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Anarchism and the Advent of Paris Dada: Art and Criticsm, 1914-1924.

Theresa Papanikolas, Anarchism and the Advent of Paris Dada: Art and Criticsm, 1914-1924

Farnham: Ashgate, 2010, 280pp. ISBN 978-0-7546-6626-4

Paris Dada has long been considered not so much in its own terms, but as an appendage to either the Zurich Dada which presaged it or the Parisian Surrealism it developed into, and as lacking as political art in respect to both. Papanikolas' book is novel not only in focusing on Paris Dada as a central moment in its own right, but in identifying anarchism as its animating core. The role of radical social movements has often been down-played as a context in social art history, but this book joins a growing body of scholarship that argues that social movements, and anarchism in particular, were central to the new modes and values of artistic production in European Modernism, whose concern - exemplified in Dada - with negation and antagonism often had a far more solid ground than the mythological straw-man 'anarchism' of some vague chaotic irrationalism previously often ascribed to it.

The book is divided into two broad sections, the first chapters examining and intro-ducing anarcho-individualism in France, and the latter chapters examining Paris Dada directly. While the introduction of Max Stirner's ideas is familiar ground, this is woven into a fascinating but brief account of their reception and development in France in journals such as l'Anarchie, l'Un, la Melee and l'Action d'art, as individualist anarchists moved from illegalist direct action to cultural production, critically reflecting on strategy and philosophy. This contextual introduction is followed by another, an account of Zurich Dada, in Hugo Ball's philosophical debt to Bakunin, and Jean Arp's 'naturalist anarchist' attempts to treat artistic production as propaganda by the deed. The only criticism is that the book arrives at Paris Dada itself a little late. It is only on page 105 that Tristan Tzara arrives in Paris to meet Andre Breton. Perhaps this is an unavoidable problem for a book attempting to reunite narratives and concepts long separated by critics and historians between the disciplines of art and politics, although the text does assume the reader's greater familiarity with the art-historical scholarship on Dada and Surrealism.

At this point, Papanikolas begins to weave these threads together, in Breton's reader-ship of all of the anarchist journals mentioned above, and the founding involvement of Jacques Vache, the nonconformist hero of Paris Dada and Surrealism, in an anarchist cultural circle in Nantes before his conscription. She convincingly argues that Dadaism's famous negation begins to appear not as apolitical nihilism, but as underlined by the anarcho-individualist revolution of the self. The penultimate chapter focuses on the Belgian poet Clement Pansaers, who was drawn into the milieu of Paris Dada in 1920 after a poem of his was published in a French anarcho-individualist review. He too had developed anarchist sympathies alongside a disruptive aesthetic which drew increasingly close to Dada. The Belgian journal Ca Ira! - which he was involved in - increasingly also joined this path, which brought anarcho-individualism into the realm of cultural politics, while developing an anti-militarist and internationalist line as well as anti-authoritarian critiques of Communist revolution. The chapter concludes by returning to Paris, where between Dada and anti-Dada factions, and Stirnerite and Nietzschean egoism, the Paris Dada group fell into crisis on the relationship between individualist destruction and individualist construction, and found itself on the receiving end of 'individualist and anti-Dadaist' critiques from anarchist journals. Papanikolas does not stress the point, but it seems anarchism also had something to do with the fall, as well as the advent, of Paris Dada.

The final chapter engages directly with the historiography of Surrealism, and argues that biographers and historians have taken too much at face value Breton's own disavowal of Dada and his claims that his Surrealist practices predated his encounter with Tzara. Instead, she presents a narrative in which, amid a disillusionment with anarchoindividualism Breton turns increasingly to experiments with the unconscious and automatism as a constructive wellspring, first literary, then as an increasingly general method. In conclusion, she tantalisingly points forward to the abstract expressionism of Barnett Newman, to site Paris Dada as one episode in another art history of attempts to develop specifically anarchist aesthetics. Though perhaps rather too dense and close for the reader looking for an introduction or overview to anarchism's role in modern art, as a gesture towards such a history, and an anarchist intervention into art-historical debates around Modernism, this is a valuable and interesting contribution.

Gavin Grindon Kingston University
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Author:Grindon, Gavin
Publication:Anarchist Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2012
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