Remixing Dada Poetry in MySpace: an electronic edition of poetry by the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven in n-dimensional space
by Tanya Clement — University of Maryland-College Park
December 14, 2009 – 10:35
The Dadaist poet Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven published approximately forty of her poems in little magazines between 1918 and 1929. Yet, despite the fact that Ernest Hemingway was her avid proponent at the transatlantic review; that she appears in Ezra Pound’s Cantos; that William Carlos Williams dedicates an entire chapter of his autobiography to her; that her extant collection of poetry is due to Djuna Barnes diligently collecting what Barnes considered important in her friend’s work; and that The Little Review editor Margaret Anderson described her as “perhaps the only figure of our generation who deserves the epithet extraordinary,” despite these facts, since 1929 the Baroness’s work has rarely appeared in print and until the 1980s, scholarship on her work was not published at all.
In Transition: Selected Poems by the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven is the newest collection within the digital collections at the University of Maryland (UM), College Park Libraries (see http://lib.umd.edu/digital/transition). It is an electronic scholarly edition of poetry by the Dadaist artist, performer, and poet Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven I edited edition as part of my dissertation entitled “The Makings of Digital Modernism” in which I demonstrate that digital tools facilitate analysis on submerged textual and social patterns which allow scholars to uncover new kinds of evidence and new opportunities for resituating texts within modernist studies. Freytag-Loringhoven created the twelve poems included in the edition during a time of transition in her life, between 1923 and 1927, when she moved from New York to Berlin and finally to Paris, and I chose to include these poems within In Transition in order to illuminate a moment of transition in the culture of little magazines and to make comparisons with and shed light on the transitioning technologies of textual transmission in the first decade of the twenty-first century. This talk introduces a theory of text I am calling textual performance and discusses the manner in which this digital edition represents that theory in practice by encouraging new kinds of access to and thus new readings of the Baroness’s poetry.
The theory of text represented by In Transition engages principles based on a theory of textual performance. I am defining a theory of textual performance to include John Bryant’s notion of fluid text theory in which social text theory and the geneticist notion that a literary work is “equivalent to the processes of genesis that create it” are engaged to reflect the textual event as a “flow of energy” rather than a product (Bryant 71, 61). As such, a text in performance can comprise multiple versions in manuscript and print, various notes and letters and comments of contemporaries or current readers, plus the element of performance—an element of time, space, and a collaborative audience—that work together in the meaning-making event of a text. Literary work is a “phenomenon,” Bryant writes, ” … best conceived not as a produced work (oeuvre) but as work itself (travaille)” as “the power of people and culture to create a text” (61).
Dadaism and Textual Performance
A notion of textual performance is particularly useful when reading a Dadist text. Provocation was at the root of Dadaist art and the context in which Dadaist poetry was performed is essential to appreciating the work it does. The first Dadaists have many definitions for “Dada.” “Dada means nothing,” Tristan Tzara writes in his “Dada Manifesto” of 1918, but it also means “nurse” in Russian and Rumanian and “the tail of a holy cow” (“Dada Manifesto 1918” 77). Hans Richter remembers the term as a translation of “yes, yes” in Rumanian or “da, da” (Richter 31). Hugo Ball has called it an “indication of idiot naivety,” “foolery extracted from the emptiness in which all the higher problems are wrapped,” and “a public execution of false morality,” but perhaps the most useful definition for this discussion is Ball’s “last word” on the topic in a letter to Richard Huelsenbeck: “… and last of all I describe Dada, cabaret and gallery” (qtd. in Richter 32). The cabaret or performance element of Dada signifies an element of chance and spontaneity. Yet, while chance is a definite factor in art so too is the conscious will or artistry of the artist, which is represented in the gallery of creations found usually at the center of the Dada performance. This relationship between chance and anti-chance, between the performance and the work (in Barthes terms) is well-expressed as the relationship that exists in Dada art between the cabaret and the gallery, but it may also be used to articulate textual performance in the terms of an electronic Baroness poem.
