A Neurasthenic History of New York Dada
336 pp., 8 x 9 in, 71 illus.
- Published: September 23, 2005
- Published: February 27, 2004
A revisionist history of New York Dada, with appearances by Baroness Elsa as the embodiment of irrational modernism.
In Irrational Modernism, Amelia Jones gives us a history of New York Dada, reinterpreted in relation to the life and works of Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven. Jones enlarges our conception of New York Dada beyond the male avant-garde heroics of Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, and Francis Picabia to include the rebellious body of the Baroness. If they practiced Dada, she lived it, with her unorthodox personal life, wild assemblage objects, radical poetry and prose, and the flamboyant self-displays by which she became her own work of art. Through this reinterpretation, Jones not only provides a revisionist history of an art movement but also suggests a new method of art history. Jones argues that the accepted idea of New York Dada as epitomized by Duchamp's readymades and their implicit cultural critique does not take into consideration the contradictions within the movement—its misogyny, for example—or the social turmoil of the period caused by industrialization, urbanization, and the upheaval of World War I and its aftermath, which coincided with the Baroness's time in New York (1913-1923). Baroness Elsa, whose appearances in Jones's narrative of New York Dada mirror her volcanic intrusions into the artistic circles of the time, can be seen to embody a new way to understand the history of avant-gardism—one that embraces the irrational and marginal rather than promoting the canonical. Acknowledging her identification with the Baroness (as a "fellow neurasthenic"), and interrupting her own objective passages of art historical argument with what she describes in her introduction as "bursts of irrationality," Jones explores the interestedness of all art history, and proposes a new "immersive" understanding of history (reflecting the historian's own history) that parallels the irrational immersive trajectory of avant- gardism as practiced by Baroness Elsa.
In this book that is as bold as it is brilliant and beautifully written, Amelia Jones gives us not only a new modernism but a new feminism. It is nothing less than the first art history of the twenty-first century.
Nicholas Mirzoeff, Professor of Art History and Comparative Literature, Stony Brook University
Amelia Jones's book is a brilliant study of New York Dada that irrationalizes in a productive and necessary way our understanding of modernism by retracing, reassessing, and demonstrating the incontournabilité of Baroness Elsa's work. This figure enables Jones to examine the failings of masculinity, the dysfunction of machine identity, and the neurasthenia of subjectivity in Dada art, and question as well the rationalities of both Dada and art history. A methodological shift is certainly at play in Irrational Modernism, one that contests art history's claim to disinterestedness and forces us to acknowledge the role played by identification.
Christine Ross, Associate Professor, Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University
Like the very best feminist scholarship, Amelia Jones's Irrational Modernism is not a work that adds women or gender to an existing history, but one that transforms the very terms of that history. By reconsidering the work of artists such as Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia, and Man Ray in relation to both the trauma of World War I and the dehumanizing forces of Taylorism and Fordism, Jones recovers another of the many crises in masculinity that have passed largely unremarked in existing scholarship. By reinscribing marginalized figures such as the Baroness Elsa into the world of the Dadaists, and giving serious attention to neurasthenia as a social as well as psychic phenomenon, Jones has produced a lucid, compelling, and ex-centric study that provides an important interpretation of the art, the artists, the milieu, and the larger society in which Dada made its interventions. In contrast to heroicizing accounts of twentieth-century avant-gardes, Jones reminds us that even the most radical moments of cultural production have remained moored to masculinity's own contradictions, aporias, and misogyny.
Abigail Solomon-Godeau, Professor, Department of the History of Art and Architecture, University of California, Santa Barbara