Wireless Dada

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Publication Date
November 2019
Page Count
224 pages
Trim Size
6 x 9

Wireless Dada

Telegraphic Poetics in the Avant-Garde
Kurt Beals

Wireless Dada: Telegraphic Poetics in the Avant-Garde demonstrates that the poetics of the Dada movement were profoundly influenced by the telegraph and the technological and social transformations that it brought about in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. 

While telegraphy’s impact on other avant-gardes such as Italian futurism and German expressionism is widely acknowledged, its formative role in Dada poetics has been largely neglected. Yet the telegraph exerted an unmistakable influence on the Dada movement, providing a fundamentally new paradigm for understanding language that proved well suited to an avant-garde in search of revolutionary means of expression.

Drawing on methods and insights from media history and theory, avant-garde studies, and German literary studies, Kurt Beals shows how the telegraph and the cultural discourses that surrounded it shaped the radical works of this seminal avant-garde movement. The “nonsense” strain in Dada is frequently seen as a response to the senseless violence of the First World War. However, Beals argues, it was not just the war that turned Dada poetry into a jumble of senseless signals—it was also the wireless. 

About the Author

KURT BEALS is an assistant professor of German at Washington University in St. Louis. He is coeditor of Hans Richters Rhythmus 21: Schlüsselfilm der Moderne (Hans Richter’s Rhythmus 21: Key Film of Modernism).

“There are many fine studies of Dada, but Kurt Beals’s Wireless Dada is unique in offering a genuine alternative to the familiar narrative that Dada radical experimentation was first and foremost a response to the violence and horror of WWI. On the contrary, Beals argues, it was the breakthrough technology of the period—especially telegraphy, with its new conception of language, punctuation, and wireless information—that ushered in the new poetics. And further, it was the telegraph that undermined any conception of language as a means of pure, authentic self-expression and paved the way for a more capacious sense of poetry. Beals has produced a study as persuasively argued as it is elegantly written.” —Marjorie Perloff, author of Unoriginal Genius: Poetry by Other Means in the New Century

?"Wireless Dada offers a new and consistent reading of one of the most enigmatic movements of twentieth-century literature. It is an important, original, and far-reaching contribution not only to literary studies but also to the cultural and media history of the twentieth century.” —Wolf Kittler, author of Die Geburt des Partisanen aus dem Geist der Poesie (The Birth of the Partisan out of the Spirit of Poetry)

"Telegraphic poetics addresses the stuff of non- or low-level semantic communication, be it electronic or in print, and how it relates to the cultural product. Beals enriches this examination of the history of the telegraph (and related inventions) by looking at how creative artists perceived the new technology . . . In its broadest implications, this study extends beyond literary history to communication and information studies." —J. M. Jeep, Miami University in CHOICE