Rasula 2015

From Whiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Rasula, Jed. Destruction was my Beatrice: Dada and the Unmaking of the Twentieth Century. New York: Basic Books, 2015.

"Tzara’s characterization of Dada as a virgin microbe is apt. Wherever it migrated, however briefly in some cases, it didn’t necessarily need a cabaret, a club, or even a group to take hold; an individual could suffice. Dada took on a peculiar glow, as though it were a radioactive element emitting a hal- lucinatory pulsation. That’s why there’s little sense in making Dada out to be a unified enterprise, with a single collective focus. Its identity multiplied with its occasions and its participants. " (xv)

dada as "agent of destruction, but Dada’s alliance with Con- structivism reflected its newfound role as creative agent." (xvi)

"Without Dada we would have no mash-ups, no samplings, no photomontages, no happenings—not even Surrealism, or Pop art, or punk . . . Without Dada, modern life as we know it would look very, very different—in fact, barely even modern." (xvii)

Cabaret Voltaire

Emmy Hennings and Hugo Ball, founded in Zurich, 1916

influence of primitivism -- art, masks, fetishes from Africa and Oceanic tribes

Tristan Tzara, youngest of the group -- a teenager

"Arp performed scenes from Alfred Jarry’s notorious play Ubu Roi, which had scandalized Paris in 1896 with its very first word: merdre (“shit” in English but deliberately mispelled)—an occasion witnessed by Irish poet William Butler Yeats, who wondered, “What more is possible? After us the Savage God.” Jarry is the supreme prankster of literature, and the fact that Arp sampled Ubu Roi at the cabaret offers a clue to the kind of humor that appealed to him. His poems are unfailingly whimsical; Arp drew vocabulary for them from newspapers, eyes closed, finger pointing to a spot on the page. When he sent a longer sequence called The Cloud Pump to the printer, he deliberately wrote it out in small obscure handwriting to prompt typesetter’s errors, errors he faithfully preserved in subsequent printings." (17)

flagging energies in the early days revived by discovery/play with "simultaneous poetry"

"For the cabaret’s rendition of simultaneous poetry, Huelsenbeck, Janco, and Tzara went onstage, bowed formally like a yodeling trio, and performed their collaborative composition “The Admiral Looks for a Place to Rent” in German, English, and French simultaneously, with a drum, whistle, and rattle as accompaniment. These were conspicuously the main combatant languages. Tzara provided a conceptual itinerary for the piece in his ex- planatory “Note for the Bourgeois,” citing the visual precedence of Cubist artists Picasso, Braque, Picabia, and Delaunay, as well as the typographic innovations of the poet Mallarmé and the calligrams of Apollinaire." (20-21)
"Dada meant something different to each of the participants, but for Ball it named this predicament of using culture to escape from culture—a zany bootstrapping operation." (26)

Magic Bishop and Mr. Aspirin

Cabaret closed in July 1916; swanky new location in an old guildhouse

rising importance of dance; influence of Rudolf Laban, who ran a dance school nearby and wanted to liberate dance from subservience to music and drama

opening of Galerie Dada -- replacing boisterous cabaret atmosphere with cultural elitism

"Whereas Tzara had been swept up in the bear-baiting side of Dada, following in the footsteps of the Futurist Marinetti, for Ball those liturgical cadences he’d performed in costume epitomized Dada. He’d gone into the endeavor obsessed with the notion that a reckless or abusive relation to language was responsible for the war, but the revelation of “verses without words,” poems consisting of nothing but sounds, moved him closer to a reverential outlook on Dada." (42)

dada brings Ball back to Christianity; he would turn back to Catholicism in 1920

"Ball still harbored dreams from before the war, when he was in Kandin- sky’s circle, and Dada was as close as he’d come to realizing them. This set him apart from the others in his cohort, for whom Dada was beginning to seem like a precious stone in a fairy tale—the key to the kingdom, but what kingdom? Tzara felt there was nothing magical about Dada; it was simply a vocational opportunity, one that he tackled with the diligence of an aspiring law clerk. Ball didn’t have career ambitions like Tzara, but he had many in- terests ranging from politics to mysticism, with Dada tantalizingly dangling midway between the two." (44)

