Dada Presentism
An Essay on Art and History
Maria Stavrinaki


Contents and Abstracts
I: Posthistory and Prehistory
chapter abstract

The introduction of the book is a submersion into the semantics of history according to Dada at the end of the First World War. On the one hand, it is about the transitions and ruptures between several other avant-garde movements and Dada. On the other hand, this semantic introduction tries to demonstrate the apparently contradictory, but profoundly coherent character of Dada, oscillating between eclecticism and primitivism, between the sense of a fossilized history and the sense of a second prehistory.

II: The Present as Reproducible Time
chapter abstract

This chapter is a careful analysis of some significant Dadaist artworks, the most important of which (a photograph of a Dada exhibition) is usually examined as a simple historical document. Exploring the analogies between photography and history, analyzed in 1927 by Siegfried Kracauer, this chapter aims to show that presentism was also imposed to Dada by the new means of production and consumption of images. Defining the various modes of the analogies between photography and history in the work of Dada artists, this chapter proposes a twofold ramification: the device of montage such as used in its critical function by Georg Grosz and John Heartfield is thus opposed to the profound ambivalence of reproducibility in the work of Johannes Baader, oscillating between nothingness and God.

III: Art's Efficacy or Dada's Use-Value
chapter abstract

One of the aims of Dadaist presentism was to show the plus-value gained by the past and the future within capitalized history. If classical past was anachronistic according to Dada, its effects were profoundly present. Dada established a semantic equivalence between German idealism, Weimar classicism, parliamentary democracy and socialistic evolutionism. It's antiphrastic formal devices aimed to expose the mechanism and the effect of this semantic equivalence, namely the repetition of the same "nightmare of history", the plus-value of eternity. Chapter keywords: Plus-value, Eternity, cultural heritage, Marxism, political efficiency

IV: The Moment of Decision: The Future-from-Now
chapter abstract

Dadaist decisionism invested a horizontal, decentered ontology of the subject and of art. Renouncing to the autonomy of art – the exact meaning of the "death of art" - they either put it to the service of the communist Revolution, or to a more ambivalent, anarchic vision of reality, considered as a complex of constantly changing relations.

V: The Paradigm of Immaculate Conception: Between Fiction and History
chapter abstract

This last chapter explores the non genetic Dadaist conception of history, whose paradigm is to be found in the process of mechanical reproduction as well as in the theme of immaculate conception. It also explores a profound ambiguity of Dada created by its obsession with ephemeral temporality and its not less obsessive writing of history. Dada artists were their own historiographers. Accepting though the facticity of history, they cultivated a systematic ambivalence between facts and legends. Past remained thus open to all the following presents – and this was an ultimate aspect of Dada presentism.