The following book review of Understanding Dada is a MetaDada exclusive by first-time contributor Shyanna Bodenstein. We look forward to more critical reviews from her razor sharp pen (or actually flat, slightly concave black keys) – Editor
By Shyanna Bodenstein
A long-standing, semi-serious scholar of dada proposed to explain this subject in a book, and then had the audacity to do so. One would think that one who has lived by, created by, taught by, and agitated language and image by dada would know better. Fortunately for us, he did not.
Understanding Dada by H. Michael Sanders offers the 21st century reader, who is daily inundated by data about one’s supposed humanity that must be consumed, processed, and acted upon, an alternative: pure dada that one is obliged to forget. In fact, half a hardy laugh and you’ve already spent more interpretive effort than the subject demands.
Professor Sanders has struck all the epistemological chords of the dubious nature of dada (sometimes referred to as Dada): theory, philosophy, principles, system, strategy, tactics, mechanics, method, history, politics, economics, law, rhetoric, culture, aesthetics, fashion, theology, scripture, morality, and belief. One would think that such an extensive list implies a massive tome on the level of War and Peace x 10. But no! This is not your daddy’s dada! This is not your go-tell-it-on-the-mountain dada! This is not a mountain of dada! It is more like the spaces between the moments of our thoughts, words, lives, and difficult accessories.
Furtherless, Professor Sanders has offered a full page to each topic. Furtherless, the book is amply illustrated by illustrations that take up 8/10 of each page. This meant, for Professor Sanders, that the writing went very quickly. This means, for the reader, that we get to peruse a series of black-and-white pictures and – yuk-yuk-yuk – the joke’s on us! Because dada is anything but black-and-white, and entirely both as well as all.
The book is also timely amid the current rage of adult coloring books, though this one is less tedious than those of the picassorama therapy genre. Many of the illustrations have no blank space for coloring, and ones that do offer generous space between the lines; see, for example, the Theory section. You don’t have to color at all if you prefer the film noir aesthetic applied to deep think.
There are, of course, some words to read – an introduction and a closing poem – but in a stroke of near genius Professor Sanders discovered: why use words, those poor, blind, hairless creatures dependent upon humans for meaning and humanity, when you can use an image legally stolen from the annals of . . . . of . . . . well, let’s not get too personal. Professor Sanders assures us that all of his images reside in the digital free zone of copyrightlessness, as opposed to copyrighteousness, so that we may retain our intellectual virginity as we take in this fascinating filibuster of the meeting of the minds.
One thing this reader noticed, however, is that most of the illustrations involving humans were those of the male persuasion. Where are all the dada chicks? They are out there, and I encourage all of them to leave the circus, enter the portal nearest their last threshold, and set up shop. Advertise your mama’s dada. After reading Professor Sander’s book, we’ll understand. Absenceness is next to godliness.