Conformity in Dada and The Waste Land

One of the main things that struck me in our readings was the Dadaist outcry against conformity. Unquestioned cultural and intellectual uniformity leads to apathy: man becomes mechanical. As Dada writes about psychoanalysis, the “anti-objective impulses of man” are put to sleep. This mentality towards conformity comes as no surprise considering Dada emerged as a type of artistic protest against World War I. A portion of the Wikipedia page for Dada reads, “The dadaists believed those ideas [social, political, and cultural ideologies – all unifying forces] to be a byproduct of bourgeois society, a society so apathetic it would rather fight a war against itself than challenge the status quo.”

In the third issue of 291, there is an interesting passage entitled “Being Human in New York.” This passage ends with: “You have spent a few hours free from rules and conventions. You have had a glimpse at real human beings, who have retained the courage to be their simple selves.” This idea of “real human beings” made me think of Eliot’s Unreal City, the mechanical mass of commuters crossing the London bridge. Interestingly, it seems that Eliot’s Waste Land is in the midst of Tzara’s “great negative work of destruction.” The Waste Land is the old world decaying, like the Cumaean Sibyl. The only hope is in rebirth.


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