At the basis of the electronic textual performance of a Baroness poem exists a gallery of ready-made objects: images and encoded transcriptions. In French, Marcel Duchamp called his mass-produced “art” objects le tout faire, en série, which may be literally translated as “all done, in series.” In English, the closest equivalent, he surmised, was the word “readymade” used for mass-produced garments he saw in the fashion industry. While Walter Benjamin contends that what the Dadaists “intended and achieved was a relentless destruction of the aura of their creations, which they branded as reproductions with the very means of production” (Benjamin 237-238), Duchamp started with the premise that his gallery objects (such as the bicycle wheel, the urinal, and the comb) were not unique or original “in the conventional sense” but that these objects each have an aura based on reception. In other words, because the event of transmission and reception changes, each object is a replica but it is also self-identical—it exists as a discrete, unique object in a four-dimensional space (the gallery) in which the object is perceived by an interactive audience from any given perspective at any given moment in the moment’s performance (in cabaret). For instance, consider this gallery of works: a bicycle on a painted stool with a placard, a urinal with a hand-painted title, a dog’s grooming comb with an inscription, and the written anecdote of the Baroness, who “with seventy black and purple anklets clanking about her secular feet, a foreign postage stamp—canceled—perched upon her cheek; a wig of purple and gold caught roguishly up with strands from a cable once used to moor importations from far Cathay; red trousers” is described as “an ancient human notebook on which has been written all the follies of a past generation” (Barnes “How the Villagers Amuse Themselves”). In each instance, there is an object that can be replicated (a bicycle, a comb, a written description), but there are also multiple opportunities for interpreting their meaning given the audience’s relationship with the accompanying “inscriptions” and the performance venue, whether it be in a museum or, in the case of Barnes’s description, in the New York Morning Telegraph Sunday Magazine. It goes without saying that Duchamp shook the art world by throwing into debate this question about uniqueness and his readymades—he appears to be asking, whether uniqueness (Benjamin’s “aura”) should defined by the object’s “originality” (by its origin of production) or by its uniqueness produced by how we perceive it (by its reception)? From the latter perspective, the readymade does not merely represent a reconstruction or replica of a missing original. It is a performance of a thing itself. By this definition, digital surrogates like images and encoded text may be defined as readymades without originals; they may be unique-in-play—both replicated and therefore mass-produced to serve as unique elements within each iteration or performance of text.
If the digital text’s instantiation is not meant to serve as a replica of the “real” object but as a critical deformation which is meant to create an environment for engaging the n-dimensional field of a textual event, then it pertains more closely to the theory of the fluid text that I argue should underlie the textual performance of a Baroness poem. Some explanation of n-dimensionality is needed. The Baroness poem, like all productive poetic texts, makes meaning in n-dimensional space. Jerome McGann argues that poetical works “are not expository or informational,” but, since they “are built as complex nets of repetition and variation,” of “feedback loops” (Radiant Textuality 290, 291), “every document, every moment in every document, conceals (or reveals) an indeterminate set of interfaces that open into alternate spaces and relations” (295). In other words, he asserts that all features of the text, whether they be perceptual, semantic, syntactic, or rhetorical signify meaning and not each by itself, but in accordance or discordance with the other. The interplay is “recursive” and appears “topological rather than hierarchic,” such that he likens the poetic field of meaning to “a mobile with a shifting set of poles and hinge points carrying a variety of objects” (297). This field, occupied by the moving mobile, may be conceived as the fourth dimension in which three dimensional shapes move—a dimension that represents time and space. One faulty assumption Jerome McGann identifies in those who build and use digital tools for the analysis of digital texts is the idea that the texts make meaning in one dimension and that the “object [of using a digital tool for text analysis] would be the exposure of the informational content and expository structure of the text” (“Visible and Invisible Books” 68). One solution that McGann has argued for in the past is a tool for marking the autopoietic fields in such a way that the fields may later be reproduced, dynamically generated so that the scholar may study the interplay of what McGann identifies as six fields at play: the linguistic, the graphical/auditional, the documentary, the semiotic, the rhetorical, and the social dimension (“Marking Texts of Many Dimensions”). At the same time, this solution—which is theoretically exciting—makes little practical sense since McGann’s solution still maintains that the fields may be known in isolation and then recombined for observation.
