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‘Life has no solution’

Maintenant, November 1913–April 1915

Dafydd W. Jones

Documenting issues 3–5 of Maintenant (including the signal events surrounding the notorious review of the 1914 Salon des Indépendants), this chapter develops further Nietzsche’s premise that language (as the chosen medium of Maintenant) is always metaphorical. The inherent property of language is that it is creative, and we are soberly reminded in the oscillation between actual and virtual that there is no ‘truth’ behind language or behind appearances, only further appearances. After Nietzsche reasoned that there is no being behind doing, the twentieth-century Deleuzian advance posits difference behind doing and, indeed, behind everything – ‘but behind difference there is nothing’. Introducing the machinisme philosophically of Deleuze and poetically of Cravan, the present proposition is that the performativity of Maintenant (text) and that of Cravan (body) are analogous. This signals emphasis on the interpretative process and in the reading of the body as ‘a thousandfold process’ – a performativity reconfigured for Cravan as conférencier. The position debated proposes that ‘to interpret is to have a body, and to be a perspective’, which conceptually underpins the boxing tour of the Balkans documented in this chapter, and the return to Paris caught in the portraiture of Modigliani.

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Dafydd W. Jones

The Introduction presents the legend of Cravan from the standard accounts of art history primers, accounts frequently uncontested with regard to their historical accuracy or even cultural significance. Cravan has been privileged in European avant-gardism and into Surrealism – what Cravan became for André Breton was the executor of the Surrealist tenet that ‘you kill yourself in the same way as you dream’. The functioning of legend relative to philosophical positions – as described in the works of Nietzsche at the end of the nineteenth century and of Deleuze at the end of the twentieth – and of truth and lie as embedded in legend are outlined in discussion of Cravan as construct (his real name was Fabian Lloyd; Arthur Cravan was his own invention), and his metaphorical existence and the idea of the ‘irrational man’ are advanced against the context of philosophical and avant-gardist nihilism that informs the entire book.

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The fictions of Arthur Cravan

Poetry, boxing and revolution

Dafydd W. Jones

The legendary poet and boxer Arthur Cravan, a fleeting figure on the periphery of early twentieth-century European avant-gardism, is frequently invoked as proto-Dada and Surrealist exemplar. Yet he remains an insubstantial phenomenon, not seen since 1918, clouded in drifting untruths. This study processes philosophical positions into a practical recovery – from nineteenth-century Nietzsche to twentieth-century Deleuze – with thoughts on subjectivity, metaphor, representation and multiplicity. From fresh readings and new approaches – of Cravan’s first published work as a manifesto of simulation; of contributors to his Paris review Maintenant as impostures for the Delaunays; of idle dissipation in New York as a Duchampian readymade; and of the conjuring of Cravan in Picabia’s elegiac film Entr’acte – The fictions of Arthur Cravan concludes with the absent poet-boxer’s eventual casting off into a Surrealist legacy, and his becoming what metaphor is: a means to represent the world.

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Dafydd W. Jones

This chapter descriptively recovers Cravan’s early years – part-mythologised by the poet Mina Loy, who named him ‘Colossus’ – as the Wanderlust of youth carried him across continents in the 1900s, years in which he became the aspiring poet modelled partly on his maternal uncle Oscar Wilde. The philosophical dimension here is to describe the processing and formation of subjectivity and representation; Cravan’s relation to and continuous negotiation of himself is presented as what will, in a very precise sense, be performed in the later mature ‘fiction’ Cravan. Concerning the process of subject-forming, Deleuze states how ‘subjectivation, the relation to oneself, continues to create itself, but by transforming itself and changing its nature … the relation to oneself is continually reborn, elsewhere and otherwise’.

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Dafydd W. Jones

Without a final death to recover, no single meaning emerges from a life of perpetually unstable power-relations and the relentless struggle for domination. This conclusion gives closing summation of the representation of the body of Cravan and the currency for the metaphor of Cravan, and Hans Richter’s ‘final nothingness’, and the appropriation of the poet-boxer by Breton for Surrealism in the years immediately following his disappearance. The moving, tactile and sensate body invites the bodily participation of the beholder; ‘it is in the present that we make memory, in order to make use of it in the future when the present will be past’ (Deleuze). The event of representation itself is brought into relief, specifically the excess of representation in the eruptions of ‘other’ meanings and in arguing critically for the supplement that art can reveal. Here is processed Cravan’s ‘posthumous’ life after 1918 and into the mid-1920s, entering the canon of late Dada, experimental film (Picabia’s Entr’acte) and subsequent Surrealism, and eventually finding continuity in the 1950s and 1960s in Guy Debord’s Situationist legacy and ongoing avant-garde circuitry.

