Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format

Integrated Article

Degree

Master of Arts

Program

Theory and Criticism

Supervisor

Calcagno, Antonio

Affiliation

King's University College at Western University

Abstract

This thesis studies affliction as it appears in the proto-avant-garde art movement of Dada. I analyse affliction through the theoretical frameworks of the ‘neuronal’ and ‘immunological,’ as presented by cultural theorist Byung-Chul Han in The Burnout Society. By applying Han’s theories to Dada, I challenge Han’s argument that our affliction underwent a shift at the end of the Cold War: No longer produced by negativity (the immunological), affliction is now produced by excess positivity (the neuronal). Such excess blocks our access to and erodes the existence of ‘somewhere else,’ causing a crisis in the arts, which I argue should be attributed to neuronal affliction and traced back to Dada. Their response to World War I, both in content to some extent but particularly in method, during a period of globalization, alliances and rapidly changing technology and beliefs displays many features of neuronal affliction. Hence, the refusal, nihilism and negativity Dada has so often been characterized by in the past are misunderstandings of its inventive and playfully excessive methodologies. The aforementioned thesis is explored through the ‘bacteriological’ in Tristan Tzara’s “Dada Manifesto 1918,” the collage’s hybrid nature and the power of tiredness in Max Ernst’s Murdering Airplane (1920), and the positivity of Marcel Duchamp’s ‘possiblism,’ as it appears in his readymade artwork, Fountain.

Summary for Lay Audience

This thesis studies affliction as it appears in the proto-avant-garde art movement, Dada. I analyse affliction through the theoretical frameworks of the ‘neuronal’ and ‘immunological,’ as presented by cultural theorist Byung-Chul Han in The Burnout Society. The ‘immunological’ is an age or paradigm defined by a vital tension between positive and negative, Self and Other. Han repeatedly claims that this mode, heavily inclined toward conflict, was a particularly strong defining feature of the twentieth century. In contrast, the ‘neuronal’ is an age unable to manage negativity as it progressively becomes more ‘positive,’ prioritizing speed, freedom, transparency, smoothness, amounting to more information and faster exchanges of capital. Han argues that we have become so fixated on these issues that we are unable to see they are the sources of our contemporary afflictions. We no longer have a problem of too little, but of too much. Our pain is not imposed on us from the Other, but by ourselves as we perpetually try to achieve more and rest less. Consequently, neuronal affliction is defined by hyperactivity, burnout and depression, all produced by excess positivity.

By applying Han’s theories to Dada, I challenge Han’s argument that our affliction underwent a shift at the end of the Cold War. This problematizes Han’s hard, dualist split between the two modes of affliction. It also positions neuronal affliction as not strictly the product of digital technology and neoliberal capitalism, but more broadly a quality of being ‘modern,’ suggesting that Dada may have important lessons for our contemporary world. I argue that the Dadaists were responding to this new neuronal affliction as early as World War I, a period of globalization, alliances and rapidly changing technology and beliefs. Hence, the refusal, nihilism and negativity Dada has so often been characterized by in the past are misunderstandings of its inventive and playfully excessive methodologies. The aforementioned thesis is explored through the ‘bacteriological’ in Tristan Tzara’s “Dada Manifesto 1918,” the collage’s hybrid nature and the power of tiredness in Max Ernst’s Murdering Airplane (1920), and the positivity of Marcel Duchamp’s ‘possiblism’ as it appears in his readymade artwork, Fountain.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 License.

Available for download on Wednesday, September 01, 2021

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