Tuesday, January 23, 2007

ENGL 1020: Blog Post II

2) Consider the same website you chose in question 1. List all the cultural contexts (who, what, when where, & why) of the site you need to recognize in order to understand the content fully. Does the fact that one may not comprehend all the references effect the overall message?

While a visitor’s understanding of a contemporary musical context is most salient when viewing the content on Radiohead.com, familiarity with the Dada movement of the early 20th century may also provide valuable insights into some of the site’s unconventional aspects. As mentioned in the previous post, Thom Yorke once credited Tristan Tzara’s guidelines for “How to Make a Dada Poem” as inspiration for several of the band’s song lyrics. One would not be off-base, then, to utilize such recognition as the impetus for further discussion on the Dada movement.

Assuming the presumptions of the previous post are legitimate, the “SCRAPBOOK” section of Radiohead’s website most clearly identifies with Dadaistic principles. As such, a close reading of some of that sections material can serve as a foundation for a comparative analysis.

Clicking on the “backwards” button on the “SCRAPBOOK” page directs the user to a new screen that contains the phrase “sweating, shaking, giddiness, hyperventilating,/ guts locked in painful spasm….” to the right are three buttons entitled “backwards,” “ultraviolence,” & “ultraviolence” (Yes, that is two “ultraviolence” buttons), underneath which the following image appears:

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No leap of great significance needs to be made when forwarding the claim that the above image is an abstraction of the human head. The abstraction via disfigurement can be seen as an artistic, ultraviolent maligning of the human form, perhaps representing the feeling one encounters when their “guts [are] locked in painful spasm.” As such, this hybrid text presents its audience with two tenets of the Dada movement: bruitism & abstraction.

Bruitism was a concept Dada co-opted from the Futurism movement. As Richard Huelsenbeck states in his En Avant Dada: A History of Dadaism, bruitism “was intended as nothing more than a rather violent reminder of the colorfulness of life…a spontaneous eruption of possibilities…a symphony of cries, shots, commands, embodying an attempted solution of the problem of life in motion” (463). He further states: “Bruitism is a kind of return to nature. It is music produced by circuits of atoms; death ceases to be an escape of the soul from earthly misery and becomes a vomiting, screaming and choking” (Huelsenbeck 464). Bruitism, in short, is the aesthetics of violence. What then, with its recurrent invocation of “ultraviolence,” dislocated poetry referencing “painful spasm[s],” & grotesque visage, can one label Radiohead.com but a purveyor of bruitism?

Moreover, if the image above is grotesque, it achieves that effect through abstraction: the normal physiognomical contours have been extended & distorted, in addition to the resonance exhibited by the contours’ radiating echoes. In lieu of these traits the image possesses, one should not forget Tzara’s declaration that “Dada is the signboard of abstraction” (481).

Bruitism & abstraction, however, are not the only trademarks of Dada; chance, chaos, & simultaneity—just to name a few—are all aesthetic trademarks of the movement. If one wanted to pursue a more thorough analysis of Radiohead.com, all these elements certainly would surface. But too thorough a scrutiny of the site ultimately works as a disservice to the fundamental concepts inherent to Dada & those who championed its cause because Dada understands that “logic is always wrong…[and] draws the threads of notions, words, in their formal exterior, toward illusory end and centers. Its chains kill, it is an enormous centipede stifling independence. Married to logic, art would live in incest, swallowing, engulfing its own tail, still part of its own body, fornicating with itself, and passion would become a nightmare tarred with protestantism, a monument, a heap of ponderous gray entrails” (Tzara 483).

Given Tzara’s distaste for logic, a fitting culmination to this post would be a Dada poem to invigorate this text with a child-like sentimentality representative of Dada & its belief that “childhood [is] a new world, and everything childlike and phantastic, everything childlike and direct, everything childlike and symbolical in opposition to the senilities of the world of grown-ups” (Ball 478) is an appropriate response to art & life:

I snow when I see blood.
Something with a frozen shovel looked hard at me.

Or, the ground punched me in the mouth.
But someone, at least, felt

Like being punched,
I didn’t look at the mechanics.

Works Cited

Rainey, Lawerence, ed. Modernism: An Anthology. Blackwell Publishing: Malden, MA, 2005.

Ball, Hugo. “Dada Fragments.” Rainey 477-9.

Huelsenbeck, Richard. “En Avant Dada: A History of Dadaism.” Rainey 462-77.

Tzara, Tristan. “Dada Manifesto 1918.” Rainey 479-84.

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