Three Room Press’s Peter Carlaftes’ Interviews Andrei re: A.I.: Artificial Ignorance May, 2019
MAINTENANT 13, the annual journal of contemporary Dada writing and art, focuses on the theme of “A.I.: Artificial Ignorance.” In today’s world, where is the intelligence?
3RP: With the passage of time as a gain in technology we can no longer rebel as the Dadaists once rebelled
yet Dada retains an important place in the history of rebellion.
Codrescu: If Dada was history it would just be stories, another chapter in the curriculum of 20th-century isms. Happily or not, it’s something else, impossible to pin down, and totally with us, especially now at the hybrid crossroads of human and robot. It is, without resorting to metaphysics, a catch in the throat. A breath of shock, surprise, and horror that wells up without warning. Is that man, standing in a field of corpses, about to upchuck his Wienerschnitzel or is he aiming a spitball in four directions at once? Dada, one of the dadaists said at peak Dada in WW1, is a word more potent than God. That is still true, it’s God without metaphysics, God without godliness, without power and without rank. The gasp of Dada, the breath of surprise, is the cry uttered by a human hit by a revelation. The surprised gasp, that’s all. What follows is the effort of the surprised (if they live) to relive the gasp. And later, to figure out what the revelation was. And later yet, to narrate the pre and aftermaths of the gasp. And later yet, to pick at the fine down on the back of the gasp-beast to see if it could be translated as a style. Or translated in any which way, in whatever language, or whatever currency. Putting this in terms of the time-span we all agreed to set our time-pieces to, the first gasp of surprise was the Big Bang, then came a whole lot of still ongoing bang-bangs, birth-bang (or pang), death-bang, electro-bang, e-bang, and badaboom badabang as far as we can imagine. So, take Tzara and the Zurich Dadaists, as an arbitrary point in gasping. What were he and his cohorts gasping about? What was revealed to them vividly enough to make “history”? Well, poison gas for one thing. And the bombs ripping up the empires and the people in them. Technology, which does have a history, marks its milestones with big bangs. Nobody expected the empires to blow up, least of all the people living in them. War, schmwar, thought Kafka when he put his money in the safest possible investment: Austro-Hungarian bonds. Everybody in Europe or in colony management knew that technology was capable of killing them. And everybody gasped when it advanced to kill a little more than they thought. By the time Tzara gasped, Europeans were already mostly robotic: they wore shoes, they lived in boxes, they used wires to communicate, they machined killingry. The hierarchical setup of Empire was a human-based engine engaged in advancing technology. Marinetti’s futurists got high on exhaust fumes but they too gasped when the speed they worshipped killed without any regard for their enthusiasm. Or the dadaists gasped for them. Only hermits and Luddites rang the alarms, and they probably gasped too when they were pulverized. The bang is always a revelation and “Dada!” is the one word that might get out before the meat chunks into the air. Tzara might as well have said “Fuck!,” like millions of others did, but he said “Dada!” instead. For complex reasons having to do with human psychology and with the survival of art (which is the art of surviving), the translation and exchange that followed came to be known as “Dada!” not “Fuck!” But this is simply because Tzara was Romanian, and “Dada” is a double-yes of helplessness calling for Daddy (who is also busy being blown up and helplessly uttering Fuck! to his own daddy). The Dada! revolution did become the Fuck! Revolution for a minute in the 1960s.
3RP: How can you envisage the thrust of Dada regaining momentum today through the use of technology?
Codrescu: Your first question had the interesting phrase “as we gain in technology” in it, so I’ll consider that in the context of the question above. In brief, we “gain in technology” a simulacrum of what we lose in flesh. “Flesh” is a technology, too, though a still mysterious one as of this minute. A minute ago, in let’s say 1916, we didn’t know very much. Now we know how to repurpose flesh (the human material) with CRISPR and other technologies. The replacement “simulacrum” is no longer a mystery: we transplant body parts and we 3D print limbs. If an older technology, a landmine let’s say, blows up your legs, it can be replaced by printed prosthetics. (And soon enough by something very much like flesh). There is a game on in science to locate consciousness, which is deadly serious given that we are experiencing two (seemingly) competing technologies simultaneously: one of them is the tech of evaporation of humans and eradication of life on earth, while the other is the rapidly advancing communication tech that links every brain on earth to the hive mind. If we can locate consciousness anywhere (in the Socratic sense of know thyself) we can understand what it’s up to. And then we gasp! Dada! I mean, if consciousness is matter working to know itself, does it want to keep knowing or does it want to self-annihilate? Locating consciousness is the first step. Finding out what it wants is another. Does it want to go on or to blow up? If it wants to go on, we have to invent a new technology (math and physics) to grow it big enough to make the (competing) war tech obsolete. If it wants to self-destruct, then we don’t have to do much. Both you and I and our fellow artists come up mostly on the side of going on — you because optimism is the American religion, and I because I was brainwashed by the communists before I could dream like Baudelaire.
3RP: And of course, Dada erupted from the trenches of The Great War –where 40,000 corpses sometimes
piled up daily.
Codrescu: I think I already answered that one.
3RP:What is the difference of 40,000 corpses then and 40,000 corpses buried in smart phones today?
Codrescu: I can see people wanting to be buried with their smart phones, but I have yet to see anyone buried inside their smart phone, though it’s not a bad idea. If one can be condensed post-mortem into a data chip it’s not a bad testamentary disposition. Just be sure you leave the password with someone alive.
