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister's statement to Palestinians

Ma'an- Ma'an received a statement on Thursday 4 May from the Canadian Foreign Minister, Peter MacKay, in which he wished to clarify his government's position towards the Palestinian people and their government.

Hon. Mr. MacKay said:


The Canadian government acknowledges that the recent Palestinian legislative elections were free and fair. However, acknowledging that fact does not oblige us to agree with or support the new Palestinian government's policies. Canada has every right to modify its own policies and practices in light of disagreements we may have with the policies that other governments adopt. Likewise, the new Palestinian government has a right to modify the policies and practices it has inherited from its predecessors, but must be willing to accept responsibility for the consequences which flow from such decisions.


Who is responsible in a world determined by social conditions? Who, in a world of philistines, will take responsibility not for others but solely for himself? And how many lives and generations lost for want of what any boy should know?

Who will teach? And who wants to know?

In a world-view of irresponsibility, of blame, of infantalisation, and of social engineering, what do we learn? We learn false dichotomies. We learn Noble Savages and Capitalist Exploiters; self-expression and Auschwitz; bin Laden and Bush. We learn sentimentality, false sympathy, and hatred of Modernity. We learn sanctimonious self-pity. We might learn ethnomathematics.


Dawn Ades, Dada and Surrealism might well still be a useful introduction to early 20th century European art. Time passes and it might be 30 years or more since I read it. The history of Dada and Surrealism will be instructive to us here if we look at the effects of the first world war and the aftermath as shown in Dada. Below we have something akin to a Dada joke: an essay of sorts in which I've corrected some of the spelling:

What is Dadaism

Formal Definition: A western European artistic and literary movement (1916-23) that sought the discovery of authentic reality through the abolition of traditional culture and aesthetic forms.

Dada was an art movement that was ostracized from the world of art as it swept through the world like war sweeping though out nations. Dadaism brought about everything new: new ideas, new materials, new directions, and new people. Dada had no uniform characteristics as many other movements in the arts have. Dadaist art can be interpreted by each person how they want to see or read it. Dadaism brings out feelings and emotions in each person dependent upon what he or she is going through at the time.

Art historians who are professionally trained to analyze the styles of art movements and periods have been continually baffled by the contradictions and complexities Dadaism poses towards itself. All those who attempt to analyze the Dadaist movement, to figure out it's breadth and depth all seem to come up short. The meaning and content go far beyond that which can be analyzed by a trained professional.

Dadaism is often mistaken as a myth due to the outrageous and ridiculous ideas put into the art, however it was very real. Dadaism was never expected to last forever, the Dadaists lived in the moment and for the moment, and so did the spirit of Dada. This beautiful form of art is no longer widely practised throughout the world, yet it is still greatly appreciated by many.

Dada or Dadaism is a cultural movement that began in neutral Zürich, Switzerland during World War I and peaked from 1916 to 1920. The movement primarily involved visual arts, literature (mainly poetry), theatre, and graphic design, and was characterized by absurdism, nihilism, deliberate irrationality, disillusionment, cynicism, chance, randomness, and the rejection of the prevailing standards in art.

.... The movement was a protest against the barbarism of World War I, the bourgeois interests that Dada adherents believed inspired the war, and what they believed was an oppressive intellectual rigidity in both art and everyday society. The movement influenced later styles, movements and groups including surrealism, Pop Art and Fluxus. Dada was an international movement, and it is difficult to classify artists as being from any one particular country, as they were constantly moving from one place to another.

According to its proponents, Dada was not art — it was "anti-art". For everything that art stood for, Dada was to represent the opposite. Where art was concerned with aesthetics, Dada ignored aesthetics. If art were to have at least an implicit or latent message, Dada strove to have no meaning — interpretation of Dada is dependent entirely on the viewer. If art is to appeal to sensibilities, Dada is to offend. It is perhaps then ironic that Dada became an influential movement in modern art. Dada became a commentary on order and carnage they believed it reaped. Through this rejection of traditional culture and aesthetics they hoped to destroy traditional culture and aesthetics.

Art historians have described Dada as being "in reaction to what many of the artists saw as nothing more than an insane spectacle of collective homicide." Years later, Dada artists described the movement as "a phenomenon bursting forth in the midst of the post-war economic and moral crisis, a savior, a monster, which would lay waste to everything in its path. [It was] a systematic work of destruction and demoralization...In the end it became nothing but an act of sacrilege." Dada was "a revolt against a world that was capable of unspeakable horrors." Reason and logic had led people into the horrors of war; the only route to salvation was to reject logic and embrace anarchy and the irrational.