The desire to reconstruct reality for observational purposes is not new. A little-known mathematician who was well known by artists Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp among others, Esprit Pascal Jouffret expressed a certain amount of skepticism about observing the fourth dimension, reportedly claiming that “while it is perfectly possible to conceive of the fourth-dimension, and of four-dimensional objects, it is impossible to perceive them” (Adcock 56). Nonetheless, Duchamp followed Jouffret’s writings closely and sought to work around this particular lack in human perspective. Duchamp maintained that one could create a perceptible four-dimensional space in the same way an architect erects a three-dimensional structure out of two-dimensional blueprints, by, essentially, offering the observer an infinite number of ways of seeing its three-dimensional “slices” around which he could move:
A four-dimensional figure is perceived (?) through an infinity of three-dimensional sides which are the sections of this four-dimensional figure by the infinite number of spaces (in three dimensions) which envelope this figure. –In other words: one can move around the four-dimensional figure according to the four directions of the continuum. The number of positions of the perceiver is infinite but one can reduce to a finite number these different positions (as in the case of regular three-dimensional figures) and then each perception, in these different positions, is a three-dimensional figure. The set of these three-dimensional perceptions of the four-dimensional figure would be the foundation for a reconstruction of the four-dimensional figure. (Duchamp, Salt Seller 89-90; qtd. in Adcock 55)
Like McGann, Duchamp sought to “reconstruct” a four-dimensional figure in order that one may “perceive” the n-dimensional field. Like McGann who identifies six dimensions that are perceivable, Duchamp relegates a state of infinite dimensions to “a finite number of different positions” for the sake of practical implementation. Though the conception of this n-dimensional space seems promising, it remains doubtful whether McGann or Duchamp’s solution to reconstruct an observable fourth dimension is possible. The same can be said of digital space: just as the ontology of performance means it cannot be reproduced, so the ontology of the digital environment precludes successful attempts like these to reproduce reality. What seems clear, however, is that conceiving such a space for a Baroness poem is quite possible and real, and thus garnering access to an event within it is also possible. Thus, while digital tools do not allow us to “measure” or “observe” reality well (since they cannot reproduce every dimension of human experience), the electronic environment itself may constitute an n-dimensional space in which the Dada performance—the gallery and the cabaret—of a textual event may happen—may, in fact, be played.
TEI’s parallel segmentation structure allows me to link what I think are corresponding parts of the text across versions. The structure indicates a particular relationship between the parent apparatus (<app>) element and the reading (<rdg>) elements “nested” within it. For instance, the <rdg> elements indicate which of the nine versions or witnesses are associated with a particular aspect of the apparatus. In this case, the apparatus with id “a6” is being used to compare versions of the third line associated with each witness. In the original application, comparisons were only visualized within the same line, but I made some modifications because the evolution of text is never a one-to-one comparison. I’ve used, the “loc” attribute (also “a6”), to link together readings from different apparatus elements, so that I can indicate that the <app> element “a6” is associated with the <app> element “a5.” Essentially I’m arguing that the relationships are constellations and by clicking on a word or phrase, the user can see associated words, phrases, and lines across readings highlighted based on two criteria: the presence of these readings within the same <app> element or the association of the same loc attribute on the <app> element. Parallel segmentation is useful because I can use these structures to group or organize both unique versions and changes across versions and the VM is useful because the user can still recognize the unique and discrete nature of individual versions within the edition even while discovering various non-teleological arcs of formation and deformation within the networks of versions. Essentially, the encoded text represents the script of a textual performance (the conscious will) and the view in the VM, because it allows for real-time engagement and audience participation, engages the element of chance that is crucial for the text in performance.
