Sunday, July 08, 2007

Language of Play: Kids, Dada, Expressionists, etc.

"Her lips trembled, colon, quotation marks, Eleanore, dash, Eleanore, dash, quotation marks, quotation francs, quotation dollars--going, going, gone!"
-From Alfred Doblin's Berlin Alexanderplatz, 1929

"The little girl comes. The mother comes. The daddy. The brother. A dog. They go to sleep. They wake up. They have breakfast. Then they eat lunch. Then they eat dinner. They brush their teeth. They go to sleep. They wake up. They eat breakfast."
-a 4-year old's story as transcribed by Vivian Paley for her book The Boy Who Would Be a Helicopter

Dada doubts everything. Dada is an armadillo. Everything is Dada, too. Beware of Dada. Anti-dadaism is a disease...But the real dadas are against Dada.'
-Tristan Tzara, co-founder of Dadaism

"There's a no-helicopter in my story. A not-helicopter. It's a not airplane. My helicopter is in it. The helicopter goes up to the sky. Then crash! This helicopter. Crash! Then I fix it. A not-airplane story."
-Another 4 year-old in Paley's classroom
I've spent the past few days with my head alternately buried in 3 Kinderspiel-related books: Paley's The Boy Who Would Be a Helicopter (hat tip to Liza for pointing me to her work!), Doblin's Berlin Alexanderplatz, and Lucy Lippard's dadas on art. Musings on storytelling in the classroom, a Weimar-era expressionist novel, and an anthology of dadaist manifesti...While it's truly amazing how the mind naturally seeks to make coherent sense of stimuli it's fed (my favorite dream theory, activation-synthesis, posits that dreams are just the narratives our minds try to develop around the automated synapse firings that our brains perform as part of their nightly 100-point check-up inspections), I think, in this case, there's a strange and beautiful bond between these three source materials which have been commingling in my wee little brain of late.

The moments in which Doblin's masterpiece transcend formal modernist linguistic play and ease towards a glorious sort of post-modern jouissance send me immediately towards the often unintentional post-structuralist puns of the under-5-year-old set, each, in its own way, celebrating language's slippery nature. Children, not yet having gained mastery of their language, incorporate allusions, repetition, and poetic devices like assonance, alliteration, and rhyme in ways strangely reminiscent of such 20th century wordsmiths as Joyce and Nabokov and even Tom Robbins. Are these modernists cum post-modernists emulating kidspeak? Doubtful. Have these writers internalized and reprocessed the decades-long obsession with the "brilliant naivete of the child" that the dadas championed? Possibly. Do I need to come up with an answer to these whys and wherefores? Nope.

Because that's what Stolen Chair tries to do, right? We try to find these unholy hybrids (film noir and absurdism, commedia and rape, "Ridiculous" drag and Elizabethan boy-actors) in the hopes that mashing them together teaches us something about their commonalities and their divergences. In merging the worlds of dadaist Weimar cabaret and children's literature we are hoping to uncover parallels which can shed light on questions of art's role in times of distress (be they the terrifying uncertainties of childhood or post-war Berlin), capitalism's power to absorb and commercialize all transgression, and the ways in which nihilism always seems to give way to another -ism. On a formal level, we get to explore the relationship between chaos and control, between spontaneity and precision. And we get to play with language and in language and on language to the point at which the rules of language become as improvised and fluid as those of play.

No comments: