Welcome To Dada Strain, 22nd of March
Monthly Update & Perspective: On David Graeber's Call of Not Going Back to Sleep + New Bylines, Dada Strain Radio ep.2, and more
First off, I want to thank you for subscribing to Dada Strain, and, potentially, for reading. You could have signed up for any content feed in the world, but you’re here with me, and I appreciate it. This is the fourth of the monthly communiques updating subscribers on what is going with Dada Strain. These regular notes serve two purposes: Logistically, they’re written to inform you about Dada Strain’s gradual development beyond the single-viewpoint Substack that it began as; a reminder that it aspires to be a continuously growing project born in quarantine but created to serve the Next Times, which will require more than occasional newsletters in your inbox. They’re also periodic attempts to simultaneously explain and understand Dada Strain’s purpose and values by speaking them into being; doing so by confronting the machinations shaping society around us, invoking its world-changing and -building aspects, while clearly identifying and pivoting away from its failures, intentionally building an alternative way of working and being. Dada Strain is a multi-disciplinary voice built on rhythm, improvisation, community and independence; whose ideas engage the evolution of history and myth with clear and cohesive ethics, and hope to reflect and forthrightly engage the world through words, sounds, images and powers.
I started writing this note on Friday, as I was waiting to receive a first COVID-19 vaccine shot, courtesy of my work as a college instructor, and finished it on Sunday, the day following the Equinox, the first day of Spring, which just happened to be gorgeous and crowded afternoon in New York City. The personal milestone and the beginning of nature’s calendar felt like landmarks in the ongoing toggle between private realities and atmospheric laws; they were also telling, overlapping signs of just how close the re-opening is for some, how driven the desired return to normalcy is, how strongly the whiff of the Next Times (tied in America to the flow of culture and capital) is floating through the current air.
It also brought further into focus David Graeber’s short piece, “After The Pandemic, We Can’t Go Back To Sleep,” that Jacobin published a few weeks ago. Graeber, who passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in early September from pancreatic complications, was an anthropologist and self-proclaimed anarchist, probably best-known as one of the public intellectuals behind the rhetoric and the ideas of Occupy Wall Street (he coined the term “We Are the 99%”); but who’d long been a noted university lecturer (kinda got “fired” by Yale), and a best-selling writer and critic of capitalism and globalization prior to those protests. He was/is widely lauded because of a distinctly humane, straightforward way of speaking and writing about the ways global inequality is fucking up society, yet with a hopeful gleam in his argument which seemed to suggest that people still hold the collective power to change society’s course —even if, yes we’re underdogs, and yes, it’s pretty highly unlikely.
Broadly speaking, this is also the perspective of his Jacobin piece, its brevity and succinctness cutting through the rhetoric in a way that stimulates the senses without requiring to open a Dictionary app. Addressing a then-as-yet-unforeseen future, Graeber writes that the end of the quarantine period will feel like “waking from a dream” and that “media and political classes will definitely encourage us to think of it this way.” He brings up as Exhibit A the global recovery from the 2008 financial crash, when after “a brief moment of questioning” the causes and manifestations of the world financial meltdown and the implicit greed of people running the system, the commentariat deemed it was time to “shut up, stop thinking, and get back to work, or at least start looking for it.” Rev the old hamster wheel up, climb back on. In Graeber’s eyes, “it is critical that [this time] we do not.”
Because, in reality, the crisis we just experienced was waking from a dream, a confrontation with the actual reality of human life, which is that we are a collection of fragile beings taking care of one another, and that those who do the lion’s share of this care work that keeps us alive are overtaxed...and daily humiliated, and that a very large proportion of the population don’t do anything at all but...generally get in the way of those who are...tending to the needs of other living beings. It is imperative that we not slip back into a reality where all this makes some sort of inexplicable sense, the way senseless things so often do in dreams.
If what Graeber generally asks us to “ignore” is the fraudulent “common sense” of market realities, which encourage us to keep on dozing in the old comforts of the global economic system (always pushing the dream of a soft pillow, but selling a cold rock), his overall lesson is more universal. Even if he does not point it out specifically. Because true community solvency requires that it be established on a solid foundation of historical and ethical truth-telling, one capable of imagining a variety of potential futures rather than what has been seemingly pre-ordained for decades. To escape the cycle of stale destinies always required a massive rupture in how we lived; now having experienced one over the past year, it seems unconscionable to simply return to that narcolepsy of our own free will.
In this, Graeber’s note directly mirrors the impetus behind Dada Strain. How do we utilize the current moment to construct a path towards other ways of doing and thinking—whether in producing or presenting cultural content and story-telling, or classifying music and art and describing the relationship between different forms, or building interlocking communities—rather than simply return to the same old one. This is not a call for some determinist future guided by technological realism; but a revolutionary, anti-fascist and -racist perspectives filled with imagination and indigenous knowledge (and, yes, dear science and contemporary ingenuity as well...for we are not luddites).
These too are quietly embedded in Graeber’s call to stay awake. He knew that to reach this moment, one which he never got to see, vaccines would have to be at the ready, and a Spring bloom would present her welcome annual return to the planet, and be celebrated by all the pagans who clearly pay attention to her, and the gathering environmentalist masses who increasingly pay lip service on her behalf. He saw that this moment is not like the others, and that the opportunity to stand up and be counted is more present than it has been in most of our lifetimes. Here’s hoping we take it.
New & Noteworthy Dada Strain: Over the past month Dada Strain reached a milestone, publishing its first piece by an outside contributor: “Chart Mining: Rise of the Jamaican Virtual Reality Artist” by Jordan Chung (aka Time Cow, of the mighty Equiknoxx crew), with a great original visual by Ikem Smith. More outside contributions to come. The past month also brought a second episode of Dada Strain Radio on Brooklyn’s The Lot Radio, with special guest Kassa Overall. Additional pieces of writing included “Many Sounds, Many Ancestors: ‘Jazz’ in South Africa,” a survey of some of the astounding variety of recent improvised music flowing out of SA, a short contribution to NPR’s package on Daft Punk’s legacy, and a long guide to Sun Ra music on Bandcamp. As always, if you want to stay in daily touch with Dada Strain communiques, follow it on Twitter and Instagram. More soon
(Images are of Howardena Pindell’s “Songlines: Event Horizon,” 2019)