of 5politics 6of 3and um 2anarchy oh microwave 1dada in 4the 7grammar

DADA: ?-1915-1922-?

Tristan Tzara, "Monsieur Antipryine's Manifesto", in 7 Dada Manifestos
"This is Dada's balcony, I assure you. From there you can hear all the military marches, and come down cleaving the air like a seraph landing in public baths to piss and understand the parable."


"The word Dada symbolizes the most primitive relation to the reality of the environment" (Huelsenbeck et al, "Collective Dada Manifesto", in Motherwell's Anthology)

Tzara, "Lecture on Dada (1922)", in Motherwell
"Dada is not at all modern. It is more in the nature of a return to an almost Buddhist religion of indifference [...] Dada reduces everything to an initial simplicity, growing always more relative. It mingles its caprices with the chaotic wind of creation and barbaric dances of savage tribes." [see discussions of Taoism embedded below]

Tzara quoted in Elmer Peterson's Tristan Tzara
"To the aesthetic preoccupations of Apollinaire, who considered art to be a more or less an intentional product of man, disconnected in a way from his inner nature, DADA opposed a broader concept, in which the art of primitive peoples was an integral part of their social and religious functions and appeared as the very expression of their life."

"The summit sings what is being spoken in the depths" (Tzara, "note on art / h. arp" in 7 Dada Manifestos)

Richard Huelsenbeck, "En Avant Dada: A History of Dadaism" (1920)
"In that period, as we danced, sang, and recited night after night in the Cabaret Voltaire, abstract art was for us tantamount to absolute honor. Naturalism was a psychological penetration of the motives of the bourgeois, in whom we saw our mortal enemy, and psychological penetration, despite all efforts at resistance, brings an identification with the various precepts of bourgeois morality."

"We agreed with the Futurists that most public monuments should be smashed with a hammer" (Huelsenbeck, "Dada Lives!" (1936), in Motherwell)

"Bruitis` m [noise music made by the Dadaists and the Futurists before them] is a kind of return to nature" (Huelsenbeck, "En Avant Dada")

"'Culture is our nature' - and we are the thieving magpies, or the hunter/gatherers" (Hakim Bey, T.A.Z.)

This idealizing of the "primitive" (i.e. African and "Oceanic") is problematic because it is articulated in unison with the aspiration to an animal ferality. Reading through the DADA documents is the slow construction of a theoretical constellation, each bit of language coloring the others. Part XVI of Tzara's "Dada Manifesto on Bitter Love and Feeble Love" is a repetition of the world "howl" or "roar" and he says just four years later that "the art of primitive peoples [is] the very expression of their life." The notion of art as a state of non-human ferality foregrounds affective sounding rather than linguistic articulation. That "Negro Art" is implicated as the archetypal "primitive" of non-speech hints at the dated cultural arrogance of the avant-garde in general, or perhaps just the political incorrectness of the vernacular by today's standards.


Hugo Ball, Flight Out of Time
"The Dadaist loves the extraordinary, the absurd, even. He knows that life asserts itself in contradictions, and that his age, more than any preceding it, aims at the destruction of all generous impulses." (1916-1917)

Ball and Huelsenbeck fled from Berlin to Zurich and founded the Cabaret Voltaire with Tristan Tzara and Marcel Janco (both from Rumania), Emmy Hemmings (Berlin), and Hans Arp (Paris). Consider reading "generous impulses" as indicative of DADA's utopian anarchist tendencies. Capitalism, nationalism, and international war repress both the desire to act and the means of acting on the impulse (i.e. spontaneity) to give through lateral (internationalist) networks of sharing. The generous impulse as the will to power-up open sourcery. The Dadaist as medium channeling repressed shamanic energies. Ball considered his sound poetry to be magic, reclaiming what he called "the alchemy of the word" by mixing sonic elements to create new words. Re the jingoistic propaganda of journalism and advertising leading up to and saturating WWI, Ball writes that "Each thing has its word, but the word becomes a thing in itself [...] The word, gentlemen, is a public concern of the first importance." Ball is articulating his fear of language, his fear of the Word's power to influence the World - a very different take on language than Tzara's. (Note that Ball became a devout and impoverished Roman Catholic after his Dada stint, consonant with his reverence for the Word). This Word-power is synonymous with propaganda, propaganda being defined loosely as a Word that is infused with a supposed parallelism to the World. In this way, s/he who wields language can be properly termed a sourcerer, precisely why Ball considered his sound poems to be incantations. As part of his performances, he was carried onto the stage in the dark so that when the lights came on, he was suddenly there. He was dressed in a "shaman's hat" made of cardboard, cardboard claws, and cardboard tubing over his arms legs and torso. Consider Ball's sourcery as an attempt at reprojecting the re-fused power of the Word back onto the war-torn bourgeois European World. This is consonant with Dada's internationalist anarchist aesthetic, planting seeds of relative gibberish in the hopes that from them, smaller and more intimate social/linguistic formations would grow. The natural as a system of lateral ciphering of energies, natural hierarchies being completely illusory, a function of the linguistic imposition of nomenclature. Nature moves too slowly for humans to comprehend the fullness of its relative wildness.

