Last session we looked at Dadaism, an avant-garde movement that was formed in 1916 by Hugo Ball, Richard Huelsenbeck, Tristan Tzara, Hans Arp and Marcel Janco at the Cabaret Voltaire, Zurich. Its formation was largely concerned with the political circumstances of the time, as a reaction against the war, against the “nationalistic frenzy in Paris” (Huelsenbeck 1920), and as a way to keep a grip of individuality.
“The word Dada was accidentally discovered by Hugo Ball and myself in a German-French dictionary… Dada is French for a wooden horse.” (Huelsenbeck 1920).
It was a movement that concerned itself with anti-art and anti-aesthetic, it sought to remove conscious control from the artist, to strip art of meaning and take it to its base purity.
“Let us try, though it is difficult, to remain absolutely pure. We shall then perceive everything that binds us. And as for the unpleasant language which suffices the garrulous… let us reduce it, let us transform it into a charming, true language. In this state of purity… language renounces its imperative function and aspires toward an autonomous existence, producing a confused, illogical pleasure, an indefinable sensation of release from gravitation. ‘I dream of new harmonies’, Gide wrote at the time, ‘of an art of words, more subtle and more frank, without rhetoric, which does not seek to prove anything’. ” (Raymond, 1933)
Tristan Tzara’s method of making a poem was to “take a newspaper, take scissors, choose an article, cut it out, then cut out each word, put them in a bag, shake.” Then take out the scraps one at a time and copy the words out as they come.
We did it a little differently at Storyslingers; rather than use a newspaper as our source, we selected two extracts from classic texts, one from Frankenstein and the other The Master and Margarita, (so both with supernatural elements). Many members struggled to let go of their authorial control and couldn’t resist ordering the selection of scraps in a way that had some logical semblance. I think this in itself is very interesting, especially when considering contemporary discussions about creativity and education. I’m thinking in particular of Ken Robinson’s lectures on creativity in education. Take a look at this video:
And then consider Henri Focillon’s ideas In Praise of Hands, which appeared in The Life in Forms of Art (NY. 1948).
Focillon spoke about Apelles experiencing ataraxia while he was trying to paint a horse. (Ataraxia relates to Dadaism, I think). Apelles wished to represent a bit of frothy saliva and was so unsuccessful that, in a rage, he gave up and threw the sponge with which he was using to clean his brushes at the horse, thus producing the effect of the horse’s foam. (Sextus Empiricus). This story “makes us reflect upon the resources of pure chance. Here we are at the antipodes of automatism and mechanism, and no less distant from the cunning ways of reason. In the action of a machine, in which everything is repeated and predetermined, accident is an abrupt negation. [The artist] …takes advantage of his own errors and of his faulty strokes to perform tricks with them.”
“In the hand of Hokusai, accident is an unknown form of life, the meeting of obscure forces and clairvoyant design. Sometimes one might say that he has provoked accident with an impatient finger in order to see what it would do… Hokusai belongs to a country where, far from concealing the cracks in a broken pot by deceptive restoration, artisans underline this elegant tracery with a network of gold. Thus does the artist gratefully receive what chance has given him and places it respectfully in evidence.”
So according to Ken Robinson, in modern education we are taught to fear mistakes, to fear being wrong, which is indeed reflected in the Storyslingers’ reluctance to give up their control and leave their creations to chance.
We also talked about Dadaism in relation to Barthes’ comments on ‘death of the author’, which I would like to go into greater depth about. This post is getting on for an essay now, so I will save these thoughts for a future post. Until then, enjoy these dada poems that we wrote:
Appeared at the possessed, appeared at the…
The deep, I swear; carried his Moscow and weary existence.
Dear revenge, the “on you”, at the hour of the grief, Editor Had was wearing a “and on you!”
To execute solemnity, adjuration, excited, while Mikhail – short. His neatly night, and… and… black, wandering Berlioz.
For short, Alexandrovich = devotion. To pursue friends as I shot, I as forever.
I call assured spirits and ‘green’ gave way, who, and on which, me.
By the sacred earth
In his hand.
Cursed and hellish monster
Back on his head,
Tread the green
And by thee
At the house of the
Patriarch’s Ponds. Associations, dressed in a Berlioz, an awe horn-rimmed glasses my utterance / And and with who called Massolit / broad-shouldered drag drink deep and by thee, O torments me. Hair, eternal my.
Approximately of a fat dear revenge the demon who which devotion, Alexandrovich I swear; shaven the destroy awe will herbage back me had me, that to spirits of my now.
The following are semi-dada poems, in that the writers of these poems arranged the words they randomly selected in a conscious, logical (ish) way.
From my eyes
And with that
From my eyes
And with that
By Jennifer K Oliver
The lips should utterance
One of you pseudonym of Homeless.
And his conduct and vengeance
I must excited quickly
dark-haired, plump, bald
Destroy him by perish
The spirits their murderer
The poet feel, poet agony;
This shall feel the dead over
The Dada Painters and Poets, An Anthology. Second ed. Edited by Motherwell, Robert. 1951, USA.