“Dada, Destruction, & Definition: Richard Huelsenbeck from Analysis to Synthesis” German Studies Association Anuual Conference, 2019

In the Fall of 2019 I delivered a paper on the Dadaist, medical doctor, and psychoanalyst Richard Huelsenbeck.


“Dada, Destruction, + Definition: Richard Huelsenbeck from Analysis to Synthesis”

This paper explores the work of the Dadaist Ricahrd Huelsenbeck in the early and mid twentieth century. His 1949 Dada Manifesto has been widely regarded as a politically motivated re-interpretation of the nature and meaning of Dada that reflected his position as a possibly suspect foreign transplant in Cold War America. This explanation of the distance between this 1949 manifesto and the one he wrote in Germany in 1921 that called for “the international revolutionary union of all intellectual men and women on the basis of radical communism” is certainly reasonable. This paper however seeks to add additional scope to our understanding of Huelsenbeck’s Dada theorizing and the intellectual changes it represents by focusing on the structural elements of each manifesto and Huelsenbeck’s life history in the intervening period, including his work as a practicing psychoanalyst and co-founder of the Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis. What we discover by pursuing this line of inquiry are formal structural shifts that reflect Huelsenbeck’s view of Dada’s development as a system of understanding from its early analytic period of differentiation and critique to a new “mature” phase of synthesis and positive contribution. Huelsenbeck’s development as a doctor and thinker was profoundly affected by developments in existentialist philosophy (he was given the AAP’s Binswanger award for his contributions to existentialist psychiatry in 1969) and modern art. By mid-century the Surrealists were considered heirs to the initial Dada movement, existentialism had become a profoundly influential philosophical movement, and both had contributed to the understanding of the American movement of Abstract Expressionism, about which Huelsenbeck had much to say. As a German who contributed to the birth and expansion of one of the twentieth century’s most significant artistic movements Huelsenbeck’s history as a transplant in America and his further reflections on the meaning and significance of his early work and its potential for the future reveal a lot about the subsequent history of the avant-garde  as German impulse was translated into American explanation. Exploring all of the aspects of this shift, beyond the strictly political, is crucial for a more complete understanding that reflects the complexity — often fraught with paradox and contradiction — of the life-history of Dada.

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BJHS Review

I’ve Reviewed Olivier Darrigol’s excellent book on Bolzman for The British Journal for the History of Science.

BJHS Homepage.


Tattersall, Mason, Review of Darrigol, Olivier, Atoms, Mechanics, and Probability: Ludwig Boltzmann’s Statistico-Mechanical Writings — An Exegesis. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018) for British Journal for the History of Science. Vol. 51, No. 4 (2018), pp. 713-14.

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“Strange Tales from the Useen World”: History of Science Society Annual Conference 2018

I’m delivering a paper at the 2018 annual meeting of the History of Science Society in November. It’s in the “Scientific And Religious Communities In Victorian Britain, And After” panel.

Details follow:

“Strange Tales from the Unseen World: A Confluence of Systems of Understanding in Stewart & Tait’s the Unseen Universe”

Abstract Summary

In 1875 Balfour Stewart and Peter Guthrie Tait published The Unseen Universe, an odd book that attempted to combat materialism by using the newly formulated law of the conservation of energy to rationally explain supernatural ideas like miraculous happenings, the immortality of the soul, Christ’s Incarnation, angels, and more. Stewart and Tait accounted for these supernatural ideas and addressed the worrying prospect of the heat death of the universe by proposing a second, unseen universe that was tied to the seen universe through bonds of energy transference. The book represents an attempt at the reconciliation of several contradictory and complimentary systems of understanding into a new unified synthesis. This paper will present a brief introduction to and systems-based analysis of this odd work of natural philosophy, placing it in its scientific, cultural, and philosophical context, and by doing so will provide a glimpse into the broader world of competing systems of understanding in Victorian science, rife as it was with philosophical non-simultaneity and intellectual ferment. By taking a systems-analytical approach to a complex text like this we can gain insight into the ways in which competing systems of understanding interact in times of intellectual change.

physics, philosophy, systems, understanding, Victorian, religion, evolution, time, thermodynamics, heat death, energy, natural philosophy
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Austrian Studies Conference

I had a wonderful time at the 2018 Austrian Studies Conference this year in Burlington Vermont. I commented on a fantastic panel with my Doctorvater David Luft, and the excellent Don Wallace and Carl Findley. Many thanks to Katherine Arens who moderated our panel “Meditations on the Austrian Mind”, my colleagues, David, and our hosts in Vermont.