Richard Huelsenbeck, "En Avant Dada: A History of Dadaism (1920)"
"None of us had much appreciation for the kind of courage it takes to get shot for the idea of a nation which is at best a cartel of pelt merchants and profiteers in leather, at worst a cultural association of psychopaths who, like the Germans, marched off with a volume of Goethe in their knapsacks, to skewer Frenchmen and Russians on their bayonets."

Elmer Peterson, Tristan Tzara: Dada and Surrational Theorist
"The world which permitted global war had, in the opinion of the dadaists, relinquished its right to be taken seriously."

This hints at the radical (theoretical) utopianism of DADA, its arguably escapist expatriatism, its idealizing of aesthetic primitivism, its romantic individualism compounded by the dream of spontaneous collectivity. "Poetry should be made by all. Not by one" (Tzara quoting Lautréamont's Songs of the Evildoer). DADA performances included the recitation of multi-voiced simultaneous poems, banging on pots and pans, dancing, wild gestures, enraged audience interaction, small riots. DADA as movement. The surrealists, led by André Breton (who was the same age as Tzara and involved with Parisian DADA for a brief period before denouncing it) wrote many pieces of collaborative literature. Both the Surrealists with Tzara among them and the post-Zurich German DADA of Huelsenbeck and Raoul Haussman were explicitly Marxist (and the Germans were somewhat Futurist in their demands, one of which was "the erection of cities of light").


Tzara, from "Zurich Chronicle (1915-1919)"
"Let us destroy let us be good let us create a new force of gravity NO = YES Dada means nothing life Who? catalogue of insects"

Tzara, from "Unpretentious Proclamation" in 7 Dada Manifestos
"We are looking for a straightforward pure sober unique force we are looking for NOTHING we affirm the VITALITY of every instant the anti-philosophy of spontaneous acrobatics"

The American poet Lyn Hejinian says that a common language produces a metaphorical gravity between speakers. So, common language = common ground. Sense keeps us upright with our feet on the ground while non-sense floats, puts our heads in the clouds . Non-sense is "spacey". If we consider gravity as that inexplicable force bearing down upon us like the vertical tiers of hierarchies, Tzara's phrase "the anti-philosophy of spontaneous acrobatics" is a poetic metaphor with wide-ranging theoretical implications. Acrobatics are always a temporary defying of gravity, a temporary defying of hierarchy's trickle-down power of oversight. Spontaneity implies an unprecedented moment, acrobatics imply an ephemerality , anti-philosophy implies a reaction against intellectual systematizing (which constructs hierarchies of categorization). = spontaneous acrobatics can be thought of as micro-political tactics - direct physical actions - taken by the relatively powerless. "Let us create a new force of gravity." Immediate actions taken against the powers that be, actions small enough and fast enough that they evade the downward hawk-like swoop of authority, radical actions so simple and poignant in their defiance of code that they can't be mapped by the scanning eye of biopower.

When spontaneous acrobatics are engaged by a collective, "chaos spontaneously resolves into fractal nonlinear order or the way in which 'wild' creative energy resolves as play & poesis" (Bey). Spontaneous acrobatics as the backflip that sprains your ankle in the Fifth/Third lobby to let everyone know that such a thing has been unnecessarily affirmed by the noyes of its noise. Anti-philosophy as the spirited belief in the necessity of allowing the spontaneous to unfold. A spontaneous linguistic acrobatics as the rupture of grammar, wordsounds jumping out of their overdetermined slots to produce "a present moment of aesthetic shock in the service of realization and liberation [...] the private epiphany of overcoming all interior police while tricking all outward authority" (Bey). "Every kind of mask is welcome to him [the Dadaist], every play at hide and seek in which there is an inherent power of deception. The direct and the primitive appear to him in the midst of this huge anti-nature, as being the supernatural itself..." (Ball). "DADA, absolute and incontestable belief in every god that is the immediate product of spontaneity" (Tzara). "DADA, acknowledging only instinct, condemns explanations a priori. According to Dada, we must not retain any control over ourselves" (André Breton, Les Pas Perdus). "Let us create a new force of gravity" (Tzara). "Every imitation of nature, however concealed, is a lie" (Huelsenbeck). "Becoming "wild" is always an erotic act, an act of nakedness [...] The suchness of things when unchained from the Law, each molecule an orchid, each atom a pearl to our attentive consciousness - this is our cult" (Bey), "the vitality of every instant" (Tzara), "a moment which is fully saturated in its own color"(Bey).