Fantastic Prayers

Huelsenbeck in Berlin -- generating dada interest

  • founding of Neue Jugend, with George Grosz, Wieland Herzfield, and John Heartfield

reading at Neumann gallery announcing appearance of dada in Berlin, followed by formal press release on founding of Club Dada

joining of Raoul Hausmann and Hannah Höch, Walter Mehring, Franz Jung

Dada Hurts

"What the Berlin Dadaists had in common (most of them being artists, after all) was their disdain for art institutions like the academies, juries, dealers, and complicit art stylists who promoted an elitist mystification of Kunst und Kultur (art and culture). The Berlin Dadaists repudiated the art racket, monopolized by “the professional arrogance of a haughty guild,” ob- served Herzfelde. The kaiser patronized the most conservative art, casting over even French Impressionism an aura of ill repute. The Dadaists regarded such patronage as part of a larger delusion evident in German glorification of the military. Conventional art, from the Dadaist perspective, amounted to “a large-scale swindle” and “a moral safety valve.” “Dada is forever the enemy of that comfortable Sunday Art which is supposed to uplift man by remind- ing him of agreeable moments,” Huelsenbeck wrote, adding “Dada hurts” to drive the point home." (65)
"A Dadaist was not an artist but a monteur, the German word for “mechanic,” and the Dadaists called the work they produced montage, a cognate term for assembly-line work. Photomontage and collage would have a huge effect on global culture in the years to come and would become ubiquitous from the s to the Internet age. Heartfield and Grosz had started doing cut-and-paste works soon after they met. Höch and Hausmann were also immersed in collage. Baader fol- lowed suit. Erwin Blumenfeld, like others only momentarily affiliated with Dada, also excelled at the new technique before he rose to eminence as a fashion photographer. Much ink has been spilled identifying who originated the technique, but in fact the explosion of print material in the nineteenth century stimulated ordinary people to cut and paste without claiming the results as art. Picasso snipped bits of newspaper and glued them onto his paintings during the heyday of Cubism before the war. But it was in the Berlin Dada circle that photomontage took wing, “an explosion of viewpoints and an intervortex of azimuths” in Hausmann’s heady evocation." (69)
"While those who attended its soirées might think of Dada as an artistic venture, for most the name circulated in the newspapers as a vaguely revolutionary threat, even a plausible political organization. In any case, programmed Dada evenings were chock-full of unmitigated aggression. Insulting the audience was de rigueur (“you’re not going to hand out real art to those dumbbells, are you?”). The Dadaists were out to pick fights, with bared fists. But they also put on skits" (71)

famous skit of a race between a woman on a typewriter and a woman at a sewing machine

Hausmann: "His forte was sound poetry, which he likely heard about from Huelsenbeck’s account of wordless poems in Zurich. His explo- ration of “optophonetics,” as he called it, persisted beyond Dada. Hausmann had no interest in the singsong sonorities favored by Ball or the faux Afri- canisms of Tzara. He wanted to reach a primal place, where language had yet to evolve and the human animal vocalized without words. He pioneered a method of making sound effects by enunciating each letter, vocalizing type samples from a print shop or random letters strung together. These resources were the launchpad for producing all manner of sounds from what he called the “chaotic oral cavity.”" (73)

First International Dada Fair; turned out to be relatively staid compared to usual dada antics

  • Höch's "Cut with the Kitchen Knife..": one of the most visible works from the fair

Haussmann, "Mechanical Head: The Spirit of Our Times"

closing of the Fair in August 1921 -- ended dada in Berlin; Haussmann announced a cessation of activities

Huelsenback, compiled "'Dada Almanac -- only comprehensive portfolio compiled by a dadaist in the movement's heyday


Kurt Schwitters -- disliked for association with Herwarth Walden's Sturm gallery, a powerhouse showcase for avant-garde art that the dadaists positioned themselves against

"In the July  issue of Der Sturm (with one of his “abstractions” on the cover), Schwitters introduced Merz painting. He began by assuring read- ers that this new moniker, Merz, was a kind of abstract art, though anyone who followed his work in the Sturm Gallery would’ve noticed a huge differ- ence between his abstract oil paintings and the multimedia breakthrough of Merz. “Essentially,” he went on, “the word Merz denotes the combination of all conceivable materials for artistic purposes, and technically the principle of equal evaluation of the individual materials.”" (92)

Hausmann and Schwitters' show, "Anti-Dada-Merz"; reciting An Anna Blume, Hausmann's sound poems

Spark Plugs

Armory Show in New York, introducing Americans to modern avant-garde European art movements