Using the structure and logic of TEI’s parallel segmentation and the VM’s capabilities for rearranging and manipulating how the versions are presented allows me to present a textual environment that evokes a feeling of text that is “in play” or in performance according to audience participation. For instance, within the various versions of the poem “Sermon on Life’s Beggar Truth,” words are underlined and then not emphasized at all and dashes and colons are deleted and replaced with periods or spaces or exclamation points (and vice versa) in an order that seems to contradict an evolution of text. Here, the words “Menacing” and “Behold,” which function as “heading” words for two prose stanzas, are changed in similar ways but not in a similar sequence. In versions one and two, “Menacing” and “Behold” remain consistent, underlined with a colon. In versions three through six, “Menacing” is not underlined but is separated from the following prose group by a space. In versions five and six it has a colon while in versions three and four, it has an exclamation point. “Behold” is always on its own line but the colon is deleted and replaced by an exclamation point in version five while versions three, four, and six maintain the colon. The word is underlined only in versions one through four. These observations are recorded in the XML and visualized in the VM interface in such a way that a user can see the manner in which the text may be performed in various ways. The punctuation indicates that the words read differently depending on the particular instance of a text’s reading much like a musical piece that can be performed fortissimo and at other times pianissimo or varied in rhythm and tone within the very same instance of play. In other words, the shifting punctuation does not belie an element of imprecision but rather signifies an element of chance that is a result of varied instances of production and play.
In addition, I encourage audience participation in the VM environment by using screen space to incorporate a sense of temporal uncertainty in the user’s experience of the text. In “Psychoanalytic Reading and the Avant-texte,” Jean Bellemin-Noël sites “chance” as the salient element within the textual event that mollifies the need to reproduce what could be called the text’s originary temporality in the genetic edition. “Since the writing process is itself a production governed by uncertainty and chance,” Bellemin-Noël writes, “we absolutely must substitute spatial metaphors for temporal images to avoid reintroducing the idea of teleology” (Bellemin-Noël 31). I took this notion of space and images quite literally and have used both in the VM interface to incorporate this sense of temporal uncertainty. For instance, in version three of “Xray,” certain lines (“Suns [sic] radioinfused soil,” “Radio’s soil secret,” “Radio’s sun message,” and “Radio’s sunimpregnated soil”) may be understood as alternative readings for the same point in a line of text because of their spatial arrangement (all radiating around the word “soil”) on the manuscript page. Or, it could be a kind of brainstorming cluster that may or may not have helped the writer develop the phrase “Dumb radiopenetrated soil” that appears in the final published version and for the first time in any version, on the line beneath the clustered constellation. Ultimately, it is impossible to figure out which words were written first and what is interesting is that this level of uncertainty is enacted by the interface’s combination of text and image. XML must be written in a linear form, first one reading, then another, which proscribes an order on text that is essentially unordered. For example, in Figure 40, a <rdgGrp> element is rendered by the presence of a dotted line under the phrase “Suns [sic] radioinfused”. This line indicates that a mouseover will reveal alternative readings; yet, on the mouseover, the alternative readings are ordered, vertically, in the same order that the XML proscribes: first “Radios’ soil secret” then “sun message” then “penetr sunimpregnated”. In part, this linear orientation is proscribed both by the XML and the resulting HTML (of which the VM interface is constructed), giving the impression that there is an order to the phrases that is not necessarily evident on the manuscript page. On the other hand, this discrepancy is the point—it lends a powerful element of uncertainty to the textual performance of “Xray” in the VM. That is, because of the encoding, a dotted line is rendered that indicates alternate readings for the phrase “Suns radioinfused soil” (see Figure 40). By mousing over the dotted line, the alternative readings appear in a “floating box” that indicates to the reader that the variants included in the box are alternative choices for this spot in the text. In addition, in this example, “soil secret” is also underlined with a dotted line indicating that alternative choices for this sub-reading are “sun message” and “sun impregnated.” In this manner, the reader sees that there are multiple layers of alternative readings and textual choices, but the general nature of the relationship between the parts is still unclear. This is where the image comes in. The encoded poem supports a logic of text that facilitates functions such as searching and highlighting linguistic codes across associated words and phrases while the image engages a logic of text that points to bibliographic codes associated with the material layout of the manuscript page. The dialogic these differences engage generates the element of temporal uncertainty that Bellemin-Noël mentions and that textual performance requires. The discordance sets the meaning-making properties of the text in motion like McGann’s mobile in n-dimensional space.