"'Spontaneous order' out of 'chaos' in turn evokes the anarchist Taoism of the Chuang Tzu" (Bey). "Tao called Tao is not Tao", the first line of Lao Tzu's more sober Tao Te Ching. Tao not called Tao is Tao. = Tao is fish-scale timetable, Tao is turnip as separation lust, Tao is um Dada is um. See part I of Tzara's "Dada Manifesto on Feeble Love and Bitter Love": "preamble = sardanapalus / one = suitcase / woman = women / trousers = water / if = moustache / 2 = three / stick = perhaps / after = sightreading / irritant = emerald / vice = screw / october = periscope [...] Be it animal, vegetable, imaginable, or organic, everything is the same as everything that is not the same. Even if I didn't believe it, it's the truth of the fact that I've put it on paper - because it's a lie that I have FIXED like a butterfly on a hat" [Notice the rude comment regarding women. Overt masculinity is characteristic of many avant-garde movements.)

No/yes, the Word is bounded within the World. Sense as directed/posited thought, non-sense as circular/negated thought. "Lies circulate - welcome Mister Opportune and Mister Convenient: I arrest them - they're turning into the truth. Thus DADA takes on the job of the two-wheeled cops and of undercover morality" (Tzara, part I of "Dada Manifesto on Feeble Love and Bitter Love"; my emphasis). DADA as the position of negation, DADA as the non-exclusion of difference, DADA as the spontaneous inversion of the binary backflip, DADA as spinning Nietzschean dervish and rabid, DADA as if "the sorcerer can be intoxicated by the mere sight of water" (Bey).


If I asked you "why do parallel lines meet at infinity?", the most natural response for you to give would be __________. [diagram sentence on board]. When someone speaks to us, we respond with speaking. But not just any speaking - words are ordered according to the accepted rules of grammar. The imposition of grammar (as in, the map bearing down to overcode the territory) equates to the accumulation of rust on a surface, and rust as a product of stasis, intellectual stagnation, a lack of cultural agency. Insofar as nature evolves in ignorance of itself, humanity's self-knowledge (or simply, culture) is such that its evolution is (or at least could be) an active process. For DADA, this process is begins with a language of pure metaphor, a constant play of semantic deferment, the critical referent obscured by the opacity of abstraction. DADA where materiality has authority over sense, DADA as in the authority of the clouds before the sun, DADA more natural than naturalism in its relatively free channeling of libidinal energies whose unrepressed flow is essential to the fending off of stagnant entropic diffusion of potential under the ball and chain of laborious hierarchal oversight. DADA evasion, DADA rhizome. Language exists as simply one medium among many that can be used to limb the gaps between human beings, and these gaps can only be actively limbed with a new language, an ever-changing language, a language that makes no appeal to a being beyond the immediate presence of the other in a lateral network of others. It is not sense that constitutes linguistic communication, but the affect of a Taoist fundamental trust or lack of such, the sincerity of being present, a being always turned on. Language is not the sole articulation of being: "Language (as understood in its use in a community) is comprised of approximately ten per cent verbal elements; the rest consists of gesture, atmosphere, billboards, environmental drift, etc" (cris cheek et al, "TV Trio Present Career Wrist", in The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Book)

To scrape off the rusty mold-virus of grammar is to allow words to exist in a hierarchy-subversion of anti-entropical production (i.e. towards complex micro-structures of human-to-human com-energizing). The wisdom of the Tao is um DADA is um the knowledge that the right words don't exist for any situation, because the right words are any word for any situation. Magic is implied in the surface, no structuralist kernel to be unwrapped on any Xmas morning. = the crystal's no/yes. = noyes. = noise. = every/no-thing. See Picabia's portrait of Tzara, below. The explicit argument of the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets was that the invisible hierarchies of a grammar employed to make directed sense are what make language WORK, thus commodifying language, power as a repetitive stagnation perpetuated by the invisibility (i.e. illusory laterality) of its overcoding/overdetermination/overbearing/being, the invisible as the labor you can't find in a commodity unless you seek out its source, grammar as a reflection of the body politic, a structure that produces commodities in really the most sensible way, wouldn't you say so? Insofar as language is the most articulate and innate cultural phenomenon, it has a tendency to take on the structures of its speakers' social formations. (Consider now the Dadaist "howl/howl/howl/howl" etc ad infinitum.) And capitalism is a perpetual material deferment, a depoliticization of the body via the transparent language of reference. Consuming text as commodity, passing fast through the lens. No spell-bounding agency. Mere reading of narratives.
Driving through Buffalo yesterday, I saw a Cintas delivery truck. Cintas the uniform people. Cintas owned by Richard T. Farmer. I see this uniform truck and I'm thinking, this is New York. Cintas is based in Ohio. This is not Ohio. Imagine now the body politic, Farmer at its head, various clients at his feet. Farmer's will diffuses down and out, its influence trickling through networks of subservience to capital, a meek reaction to fear. His tentacles snaking beyond his locality, beyond his immediate presence. When did the local companies stop using local dry cleaners? Well it just makes more sense to get it done cheaper. The blunt efficiency of accumulated capital: statistically sound strategy, hegemony etc. A tactical investment in local nodes of the lateral networks of mouth-to-ear intimacy is too risky for capital. Gotta think about the future. DADA as the source of engaging a radical aesthetic practice as praxis - and yes, Futurism slightly preceded DADA, but the difference is fascism vs anarchism, and I don't want to exemplify the former.