Last Loosening

Agnes Ernst Meyer, psychographs (see "Mental Reactions"); also Juliette Roche in Demi Circle

dada presaged in much of American spirit, love of commercialism and contradictions

budding friendship between Picabia, back in Europe, and Tzara

"Tzara had become absorbed in Picabia’s poetry, which could be more eas- ily transmitted through the mail than his artworks. But he had seen some of the paintings, which had been solicited for an exhibit by a Zurich dealer and then peremptorily returned to Picabia without explanation—and with the obligation to pay return post. Meeting the artist in person elevated Tzara’s admiration, and he started looking out for opportunities to circulate his friend’s work in any medium. In February  he mentioned that “a cer- tain Mr. Benjamin (writer-journalist)” of Berne was interested in purchasing Daughter Born Without a Mother. The person in question was Walter Ben- jamin, one of the most brilliant intellectuals of the postwar decades. At that point, doing graduate work in Berne, he found himself living next door to Ball and Hennings, who naturally apprised him of the recent Dada activities in Zurich. Benjamin did not succeed in acquiring Picabia’s fanciful daughter, but he managed to buy a little painting by Paul Klee called Angelus Novus. It made its way into the “Theses on the Philosophy of History” he wrote as the shadow of another world war loomed, leading to his untimely death fleeing the Nazis in ." (154)

Kaufleuten performance -- final event of Zurich dada, orchestrated by Tzara (1919)

A Need for Complications

Tzara arrives in Paris; emergence of connections between Tzara, Picabia, and Breton

Breton and Soupault, The Magnetic Fields (1919) -- pillar of surrealism, but emerged before Dada's full arrival in Paris

increasing restlessness, boredom with dada; "the second half of  saw the movement contract and withdraw into exhibition spaces" (175)

Tzara's cut-up poem instructions (176)

Nothing, Nothing, Nothing

"Later on, André Breton characterized Dada as a state of expectancy, preparation for something else. When the alternative finally appeared late in , he named it Surrealism and spent his remaining forty years leading the movement." (179)

Max Ernst:

"Ernst’s medium was collage, with lots of overpainting. Using this method, he populated his paintings with deviant and unique life-forms. Ernst’s creativity extended to the titles, the inscriptions of which were rendered as visible components of the pictures, like Cuticulus plenaris, Sleuths, Vegetable Sheaves, and Adolescent Female Da- daists Cohabit Far Beyond the Permitted Extent—a title that could apply to the ensemble as a whole. His resources resembled those of Kurt Schwit- ters, raiding the heap of print culture, plucking pulp images for deviant repurposing. His goal, said Ernst, was “to transform into a drama revealing my most secret desires, that which had been nothing but banal advertising pages.”" (180)
"Before its arrival in Paris, Dada had been consistently presented in the lan- guage of inconsistency. Its provocations used language to undermine the semantic authority of language. The sense it made was always precarious, if not outrageous, but in the process the normal hankering for linguistic stability came to seem equally absurd." (185)
"when Breton formed his new movement, Surrealism, Picabia astutely observed that it was “quite simply Dada disguised as an ad- vertising balloon for the house of Breton & Co.” Picabia himself was always ready to move on, abiding by the zesty principle: “Our head is round to allow thoughts to change direction.”" (195)

A Dostoyevsky Drama

"In the summer of 1921, Dada had little more than an “immediate” future left. It had been a year since the last hurrah at the International Dada Fair in Berlin, and even in Paris, where Dada didn’t enter the picture until Tzara’s arrival in early 1920, the movement was now spinning its wheels. To be sure, little tentacles of Dada life were slithering their way into far flung locales, from Belgrade to Tokyo, but that was Dada second or third hand—Dada as guess, wish, and innuendo. The initial fire had burned out, and even the sparks were dwindling." (203)

