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Book details:
Last Loosening

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Blixa Bargeld performing Letzte Lockerung here

  last loosening
A Handbook for the Con Artist
& Those Aspiring to Become One

by Walter Serner

translated from the German by Mark Kanak

frontispiece by Leo Haas

A cofounder of Dada and its enfant terrible, Walter Serner was a brilliant observer of society — his activities in the 1920s have been called "a dance on the rim of a volcano." His Last Loosening: Dada Manifesto was written in 1918 and published in 1920. Slightly revised later as Serner became disgusted with Dada, it forms the first part of this volume, its philosophical foundation. Serner's publisher, Paul Steegemann, in a fit of promotional zeal, sensationally claimed that it had been "compiled across the entire continent by the notorious international con man Dr. Walter Serner."

The volume's second part, "The Handbook of Practices," was written in Geneva in 1927 and offers in gnomic prose a practical guide and playful "moral codex" for the modern amoralist, the con man, subverting the illusions and stereotypes underpinning social mores by attacking the contradictions between appearance and reality. Its ultimate conclusion: "The world wants to be deceived. And it becomes truly malevolent if you don't oblige." A cynical vision to be sure, Serner has set out a list of precepts to arm us in a world where boredom prevails and nothing but self-interest is a motivator, a shameless, bigoted world wallowing in an orgy of narcissism, where it is either fool or be fooled. His smugness and indifference, his "Jesuit snobbery" as one critic called it, gave his work an explosive force that was unsurpassed by his contemporaries.


For me Serner is Dada.

— Blixa Bargeld

If not exactly your traditional handbook or manual, Serner does offer a larger philosophy in Last Loosening – though one that many, preferring illusion, might not (want to) be more receptive to. He suggests it is freeing to see the world, and act in it, this way [...] It certainly makes for an intriguing piece-of-its-times, cleverly conceived with its constant shifts (and, helpfully, often spiked with humor). The Twisted Spoon edition is, as all their volumes are, a lovely book as such, too – and the extensive notes are helpful both with regards to references as well as parts of the translation.

— M.A. Orthofer, The Complete Review

Dada invited outrage – its primary aim was to shock people out of aesthetic complacency – and to this day many art lovers dismiss Duchamp and company as so much blague. But Walter Serner ups the ante greatly: in Last Loosening fraudulence haunts modern society as a whole, not just the arts, and everyone must play the game or lose. From his perspective Dada didn’t end; rather, it exposed a cynicism that had spread (yes, like a virus) everywhere.

— Hal Foster, London Review of Books

Serner writes about the life and art of the con man. His pessimism asserts that the state of the Earth’s habitable surface is merely the result of boredom, which has become unbearable. Life is supremely tedious and thinking most of
all. Thus soldiers shot at each other in a war because it was sensational. He acknowledges that everything ends up as raging stupidity, and the purpose of life is to become insulated against boredom and work. But he is not too angry at the stupid world because he knows that without idiots there would be nothing good in the world. He believes in nothing, least of
all himself, and is for having a bad memory for commercial reasons. He is an incorrigible contrarian who is fond of saying that boredom sharpens the senses and beefsteak dulls them.

— Karel Teige, "On Dadaists"

No one brings the intellectual perspective of Serner's ... he is at once nihilistic and utterly tranquil and serene, encountering nothingness with cold, dispassionate, playful lines. Not to be forgotten: "Whoever speaks a word of comfort is a traitor."

— Jörg Drews, Süddeutsche Zeitung

The practical part of the Handbrevier für Hochstapler appeared in 1927. In it are blended the dada cult of indifference and Nietzsche's theory of masks with an ironic reference to the new objectivity imperative of action. The form is borrowed from Gracián's Art of Worldly Wisdom, as contemporary critics were already aware. [...] The maxims are delivered deadpan, in a manner reminiscent of Buster Keaton; the book offers guidance to those who are already ruined.

— Helmut Lethen, Cool Conduct

... a human curse incarnate.

— Jed Rasula, Destruction Was My Beatrice

[Serner] loved people that made their way through life on unstable paths, smiling dandies, modern misfits. He loved trapezes, mirages, echoes, synthetic mushrooms, and manicured and pedicured Sterne, or, stars. [...] He had the gait of an artiste, who is proudly hopping across the safety net to the thunderous applause of the audience, dancing off lightly.

— Hans Arp

[W]hile other German Dadaists were becoming champions of the proletariat, Walter Serner was forging his own path, and the result was conmanship, rasta. So in this second version of his Dada Manifesto, “Letzte Lockerung” (published by P. Steegemann in Berlin), “Vive Dada!” is replaced by “Vive le rasta!” And the theoretical, intellectual being of the con man found in the first part is augmented by a second part offering practical guidance to con men and those who aspire to be one. It is a rather personal solution, but one not without interest. The blistering paradoxes railing against warring Europe’s insanity are followed by practical wisdom that sees this same Europe continuing to live its life of idiocy. “The world wants to be deceived, and is enraged when you do not oblige.” In other words: What is left but the wisdom of the con man?

— Bedřich Václavek, ReD (1928)

Serner's manifesto is written in a provocative, new, highly suggestive style that has been quickly imitated. With its appearance Dada, which before this manifesto was a rather amorphous grouping of modern artists having an original name, has been given a mode and way of speaking.

Hamburger Correspondent (September 1920)


ISBN 9788086264455
189 pp., 13.5 x 19 cm
hardcover with ribbon bookmark
2-color frontispiece
literature : dada

release date:
UK: July 15, 2020
US: Oct. 12, 2020

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