Costica Bradatan has an interesting piece in the NYtimes today, which begins and ends with the Dadaists: Change Comes From the Margins. His thesis is well-known, but nonetheless worth thinking about. So, he tells us:
By definition, any center is a site of concentration and intensity — after all, it’s the place toward which everybody is attracted in some way or another. That’s also what makes it so formidable. The center possesses a wealth of prospects, opportunities and resources, but also anxieties — it is the place where the possibility of collapse, disintegration or descent into chaos figure prominently. To keep such dangers at bay, life at the center has to be regulated in every detail, its energy well managed, impulses properly channeled and spontaneity standardized. Sophisticated and expensive bureaucracies are developed to make sure that the pursuit of happiness does not turn into a stampede.
He then goes on to point out that the center inevitably becomes stale and needs reinvigorating. And so it tries to co-opt the margins:
The biggest irony, however, is that all these attempts at derision and subversion, all the marginals’ mockery, usually end up making the center stronger; they are needed in the same vital way an organism needs antibodies. If the center manages to recruit the marginals to work for its own purposes, then it is saved.
And the marginals know the game:
Marginals know only too well that, by subverting the center, they risk becoming part of it; those who challenge the canons or ideological foundations of the mainstream most vehemently can turn one day into canonic figures themselves — think Picasso, Martin Luther King Jr., Bob Dylan.
The interesting thing about graffiti is that it's been dancing with legitimacy since the early 70s and it's still managed to hang on to its marginality.
I explore these issues in my series on the MacArthur Fellows program.