The gallery in cabaret
Ultimately, the simple reproduction of a text or a ready-made object is not the means by which we can access (or make meaning with) a Baroness poem; rather, we want to stage a textual performance. Peggy Phelan reminds us that a performance “cannot be saved, recorded, documented, or otherwise participate in the circulation of representations of representations” (Phelan, Unmarked 146), otherwise, it loses its status as performance. It is the aspect of a live audience underlying textual performance that precludes a poem by the Baroness in a printed anthology of poetry. After all, what is unique about the Baroness, what makes her poetry texts difficult to access through traditional (and new) practices of literary analysis and presentation pertains to an element of Dadaist performance that is so essential to understanding the significance of her work: her social network.
The advantages of using the TEI and a browser-based environment for manipulating and visualizing the text include the ability to integrate these digital surrogates into online spaces in which a real-time live audience can be incorporated into the textual event of a Baroness poem. Afforded by digital tools in an online social network, In Transition could engage an experience of poetry much like the little magazine culture in which interest in Freytag-Loringhoven’s poetry began.
In the late teens and early twenties of the twentieth century little magazines functioned as the performance space for the Baroness’s Dada poetry. With an active audience, a responsive artist, and a constant dialog between the two facilitated by a continuous publication schedule, this textual space better resembles a conversation than that engendered by a published book. It is a dialog among authors, readers, and editors that was in “real time,” always shifting, always unpredictable, and performative by nature—meant to instill change by changing how words were used. The Baroness’s involvement with The Little Review, primarily between the years 1918 and 1922, was during the height of this dialectic phase. Alan Golding associates the “point that modernism becomes Modernism” with the moment that the Baroness left New York to return to Germany in 1923, a point that signals both a highly experimental phase of modernist writing and one in which conversation and dialog was freely flowing (Golding 76). Before this moment, in which Margaret Anderson has moved to Paris and T.S. Eliot is experiencing great commercial success with The Waste Land, modernism was more closely associated with the avant-garde and less with institutional and monetary success. Before the Waste Land, Cary Nelson argues, “a revolution in poetry seemed naturally to entail a commitment to social change […] all the arts were in ferment and aesthetic innovations were politically inflected” (230). Much of this fermentation, innovation, and commitment to change was generated by the relationships that writers and editors formed off the page. Indeed, the conversation at the root of modernism extended to the offices of the little magazines where writers read each other’s work and discussed it both in person and in print. The Baroness, for instance, not only worked with Heap and Anderson at The Little Review, but she interacted with Djuna Barnes, William Carlos Williams, and Bernice Abbott, among others, at the office. Evidence proves that she also associated with Mike Gold and Claude McKay at The Liberator office and that Ford Madox Ford and Hemingway argued about her and her poetry more than once at the Paris office of the transatlantic review. As a venue for experimentation, the pages of The Little Review were replete with discussions between artists and editors, artists and readers, and readers and editors. The editors in particular played a large role in facilitating the little magazine’s function as a vehicle for dialog by including provocative pieces meant to spark debate. In thinking back on why she started The Little Review, Margaret Anderson writes:
It was the moment. The epoch needed it, the modern literary movement needed it. But this was of relative unimportance to me. I really began The Little Review the way one begins playing the piano or writing poetry: because of something one wants violently. The thing I wanted – would die without – was conversation. (Anderson, Little Review Anthology 351)
In the Baroness’s life time the key to her textual performance was the social network underlying the modernist little magazine culture.
