Dada to Data: Manifestos in the Digital Age

10:00 AM, jeudi 16 août 2018 (1 heure)
In 1918, Tristan Tzara’s ‘Dada Manifesto’ laid down its incendiary rules for manifesto writing. It begins: ‘To proclaim a manifesto you have to want: A.B.C., thunder against 1,2,3, lose your patience and sharpen your wings to conquer’, and continues: ‘Each page ought to explode, either from deep and weighty seriousness, a whirlwind, dizziness, the new, or the eternal, from its crushing humour, the enthusiasm of its principles or its typographical appearance.’ In contrast to F. T. Marinetti’s earlier template, ‘The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism’ (1909), which appeared on the front page of Le Figaro championing war as ‘hygiene’ and presenting an optimistic view of the technological future, Tzara’s manifesto responded to the crisis and carnage of the First World War with a howl of nihilistic outrage at the failures of Western ‘civilisation’. Exactly a century on, how are artists, writers, and activists responding creatively to the current sense of global crisis through the medium of the manifesto? How has the medium changed in the digital (or post-digital) era? How effective is manifesto writing as a tool for collaborative action? How does it relate to the broader digital culture? How can manifestos help us to build stronger networks of resistance and alliances for a better future – in the words of Bruno Latour, ‘not as a war cry … but rather as a warning, a call to attention, so as to stop going further in the same way as before toward the future’?

‘Manifesto’ in this context refers to the subversive, revolutionary model. What was originally a form of authoritarian discourse underwent in the 19th century what Judith Butler might call a ‘subversive resignification’ – to become, in Marjorie Perloff’s words, ‘the mode of agonism’. According to Janet Lyon, manifestos, along with other revolutionary modes of discourse, ‘have defined – and often written – the history of Western modernity’, and thus deserve our attention. In the context of digital writing, the manifesto provides both a model (as a public, direct, critical voice) and a warning (prone to all the traps of fake news, propaganda, dumbing down, claims on authority, and so on). On balance, however, it offers more potential for good than harm: a) to put into words what you (as an individual or collective) believe, and b) to provoke discussion and outline concrete actions leading to change. This paper will argue that the manifesto is currently one of the most vital, adaptable, and dynamic digital genres. Once again, as in the avant-garde of a century ago, isms – from Postcapitalism to Xenofeminism, Antifa to Black Lives Matter – are using manifestos to announce themselves to the world. In contrast to the manifestos of the previous century, the new digital manifestos exist in a transnational space, liberated from the confines of the state if not from certain situated issues and concerns. Today the manifesto is more relevant than ever: no grassroots political movement, start up, zine or hacker collective is complete without a declaration of principles and a call to action.
Madeira Interactive Technologies Institute
Assistant Professor