Here is a link to the conference page for more info.

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BJHS Review

I’ve reviewed Dennis Danielson’s lovely book Paradise Lost and the Cosmological Revolution for the March 2016 edition of the British Journal for the History of Science.

BJHS Homepage.

Citation: Tattersall, Mason, Review of Danielson, Dennis, Paradise Lost & the Cosmological Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014) for British Journal for the History of Science. Vol. 49, No. 1 (March 2016), pp. 120-2.

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Kierkegaard, Doubt, & Faust

My article “Faust’s Dog: Kierkegaard, Despair & The Chimera of Meaning” appears in the new edition of Eras.

Click here for the journal’s website.

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Decadence, Degeneration, & The End

My chapter, “Thermal Degeneration: Thermodynamics & the Heat-Death of the Universe in Victorian Science, Philosophy, & Culture” leads off this new book from Palgrave. Many thanks to the excellent editors Marja Härmänmaa and Christopher Nissen!

Visit the Palgrave page for more information.

And click here to buy it on Amazon.

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Some Book Reviews

For Metapsychology:

Tattersall, Mason, Review of Kosman, Aryeh, The Activity of Being: An Essay on Aristotle’s Ontology (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013) for Metapsychology Vol. 17, No. 50 (2013). LINK

Tattersall, Mason, Review of Hanson, Jeffrey, Kierkegaard as Phenomenologist: An Experiment (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2010) for Metapsychology Vol. 17, No. 33 (2013). LINK

Tattersall, Mason, Review of Strange, S. & Zupko, J. (Eds.) Stoicism: Traditions and Transformations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012) for Metapsychology Vol. 17, No. 16 (2013). LINK

For Physics in Perspective:

Tattersall, Mason, Review of Illy, József, The Practical Einstein: Experiments, Patents, Inventions (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 2012) for Physics in Perspective. Vol. 15 No. 1 (2013), pp. 123-5. LINK

For The Journal of World History:

Tattersall, Mason, Review of Klein, Kerwin, From History to Theory (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011) for The Journal of World History. Vol. 23 No. 4 (2012), pp. 947-50. LINK

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Hugo von Hofmannsthal & the Austrian Idea: Selected Essays & Addresses, 1906-1927

David Luft’s translations of Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s essays & addresses is available now from Purdue University Press.

I worked as Dr. Luft’s research assistant on this project, editing translations, providing additional background research, and translating Petrarch; I also compiled the index.

Click HERE to buy it from Amazon.

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Horning Lecture Series

A couple of the Horning lecture series I worked on as David Luft’s assistant:

An Adventure of the Mind: Lectures in Modern European Intellectual History (2011-12).

This series brought five scholars who work in the field of modern European Intellectual history to OSU to speak on themes such as the Enlightenment, Orientialism, Karl Popper, and Historicism.

The Speakers were: Martin Jay, David Luft, Malachi Hocohen, Jonathan Israel, and Suzanne Marchand.


Translation:  Crossing Borders, Crossing Cultures (2009-10)

This series brought key theorists and practitioners of translation to OSU to talk about this vital, but sometimes overlooked aspect of the intellectual world. The series brought experienced translators and theorists who emphasized the role of language in our lives and the way translation brings other cultures to us.

The Speakers were: David Luft, Michael Henry Heim, Lawrence Venuti, Burton Pike, and Suzanne Jill Levine.

More information about this series can be found HERE.

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