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Dafydd W. Jones

This chapter follows the last episode that can be documented from Cravan’s ‘lifetime’, to deliberate a permanently deferred and unceasing death. In Mexico 1918, as ‘professor’ of boxing he was joined by, and married, Mina Loy. Cravan’s philosophically diffuse plural identity is a performative, described as residing not in the name you can say or the body you can see, but as manifesting out of the body in its failure to express being fully, and out of the signifier’s failure to convey precise meaning. What we are left with in the present absence that continues to direct our thoughts signals the ‘double death’ (or, yet, the multiple death) of Arthur Cravan: first, the realisable and personal death of the central self that obtained a proper name (let it be ‘Fabian Lloyd’), the poet-boxer eventually lost at sea; but additionally, and second, the unrealisable and impersonal death of other identities whose names disperse (let them be ‘Cravan’ and the other names of ‘Arthur Cravan’), death as dying, expressed in the infinitive, whereby one never finishes dying, the unceasing death that is ‘a growth of a nothingness of the will … Being as being, and nothing more’ (Deleuze).

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‘All words are lies’

Maintenant, April 1912–July 1913

Dafydd W. Jones

Cravan made only one bequest to posterity: the literary review Maintenant, which ran to five issues between 1912 and 15. It was Cravan’s distillation of lyricism, sarcasm and literary invention, targeting a declared constituency (which largely converged in social gatherings on La Closerie des Lilas, and included the likes of Robert Delaunay and Guillaume Apollinaire) through the strategic deployment of means. In use and abuse of the authority of the text, deliberately undermined through blague, Cravan wrote his way into a culturally creative and combative zone and put language to exploitative use. He was prompted by the declamatory activities of the Futurists in Paris (and their Paris delegate, Gino Severini), and by the literary embrace of such as Walt Whitman. The physical impress of the body, literally and philosophically, fed into a lyric sensitivity, aggressive and insultive critique and the legendary impostures of Maintenant (most impressive among which is surely ‘Edouard Archinard’), the literary review written in its entirety by the daily maturing blagueur.

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Adrian Curtin

This chapter sheds light on the shadows cast by the Holocaust, the dropping of the atomic bomb in Japan and the prospect of future nuclear devastation in various ‘theatres of catastrophe’ from the mid-twentieth century to the early twenty-first century, investigating how plays and performance pieces explore conceptions of death relating to these events and to possible futures stemming from them. Examples discussed in this chapter include Samuel Beckett’s Endgame (1957) and Happy Days (1961), Marguerite Duras’s Yes, Maybe (1968), Edward Bond’s The Tin Can People (1984), Józef Szajna’s Replica (1971–88), and Howard Barker’s Found in the Ground (2001). These pieces approach the spectres of the Holocaust and/or death-by-nuclear-attack obliquely, only ever alluding to historical events or evoking them in fantasy.

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Adrian Curtin

This chapter addresses the reality – and ‘unreality’ – of death in the years surrounding the ‘Great War’ of 1914–18. The devastation wrought by the war, the scale of the conflict and the types of death it caused challenged conceptions of ‘the real’, inflecting it with perceptions of the ‘unreal’. This chapter analyses plays written during and immediately after the First World War that represent death in a ‘fantastical’ manner and on a grand scale, abstracting it. Three plays are discussed at length: Vernon Lee’s allegorical satire Satan the Waster (1920), Ernst Toller’s expressionist drama The Transfiguration (1919) and a section of Karl Kraus’s monumental documentary drama The Last Days of Mankind (1922). The chapter shows how these dramatists strove to capture something of the ‘shock’ of the war – its disruption of the status quo and conventional understanding of mortality – through their depictions of death.

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Adrian Curtin

This chapter concerns the drama of dying in the early twenty-first century: a time of increased awareness about issues relating to death and dying, but also of great uncertainty and worry about the end of life – specifically, the form it will take, its duration and the degree of agency one will have. Owing to the interventions of modern medicine, which continually work to extend life, dying in the early twenty-first century can be a protracted process, and may be burdensome both for the dying person and for care-givers. Achieving a ‘good death’ (whatever that might be) is not guaranteed or always readily accomplished. This chapter surveys contemporary attitudes toward death and dying and investigates how they are dramatised and staged in Carol Ann Duffy’s Everyman (2015), Marina Carr’s Woman and Scarecrow (2006), Caryl Churchill’s Here We Go (2015) and Kaite O’Reilly’s Cosy (2016).