3RP: And finally–If you really want to upset the balance –Conformity is the new rebellion. Like stacking one side of the deck IS Rebellion. Agree? Disagree? Thoughts?
Codrescu: I don’t know what conformity or rebellion are. All I know is that if somebody hits you hard with a revelation or an explosive, you gasp. Dada! Fuck!
An Interview by Jean Harris in Los Angeles Review of Books October, 2013
The Archives in Bibliodeath’s title points to Codrescu’s personal papers and collections, which have been housed at Louisiana State University Library since 1985. Following the Special Collections page at the LSU Hill Memorial Library site, “this [original] gift [of papers] has been followed by more than 5,000 volumes of contemporary fiction and poetry, many of which are ephemeral in nature or were published by small presses.” So it’s no wonder Bibliodeath opens with Codrescu’s thanks to Elaine Smyth, archivist at Hill Memorial, “who suggested to the editors of a book about the private libraries of authors that they ask me to write a brief essay about my experience with Archives. […] As soon as I set to the task, I realized that I was holding the philosopher’s walking stick in my hand, and ‘brief’ is not what happened.”
— Jean Harris
Bibliodeath as a Book-object
JEAN HARRIS: Andrei, your experience with archives begins with the creation of yourself as a writer, and it includes the creation of four decades-worth of papers and e-writings (post-papers). We’re talking about a writing life that spans continents (Europe—with Romanian and Italian phases—and North America) and political periods (communist and post-communist Romania, Cold War and post-Cold War America). This literary experience is immersed to the hilt in key cultural moments, including late Stalinist, snitch-plagued, communist Romania where you read proscribed poets and wrote rebellious poetry and zeitgeist-heavy scenes in New York and San Francisco in the late sixties and after. You began to write in the Guttenberg age, and you have gone on writing and archiving well into the Cloud era. That’s a lot to organize. How did you settle onBibliodeath’s format: My Archives: With Life in Footnotes? Did the book evolve out of the forgetting and consequent memory searches and surges, which you describe in “A Rough Guide to the Art of Forgetting,” or is there more to the story?
ANDREI CODRESCU: Thank you for the succinct presentation. I couldn’t have done it. Retrospective to me is like looking down into a well with sides of broken mirrors. I can’t remember the Romanian artist’s name, I saw his piece “The Well” at an exhibit in Prague; the inside was mirror shards and the outside was made from the stiff covers of the “classics of communism.” Anyway, the structure suggested itself from a form I discovered in The Posthuman Dada Guide: Tzara and Lenin Play Chess and whatever gets you through the night: a story of sheherezade and the arabian entertainments. This form is an attempt to capture thoughts that occur during writing other thoughts: the subconscious sends up thoughts – or objections—right in the middle of your most coherent (or even your most inspired) typing; I decided to let these thoughts surface, interrupt, and play out, or even take over. I decided they were true, even if mischievous or inopportune, a kind of justifiable sabotage. To make sense of them I put them in footnotes, where they started to write their own book, a “sub-book,” which turned out – surprise, surprise! – to be a memoir. I’m not claiming to have invented this use of the footnote; Nabokov and David Foster Wallace used it in brilliant but different ways. Nabokov had huge fun in Pale Fire, glossing a mediocre poem with a brilliant novel. David Foster Wallace used footnotes to diagnose his characters and his own states of mind. The difference is that you can say “Nabokov” and know in one word what I’m talking about, but you have to say “David Foster Wallace” to get an idea. You can call me anything you want. I think that there is a structural flaw in the “essay” as a form: it is produced at the expense of the life that created it. Michel de Montaigne never shied away from the link between the particulars of his life and the generalizations of the form, but after him the essay separated from life like poetry from music. The hybrid form called “literary nonfiction,” now taught in “creative writing” schools, is a self-conscious effort to reacquaint life and thought, a bit like rap putting the words back to music.
Interview by Lawrence Millman 2012
L: I have to admit, Andrei, that I’m still reeling from the pyrotechnics to which you put your adopted language in Bibliodeath. Why do you think certain European writers — Nabokov, Conrad, and (don’t blush!) you, for example — write a better, more felicitous English than most native-born writers of English?
A: We don’t write better English. We just write slow and breathless English. If you have to think about every word, you travel to its origins, swing through its meanings, and surface with that word subjected to something like cosmic agitation. Or more simply put, we get our writing chops from reading, so we see before we hear. We die in one language, only to be reborn in another. It’s the dying and coming back that makes us so fascinating to anyone who isn’t us. And I’m not blushing: I like my work. I like Nabokov’s even more.
Interview in Book Slut by Josh Cook, 2012
Why does the rise of digital technology have to result in the death of print technology?
Because Mr. Ford ate the last working horse, thus making room for the racing horse. Technologically, the horse is a skeuomorph, but symbolically its power is increased tenfold by its selectively bred descendent. What we call "book" now will also likely be a magical thing that was once common. The symbolic book of the future will be a deluxe object related only slightly to its current Random House ancestor. Current print technology is dying as a mass-tool and will be reborn as art. Art is the last stage of capitalism.
Del Sol Review, 2009
The Genetics of Poetry: An Interview with Andrei Codrescu
This interview took place at the University of Central Arkansas between poet Andrei Codrescu and the students in Professor Mark Spitzer's poetry workshop. The student interviewers are listed below:
Alan Strain: What do you think is the least important thing we could talk about?
Andrei: Writing. It's everywhere, our world is very text based. It is used to describe every aspect of our lives, even our DNA is text-based. We live in a sea of text. So it's both too complicated and too plain to discuss.