Tzara,"Lecture on Dada" (1922), in Motherwell
"Intelligence is an organization like any other, the organization of society, the organization of a bank, the organization of a chit-chat. At a society tea. It serves to create order and clarity where there is none. It serves to create a state hierarchy. To set up classifications for rational work. To separate questions of a material order from those of a cerebral order, but to take the former very seriously. Intelligence is the triumph of sound education and pragmatism. Fortunately life is something else and its pleasures are innumerable. They are not paid for in the coin of liquid intelligence"

DADA as using unchained metaphorical play and paratactic enumeration as subverting the expectations of hierarchy-based meaning-making, equitable to courage in the face of widespread fear of amputation from "the system" through which capital flows and gives constituents credence (note that "constituent" is also a linguistic term describing the first layer of diagram-mapping: noun phrase, verb phrase, adjective phrase, adverb phrase, etc). The head telling arms and legs how just to move, DADA as a call to arms and legs. The DADA moment as the unmapped journey, no description of the past, just !more !presence !now (until its eventual and inevitable commodification).

Dada's initial convergence in Zurich was a congress of expatriate pacifists. WWI and bourgeois morality, and referential art were seen as the failures of rational language, among other things, so DADA sought to negate itself in the very utterance that announced its presence. This called up a long history of non-Western anti-philosophy, what I call a Taoist understanding of the Word's inability to communicate the World. Tao called Tao is not Tao, a channeling of the explosive friction of the antipodes uniting. Language's content incidental. Form over content. Relative ferality. No or yes, noise both. What's important is the act of speaking, the situation of the mouth pushing soft air into the intimate's ear. "The medium is the message", thanks Marshall MacLuhan. "Form is no more than an extension of content", thanks Robert Creeley.

DADA called Tao is DADA called uncritical openness. Roar, ok?

Can you even here you?



Le Comte de Lautréamont. Les Chants de Maldoror [Songs of the Evildoer] (1868). Trans Paul Knight. Penguin Books, 1978.

Arthur Rimbaud. Complete Works, Selected Letters. Trans Wallace Fowlie. University of Chicago Press, 1966.

Alfred Jarry. Ubu Roi. 1896.

F.T. Marinetti. "The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism" (1909) and Zang Tumb Tumb (1914).

Ferdinand de Saussure. Course in General Linguistics (1915). Trans Wade Baskin. McGraw-Hill, 1959.

Guillame Apollinaire. Calligrammes. 1912-1918.


Tristan Tzara. Chanson Dada: Selected Poems. Trans Lee Harwood. Underwhich Editions, 1987.

Tristan Tzara. Seven Dada Manifestos and Lampisteries (1924). Trans Barbara Wright. Riverrun Press, 1992.

Hugo Ball. Flight Out of Time: A Dada Diary (1927). Various translators. Ed John Elderfield. University of California Press, 1996.

Erdmute Wenzel White. The Magic Bishop: Hugo Ball, Dada Poet. Camden House, 1998.

Robert Motherwell. The Dada Painters and Poets: An Anthology. Wittenborn, Shultz, Inc., 1951.

Richard Huelsenbeck. Memoirs of a Dada Drummer. Viking Press, 1974.

Hakim Bey. The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism. Autonomedia, 1985.

Tristan Tzara. The Glowing Forgotten. Trans Lee Harwood. Leafe Press, 2005.

critical work

Elmer Peterson. Tristan Tzara: Dada and Surrational Theorist. Rutgers University Press, 1971.

Various writers. The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Book. Eds Charles Bernstein and Bruce Andrews. Southern Illinois University Press, 1984.

Johanna Drucker. The Visible Word: Experimental Typography and Modern Art, 1909-1923. The University of Chicago Press, 1994.

Steve McCaffery. Prior to Meaning: The Protosemantic and Poetics. Northwestern University Press, 2001.

+ more to be discovered


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