Dada Culture: Critical Texts on the Avant-Garde

By Dafydd Jones | Go to book overview

The Mortality of Roles:
Johannes Baader and spiritual materialism

Stephen C. Foster

Abstract: The assumption of roles among figures from the early twentieth-century
avant-garde, specifically figures associated with Dada, is all too often discussed in the
misleading terms of deliberate attempts at synthesising roles. Attempting to under-
stand such a figure as the Berlin Oberdada Johannes Baader, however, demands both
a critique of and departure from any notion of him as a synthesiser of roles; any role
that Baader assumed became useful to him only in its assumption of relationships to
other roles, and in certain key instances in its equation with other roles. This essay
develops a study of Baader that not so much collapses distinction between the roles of
architect, artist and God, as to preserve the distinction of each in order to work
through the others. Whilst maintaining the overarching and pivotal identity of
Architekt Baader, Johannes Baader could maximise his application of a conceptual
model for the reformulation of all dimensions of cultural activity and reorganisation
of cultural mechanics. The effect, as argued in this essay, was not to provide a syn-
thesis of truths but to constitute Baader's truth in the disclosure of culture.

Anyone seriously pursuing a study of modernism cannot avoid formulating certain assumptions concerning the development of roles in twentieth century art and literature; above all, that roles, as we typically understand them are, in some special way, endemic to modernism and that they are transmitted culturally through modernism's institutions. It is therefore surprising that the subject has received so little attention in the literature, where cases of roles are typically presented first through categories and then through specific instances of those categories. That is, the abstract concept of the “role” is most often embodied by paradigmatic “kinds” of roles and, within them, further embodied by historically specific content.

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