Demiurgic machines: The mechanics of New York Dada. A study of the machine art of Francis Picabia, Marcel Duchamp, and other members of New York Dada during the period, 1912--1922

Peter D Gaffney, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract

In the avant-garde production of images and texts, one finds a set of aesthetic and cultural practices heavily invested in the metaphorical system of the machine. Yet there is little in Dada machine art to recall the mechanistic worldview of earlier writers and thinkers---the deterministic order of the Cartesian body, for example, or the materialist hypothesis of La Mettrie. Instead, one finds various attempts to introduce breaks or ruptures into the deterministic order of the machine. It is not the description of the world as mechanism, but a production of imaginary worlds driven by the force of the virtual and revolving around a singularity (an element of chance or "straying cause") that always exceeds the structural relations put forward by mechanical laws. One finds this particularly in the early "proto-Dada" works of Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia, but also in those of Jean Crotti and the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, as well as several others who took part in an intercontinental movement during the period 1912-1922 known as New York Dada. Linking this movement to the writers and texts that inspired it (Raymond Roussel, Jean-Pierre Brisset and Alfred Jarry, but also Nietzsche and Freud), I consider how machines provide a working model for a new theory of production, as well as a "demiurgic" shift in human thought and agency at the level of representation. With references to the works of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (in particular, their concepts of deterritorialization, multiplicity, and singularities-events), and also to Walter Benjamin's conception of the aura, I explore the consequences of this shift. The new subjectivity, I conclude, is characterized by hybridity, delirium, automatism, and a troubling ambiguity between the self and its technological other. ^

Subject Area

Literature, Comparative|Art History|Philosophy

Recommended Citation

Gaffney, Peter D, "Demiurgic machines: The mechanics of New York Dada. A study of the machine art of Francis Picabia, Marcel Duchamp, and other members of New York Dada during the period, 1912--1922" (2006). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3211072.
https://repository.upenn.edu/dissertations/AAI3211072

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