New Life

"In some ways, Dada was a precondition of Constructivism and even served as a fitful ingredient. But that depended on the circumstance, since Constructivism came with conspicuous political affiliations that parsed dif- ferently from nation to nation. It may have been international, but it was nationally induced. In Germany, where Expressionism still prevailed, Con- structivism was a reaction against “the formlessness and anarchy of subjec- tivism,” wrote one critic in 1924. It offered a platform for those who wanted “to put an end to all romantic feeling and vagueness of expression.” Even Tzara’s apparent nihilism sounded serviceable when he urged, “there is great destructive, negative work to be done. To sweep, to clean.”" (217)
" In the annals of Constructivism, “The Realistic Manifesto” is iden- tified as the seminal text. Written by sculptor Naum Gabo and his brother Antoine Pevsner, the manifesto was posted all over Moscow by the broth- ers on August 5, 1920, in coordination with an outdoors exhibit of their “constructions”—a word that better describes their work than the old term sculpture." (219)
"Constructivism had emerged, in a sense, in opposition to the movement represented by the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky, who was chosen to organize the Institute of Artistic Culture (INKhUK) in Moscow, a state-funded research center for the arts." (220) -- reaction against Kandinsky's "psychological-spiritual orientation"
"The Constructivists said a formal farewell to easel art altogether. Instead of art, they executed laboratory experiments on conceptual and material problems. On behalf of the new society, these Constructivists were willing to abandon the tainted individualism of art, devoting their skills to the pro- ductive realization of “a new material organism.” “It is time that art entered into life in an organized fashion,” Rodchenko insisted, intent on extermi- nating any lingering decadent indulgence in art as aristocratic prerogative (“Down with art as a beautiful patch on the squalid life of the rich”). With aristocratic art expunged, artistic talent was presumed to seamlessly infuse the body politic with new health." (221)
"During 1921, as Constructivism was hotly debated in the USSR, Dada was undergoing final convulsions in Paris. Tristan Tzara persisted in the quix- otic task of making Dada a household name in France, while some of his companions in Dada were pressing forward into Constructivism." (222)
"The old art cultivated personality, inwardness, and a transaction between art- ist and viewer based on aesthetic contemplation. The geometric order of Constructivism was not meant to nourish contemplative tranquility. These works were blueprints and models." (228)
"El Lissitzky, Russian emissary of Constructivism in the West, who coined the term Proun (short for “projects affirming the new”) for his art- works, which he regarded as way stations for the future, models for a utopia." (228)

Theo van Doesburg, started De Stijl in 1917; "It was all very rational and sober, just the opposite of Dada. Esoteric rites of artistic purification notwithstanding, these men were absorbed in every- day life and the practical business of architecture and urban planning. " (234)

"Constructivism needed to hone its blade: that was the incentive behind the invention of Bonset, whose appearances in De Stijl marked him less as the raving, impertinent Dadaist reported in the press and more as a Nietzschean type, advancing beyond good and evil. So his repudiation of words like hu- manity, love, art, and religion, signaling standard even hackneyed concepts, as “sentimental deformations of feeling” was actually concordant with the broader mission of De Stijl as a forum for rational planning." (244)

Yes and No

"Dada is a state of mind. That is why it transforms itself according to races and events. Dada applies itself to everything, and yet it is nothing, it is the point where the yes and the no and all the opposites meet, not solemnly in the castles of human philosophies, but very simply at street corners, like dogs and grasshoppers. Like everything in life, Dada is useless. Dada is without pretensions, as life should be. Perhaps you will understand me better when I tell you that Dada is a vir- gin microbe that penetrates with the insistence of air into all the spaces that reason has not been able to fill with words or conventions." (246, quote from Tzara)

van Doesburg stimulated by dada/constructivist Weimar Congress; invited Kurt Schwitters on a dada tour

"In the same interview, Schwitters cited the Holland tour’s success as “proof that further colonizing work is necessary” and offered a historical profile of Dada’s continuing development. The “old” Dada, he suggested, dated back to 1918 when the “chronic diarrhea” of Expressionism was all the rage and needed to be opposed. The “new” Dada of 1924 was Constructivism." (257)

Truth or Myth?

"widely shared sense in Eastern European countries that Dada was someone else’s movement, and the new political circumstances (whether cause for op- timism or despair) entitled them at least to their own and not a derivative avant-garde." (274)

never made much headway in Russia or Poland

"There have always been writers, thinkers, creative spirits whose imaginations soar beyond, into a realm where the wisecrack cavorts with the gem of wisdom. Dada added an element previously unexplored: it was collective. Dada was simultaneously composed of a hundred-headed Hydra, in which one of the heads was always “Anonymous.”" (280)
"Collectives are hard to sustain, especially when the inspirational germ is as free spirited as Dada. Dada thrived for all of five months in Zurich, then kept fitfully sparking back into life over the next two-plus years. The mo- mentum it picked up in Berlin kept it going there for two and a half years. In Cologne, by contrast, it barely got off the ground, managing two exhibitions and a sputter of one-off periodicals. In Paris, to the increasing annoyance of all involved, it motored on for two years before the wheels started to come off the vehicle. In Holland, it was an “invasion” lasting less than a month. In New York, it was an afterthought, while in the Balkans and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, it was more like a slow burn in a roadside culvert, sparked by a discarded cigarette." (280)