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Just over a hundred years ago, the avant-garde shifted from art for art’s sake to art as lived experience and revolutionary gesture. The DADA movement was at the centre of all this. It was a movement motivated by disgust towards the bourgeoisie and its support of the Great War. The Dadaists in Zurich, Berlin, and New York wanted to disrupt and destroy every way of thinking that could lead to a hyper-rational technologized war. So, they waged a war on rationality and logic. DADA, Tristian Tzara wrote in his 1918 manifesto, signifies nothing and means “no thing.” A nihilistic stick-in-the-spokes for Enlightenment and Romantic ideals, DADA has a lasting legacy: from Surrealism, the advertising industry, the Situationist International, Yoko Ono, Andy Kaufman, Brother Theodore, and punks of London and New York. This is all good, apparently. But what do we make of the proliferation of Dank Memes and their simultaneous adoption by both progressives and the Alt-Right online? DADA has a presence as complex and pressing today as it was over a century ago. But at the core of it all is nihilism: DADA signifies nothing. Whereas Dada was the will to difference via destruction, alt-right dank memers adopted the same techniques but with a different ethos: the will to deception via destruction. What does this mean if we want to make sense out of being a subject in the early twenty-first century where meaning seems to be lost? How does signifying nothing work perfectly with algorithmic culture and this shift of the citizen to the consumer where leisure is labour and where capitalists no longer need to exploit the workers since they willingly exploit themselves in the name of optimization and accomplishment on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and so on. To what degree is nihilism a coping mechanism as capitalism belches its last burps? Or, to what degree is a collective “signifying nothing” a calculated and manufactured attitude that helps maximize the consumer as a pure function of algorithmic functionality? In short, are we good bro? Weird flex, but OK? Or, should we start lighting our torches and sharpening our pitchforks?
ANDREW WENAUS is a musician, producer, and professor in the Department of English and Writing Studies at Western University and the School of Language and Liberal Studies at Fanshawe College. He has published articles in Science Fiction Studies, Electronic Book Review, Extrapolation, Foundation, The Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies, and Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts.