FROM '+' TO '-'


In our analysis of capitalism we’ve hoped to highlight dysfunctional elements of the system in order to show why the avant-gardes found it problematic. Their willingness to embrace freedom – to think for themselves, to own themselves – cast them in opposition to a system that prefers to limit the truth of the individual.

Terry Eagleton paints a picture in which radicals are “saddled with inconvenient beliefs”30, in which the radical does not so much have their sights set on the future, in dreams of a utopia, as in the present, in working to remedy the deficiencies of the here and now. If we elaborate on this image, we can see society as pathologized, with the radical as part-symptom (neurosis), part-cure (therapist); drawing attention to dysfunction, whilst working to remedy it. The radical-as-therapist hopes to bring society towards a more ‘healthy’ state of being; a state in which the individual (and, by extension, society) could flourish to a greater extent than is presently possible.

In this image, Dada, with its emphasis on destruction, becomes a Jungian neurosis - a rogue element of the psyche, undermining and sabotaging its conscious intentions. Jung saw the psyche as self-regulating, balancing the conscious desires of the ego with the needs of the unconscious. When the actions of the ego caused an imbalance, then a neurosis would result; in this sense, part of the function of the neurosis is to bring attention to what is being overlooked, thus restoring balance to the whole.

If we look at society in the time leading up to Modernism and Dada, we see an emphasis on certain values. The grand-narrative of Progress was in full swing, a fiction that served to elucidate the importance of order and reason. With discoveries and advancements within many fields, man felt he was heading for great heights; yet, with his gaze set on the stars, he failed to notice that his feet were still on the ground, still treading mud.

From the viewpoint of the psychology of the individual, Enlightenment ideology was unbalanced; in its rush towards the horizon, it denied those aspects that may hold man back - his irrationality, his destructiveness, his shadow - a widespread repression that forced these forgotten elements into the collective unconscious. Within an individual, if important contents are denied they will often surface in the form of a neurosis - a stutter from the perfect speaker, a tic in the perfect face - and we could see Modernism as a societal version of this, kicking down the building blocks in a inexplicable rage. This is why Modernism was, in many ways, a destructive phenomenon: in laying waste to the values of pre-Modernist society, it restored balance to the collective psyche.

Thus, in our image, Dada is about pathology or deficiency, a neurosis that served to bring attention to overlooked elements. As we’ve seen, the S.I. and Fluxus were arguably more constructive than Dada. They may have sprung from a similar place, from the same pathology, but in their constructive aspects we could see a resolution to push further. Whilst they were concerned with the pathological aspects of society, the S.I. and Fluxus also sought to offer ideas on how the healthy life should be lived - on how the individual could flourish. In our image, they become therapeutic movements, hoping to engage society in a constructive dialogue, to offer ways forward toward a more healthy existence.

If Dada sought to bring attention to the dysfunction in its bid to return society to health, then the S.I. and Fluxus proposed a way of life that would maintain this health. We can see Dada’s concern as being with illness; with the path from the negative (-) to the neutral (0); whilst the others were largely concerned with flourishing; with the path from 0 to + .

Our psychological analogies prove pertinent, as we see in the work of many psychologists similar concerns and ideas to those of the avant-gardes. In dealing directly with the various forms of pathology that occur within a society, psychologists can offer us valuable insight into it. In order to give us some perspective on the projects of the avant-gardes we’ll consider the work of a few psychologists, and hope to highlight parallels between the two.

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