In 1916, Hugo Ball, Emmy Hennings, Tristan Tzara, Hans Arp, Richard Huelsenbeck, Sophie Täuber;along with others discussed art and put on performances in the Cabaret Voltaire expressing their disgust with the war and the interests that inspired it. By some accounts Dada coalesced on October 6 at the cabaret.

At the first public soiree at the cabaret on July 14, 1916, Ball recited the first manifesto (see text). Tzara, in 1918, wrote a Dada manifesto considered one of the most important of the Dada writings. Other manifestos followed.


Other manifestos did follow, and one should not be surprised to find that at least some of them were in revolt against Dadaism itself, that they were manifestos from committed fascists and Communists. Suffer through Andre Breton, "What is Surrealism" for an example of the totalitarian mind-set that sprang from Dada nihilism.

We saw then the massacre of generations in Europe at the dead hands of mechanics. Machine guns created Dada. As did mustard gas, aeroplane bombings, tanks, and trench warfare. World War One taught Dada to the Lost Generation. We have continued to learn that lesson since. It seems now we know nothing else. It's past time we learn something smart soon.

Less than 100 years ago Europe came close to annihilating itself. Much opinion today and since the war is that World War One shows a crisis of captialism and the failure of Modernity. The Dadaists and those other nihilists of the West examined the causes of the ruin of Europe and concluded that Modernity itself was at fault. Most opted for solutions of totalitarianism. We live with that today. Both the Left and the Right see rigid control of the economy and social life as the only way to govern the masses effectively. In a Dada frenzy of throwing out the values of the prior "Gilded Age" of the decades preceding the War the Dada nihilists replaced those values with fascism. They were mistaken in their analysis of what went wrong. WWI was not a failure of Modernity: it was a failure of Reaction to defeat Modernity. The forces of Reaction rose again in the late 1930s and were again defeated. But the war continues. This war against Modernity continues, and we fight it today as ever. Today our reactionary enemies are our Left dhimmi fascists qua educators. We are taught Dada as epistmology.

The phrase "must be willing to accept responsibility for the consequences which flow from such decisions," is shocking and hateful to the Dada nihilists in the West. That phrase is a pre-war sentiment. Among today's Left dhimmi fascist intellentsia it is a heresy.

In the post-war critique of Modernity we found ourselves in a state of horrified incomprhension. Seeing Modernity as the source of the destruction of Europe lead to and continues to guide us to neo-feudalism. Man, not able to govern himself without resort to total war, must then be made to behave. Man must be tended, infantalised, ruled by the enlightened elite for the good of all. Man, being maleable, must fit into the social conditions made for him by expert social engineers. Man must be managed. He will be fed, clothed, and entertained to keep him docile. The gnostic elites, the Philosopher Kings, will rule and keep good order and world peace. Man must not know of values. He must dismiss the worth of, even the possiblities of, gravitas, pietas, and dignitas.

America, not being a part of this neo-feudalist reaction, is so far at odds with European neo-fascism that America is the sole enemy of control. And even so, too often we are not our own friends. We learn a European hatred of Modernity against our own heritage. Rather than the Progressivism of Roosevelt we learn the neo-feudalism of Surrealism.

It's time we relearn the values of Americanism. It's time to rebel and to teach ourselves again what we used to know. It's time to relearn the ideals of Jefferson and Roosevelt, re-establishing our former ignorance

1 comment:

Charles Henry said...

I feel like standing up and applauding after reading this post, Dag. Wow...!

So many battles end up boiling down to truth vs lies. The iconoclasm of islamic art as well as the unreality of dadaism try to teach that there's nothing to know, that neither spectator nor artist can benefit from each other's existence. The "artist" is indifferent to the affect their work has on the spectator, since the teacher presumes he has nothing to learn from the student.

Representative art is built on the affirmation that there is much to learn, and that it takes a series of balances of opposites in order to add one's pebble to the mountain. A balance between one's introspection and extravertedness, a balance between humility and confidence, subjective expectations and objective perception, a balance between what we think we are really saying and what others assure us they hear us say... all this and more, in order to arrive at a stab at representing knowledge through art. To artists of this tradition, the spectator is not only appreciated, he is a necessary partner in the act, since his reaction offers the artist a chance to see something in his own art, that would have remain unseen had the spectator, while studying the work, not pointed it out to him. We need that other pair of eyes to help us truly see what we are making.

Every teacher a student, every student a teacher.

The truth is, we can learn from others. The lie is, there is nothing others can teach us.