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The Dada Cyborg

Visions of the New Human in Weimar Berlin

2009
Author:

Matthew Biro

The Dada Cyborg

Finding the cyborg in early twentieth-century German art

In an era when technology, biology, and culture are becoming ever more closely connected, The Dada Cyborg explains how the cyborg as we know it today actually developed between 1918 and 1933 when German artists gave visual form to their utopian hopes and fantasies in a fearful response to World War I.

Matthew Biro’s spirited account of the cyborg in the Berlin Dada movement reveals how artists imagined new forms of hybrid identity and challenged contemporaries to reflect on their own technologically-mediated lives. Engaging with politics, perception, embodiment, and the urban experience to define what it means to be human, Dada artists developed constellations of questions that remain central to artistic practices today. Brushing history against the grain, as Benjamin urged us to do, Matthew Biro combines formal analysis with critical theory to understand Weimar Germany’s profound cultural legacy.

Maria Tatar, Harvard University

In an era when technology, biology, and culture are becoming ever more closely connected, The Dada Cyborg explains how the cyborg as we know it today actually developed between 1918 and 1933 when German artists gave visual form to their utopian hopes and fantasies in a fearful response to World War I.

In what could be termed a prehistory of the posthuman, Matthew Biro shows the ways in which new forms of human existence were imagined in Germany between the two world wars through depictions of cyborgs. Examining the work of Hannah Höch, Raoul Hausmann, George Grosz, John Heartfield, Otto Dix, and Rudolf Schlichter, he reveals an innovative interpretation of the cyborg as a representative of hybrid identity, as well as a locus of new modes of awareness created by the impact of technology on human perception. Tracing the prevalence of cyborgs in German avant-garde art, Biro demonstrates how vision, hearing, touch, and embodiment were beginning to be reconceived during the Weimar Republic.

Biro’s unique and interdisciplinary analysis offers a substantially new account of the Berlin Dada movement, one that integrates the group’s poetic, theoretical, and performative practices with its famous visual strategies of photomontage, assemblage, and mixed-media painting to reveal radical images of a “new human.”

The Dada Cyborg

Matthew Biro is professor of modern and contemporary art at the University of Michigan.

The Dada Cyborg

Matthew Biro’s spirited account of the cyborg in the Berlin Dada movement reveals how artists imagined new forms of hybrid identity and challenged contemporaries to reflect on their own technologically-mediated lives. Engaging with politics, perception, embodiment, and the urban experience to define what it means to be human, Dada artists developed constellations of questions that remain central to artistic practices today. Brushing history against the grain, as Benjamin urged us to do, Matthew Biro combines formal analysis with critical theory to understand Weimar Germany’s profound cultural legacy.

Maria Tatar, Harvard University

Impressively well-researched, The Dada Cyborg provides a series of insightful readings of various montage works and activities in order to reconstruct the Dada movement as one with which we—as citizens of a cyborgian age—should be deeply familiar.

Lutz Koepnick, author of Framing Attention: Windows on Modern German Culture

In this highly original, well-researched text, Biro grafts contemporary theory to formal and contextual analysis to examine manifestations of machine-human hybrids in Dada media including performance, literature, advertising, and art.

Choice

The research for this volume moves well beyond art proper, providing a powerful synthesis of science, technology, politics, and culture.

Choice

Rejecting a particular fixed definition of the cyborg, Biro enriches the concept by introducing, employing, and critiquing both Norbert Wiener’s implicit, mechanistic, and humanist definition and Donna Haraway’s explicit, unbounded, and posthumanist version. In doing so, he reveals the very malleable nature that is pertinent to Dadaist artistic practices of appropriation, fragmentation, and bizarre juxtapositions. . . . Biro convincingly shows that the Berlin Dadaists’ journals, performances, happenings, media hoaxes, and lifestyles, as well as their cyborgian images, demonstrate issues of the body, mass media, and everyday life that corresponded with the post-World War II concept of the cyborg.

Afterimage

The Dada Cyborg is easily the best book on Berlin Dada in English. It is well-researched, fluidly written, and covers most of the essential ground.

ISIS

Within the trajectories that Biro establishes and follows in this excellently written and well-researched volume, we come to see that the figure of the Dada cyborg assumes a multiplicity of possible incarnations. At once a figure of the potentials of a hybrid identity, a figure for the dangers of a technically seared ‘new man’ borne of the battlefield, and a figure that anticipates the cybernetic systems and posthumanist horizons of contemporary thought, Biro’s illumination of the Berlin Dada cyborg provides an essential and compelling view with which to understand the range of critical, art historical, sociopolitical, and cultural strands taken up by this important movement.

German Studies Review

Dense, richly researched and theoretically venturesome.

Art History

Biro’s study is rich in theoretical references, insight, and strong contextual analysis of the artworks discussed.

Modern Intellectual History