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.
“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