The principles that undergird In Transition are not in place to present the Baroness in the trajectory of history as much as to theorize a method for locating her and this selection of poetry in the now, for enacting a digital, n-dimensional space that is in the present. As part of an online social network such as that represented by Freytag-Loringhoven’s network in MySpace,  this edition can be engaged in a real-time online community now. At the time of this writing, the Baroness has more than 700 friends in MySpace, which comprises a live and interactive community and audience for the online performance of a Baroness fakester. A fakester, in this case, represents a “real” identity that has been assumed by an online user. In the Baroness’s network, for example, fakesters include people with whom she was friends such as Djuna Barnes and Man Ray, but also contemporaries she very likely did not know at all such as Jean Cocteau, Salvador Dali, and Charles Darwin, among others. Other friends of the Baroness include profiles that represent real-life identities (participants’ own names) or online identities (names created for online use). These profiles—whether real or imagined identities—are enacted within the bounded network of the MySpace system and represent the textual embodiment of a live performance of identity. This is to say that this environment is not meant to represent or reproduce offline identities or social networks—the Baroness never knew Dali or Darwin—instead, this environment is performative, constructed to perform, and therefore to form and to embody social networks through textual practices. As such, fakester networks like the Baroness’s heighten the performative aspect of this social performance, since the “new” embodiment of friendships that never existed throws together what was once disparate, creating a space of development and evolution and adaptation. Indeed, these friends, fakester or not, are provoked by the Baroness to upload songs and artwork and their own poems. They talk to each other through and around the Baroness identity.
For instance, what you see here is a visualization of eighty-six of the Baroness’s more than seven hundred “friends” from her MySpace network. Though it only shows links to eighty-six of her friends, this visualization shows approximately 10,000 more links to second-level friends. Now, imagine this visualization in motion, nodes moving closer together and farther apart as friends are made and disbanded, links stretching and shrinking in reaction, and imagine augmenting the Baroness’s current profile with an instantiation of a digital edition of the Baroness’s poetry as outlined above. In this dynamic environment the textual performance becomes part of the mobile—it would be constantly changing as part of the community exchange of real-time textual bodies which are in turn participating in making the Baroness poem a textual event that is live and in play. In turn, the textual event changes for each participant, for each text, for each moment in which the context of play changes and that is how the text makes meaning in the here and the now. danah boyd writes about Friendster, one of the first social network sites, that “[r]ather than having the context dictated by the environment itself, context emerged through Friends networks” (boyd “Friends, Friendsters, and MySpace Top 8: Writing Community Into Being on Social Network Sites”). The n-dimensional exchange that is tradition and development moving around a de-centered center, a center that better represents the idiosyncrasies inherent in a character like the Baroness, the company she kept, and the company her fakester keeps is an environment in which the text performs.
Simply reproducing a textual performance is not the means by which we can access the textual event of a Baroness poem, but an online digital edition floating within a social online network incorporates the gallery and the cabaret offers an opportunity to bring these texts into play.
 Anderson, Margaret C. My Thirty Years’ War; the Autobiography: Beginnings and Battles to 1930. New York: Horizon Press, 1970. 177.
 For more information on the Baroness’s relationship with Mike Gold and Claude McKay see McKible 2007.
 This story was recounted in Ford Madox Ford’s autobiography It Was the Nightingale, pgs. 333-34.
 Golding discusses the extent to which magazines such as The Little Review and The Dial helped shape the modernist canon in dialog, the former’s focus providing a venue for the avant-garde and the latter’s for the process of “canon-making and institutionalization” (72).
 MySpace is one of the more popular and populated online social network sites. Please see Freytag-Loringhoven’s page at http://www.myspace.com/dadaqueen. This site was created by an anonymous author.
 MySpace is one of the more popular and populated online social network sites. Please see the Baroness’s page at http://www.myspace.com/dadaqueen. A more detailed discussion of the use of online communities like MySpace within the space of an electronic edition focused on textual performance appears in the previous chapter.
 A fakester, in this case, represents a “real” identity that has been assumed by an online user.