Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Franken-Tzara, streetsnips

“What do we want?”
“When do we want it?”

Thus Al Franken supporters at a rally during the long recount process for the disputed Minnesota senate seat, still uncertain two months after election day. Franken, forced of late to suppress his comedian's instincts but obviously not completely, explained that he was propagating a Dadaist meme. And by both gestures, the not-really-Dadaist (1) but beautifully witty chant and his egghead-puckish rationale, he made me glad that this Minnesota-born citizen-abroad had voted for him. I don't know if it is despair or puerility, or the confusing blend of the two that can result from toxic exposures to the microcephalic creep machine that is Business As Usual...but I want a senator who can think and say something like that.


(Bold Street)

Jerry sweeping at reddish chunks of ice beside his front step. His plaid slippers.
“What happened?”
He points up. The third floor window is black, no sky reflected. Not just ice.
“Fell. If he's smart.”
Thin, stoop-shouldered, his broom stabbing down, he looks like some kind of mutant stork stabbing at a frozen mudflat. Where's his dustpan? Piece of cardboard, even.
He's just poking at the stuff. Moving it around.


The homes get larger and, right on cue, the sidewalk ices over, uncleared. Then clears, well-salted, at the corner. Starbucks.

(Bayview near York Mills, Leslie near Lawrence, Avenue near Lawrence)

Every afternoon at rush hour, a traffic cop (sometimes two) at certain spots. Managing four packed lanes in two directions to permit left turns out of a busy lot. For the fiftieth time, I wonder how those salaries every day could be cheaper than a light. But it's a specialized situation, only bad when the traffic exiting–the upscale grocery store, the software company, the fancy car wash–interferes dangerously with the street traffic. And...they're high-priced neighbourhoods. In the poorer districts, when things jam up, the advice to shoppers is what it's always been: walk or wait. (Or make a right. A safe and easy alternative–but the more expensive the car, the more likely its driver will find this unacceptable. The round-the-block detour is a moving wait.)

(Oriole Park, “the Dog Park”)

Small man walking a little dog: both wearing the same grin.


1) Or? Dada evades categorizations as efficiently as a swamp, whose complex respirations comprise the methane belches of decomposition and the orderly inspiration of a hundred other intricately connected and only apparently contradictory processes. Bodies of meaning drowned and dismembered, sunk out of sight, bloat and rise naturally again. Hugo Ball, in his diary Flight Out of Time, recalls his legendary (and final) “Magical Bishop” performance at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, June 23, 1916, wearing his cardboard costume (imagine a preliminary sketch for Oz's Tin Man, with flared breastplates) of cylinders of blue, white, scarlet, gold and high “witch doctor's hat”: “I was carried onto the stage in the dark and began slowly and solemnly: ‘gadji beri bimba/glandridi lauli lonni cadori/gadjama bim beri glassala/...’ ...[when I] noticed that my voice had no choice but to take on the ancient cadence of priestly lamentation, that style of liturgical singing that wails in all the Catholic churches of East and West....” Vanguards of many sorts lived in Zurich at the time: Joyce was there; so was V.I. Lenin, indeed living diagonally across the street from Cabaret Voltaire. In Berlin, Einstein had recently published the General Theory of Relativity. Over on the Western Front, Lance Corporal Adolf Hitler, dispatch runner, was confounding and amusing his Kameraden with a bundle of attributes so vehemently out-of-it they might have been conceived, in the spirit of Marcel Janco's “Mask,” as a Dadaist disarticulation of Personality: the 27-year-old who refuses on moral grounds to accompany his fellows to the brothels and upbraids them harshly when they return; “the artist,” his nickname, obsessively reading and sketching in the trenches; the to-the-death despiser of peace and peace-talkers who adopts a little white dog strayed over from enemy lines and lavishes on it a doting care. Shortly before his Magical Bishop performance, Hugo Ball called Dada “a farce of nothingness in which all the higher questions are involved...a gladiator's gesture, a play with shabby leftovers.”

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