Sunday, February 20, 2011

Dada du jour: Jean Arp (1887-1966)

"The morality of idiots and their belief in geniuses makes me shit."
--Jean (Hans) Arp

Kaspar Is Dead (1912, trans. Ralph Manheim)

alas our good kaspar is dead.

who will now carry the burning banner hidden in the pigtail of clouds to play the daily
          black joke.

who will now turn the coffee mill in the primaeval barrel.

who will now entice the idyllic deer out of the petrified paper box.

who will now confound on the high seas by addressing them as parapluie and the winds
          by calling them keeper of the bees ozone spindle your highnesss.

alas alas alas our good kaspar is dead. holy ding dong kaspar is dead.

the cattlefish in the bellbarns clatter with heartrending grief when his christian name
          is uttered. that is why I keep on moaning his family name kaspar kaspar kaspar.

why have you left us. into what shape has your beautiful great soul migrated.
          have you become a star or a watery chain attached to a hot whirlwind
          or an udder of black light or a transparent brick on the groaning drum
          of jagged being.

now the part in our hair the soles of our feet are parched and the fairies lie half-charred
          on the pyre.

now the black bowling alley thunders behind the sun and there's no one to wind up
          the compasses and the wheels of the handbarrows any more.

who will now eat with the phosphorescent rat at the lonely barefooted table.

who will now chase away the siroccoco devil when he wants to beguile the horses.

who will now explain to us the monograms in the stars.

his bust will adorn the mantelpieces of all truly noble men but that's no comfort that's snuff
          to a skull.

Fleur Marteau (1916)

excerpts from Dadaland (1938/1948, trans. Ralph Manheim)
"The Renaissance taught men the haughty exultation of their reason. Modern times, with their science and technology, turned men towards megalomania. The confusion of our epoch results from our overestimation of reason. We wanted an anonymous and collective art. Here is what I wrote on the occasion of an exhibition we put on in Zurich in 1915: These works are constructed with lines, surfaces, forms, and colors. They strive to surpass the human and achieve the infinite and the eternal. They are a negation of man's egotism ... The hands of our brothers, instead of serving as our own hands, had become enemy hands. Instead of anonymity there was celebrity and the masterpiece; wisdom was dead ... To reproduce is to imitate, to play a comedy, to walk the tightrope ...
"I met Tzara and Serner at the Odéon and at the Café de la Terrasse in Zurich, where we wrote a cycle of poems: Hyperbole of the crocodile-barber and the walking cane. This type of poem was later baptized "Automatic Poetry" by the Surrealists. Automatic poetry issues straight from the entrails of the poet or from any other organ that has stored up reserves. Neither the Postillion de Longjumeau nor the Alexandrine, nor grammar, nor aesthetics, nor Buddha, nor the Sixth Commandment can interfere with it in the least. It crows, curses, sighs, stammers, yodels, just as it pleases. Its poems are like nature: they stink, laugh, rhyme like nature. It esteems foolishness, or at least what men call foolishness, as highly as sublime rhetoric, for in nature a broken twig is equal to the stars in beauty and importance, and it is men who decree what is beautiful and what is ugly."

 Jean Arp in his studio (photo by Ida Kar, late 1950's, National Portrait Gallery, London.)


  1. Thank you, Jim, for the reminder of how cool they were, nice nod.

  2. What really interests me is how very different thoughts like these are when compared to Marcel Duchamp. Dada really stands out from this avant-garde cycle of symbolists -> futurists -> dada -> surrealists. And the work of Duchamp always seems like something entirely different - even though there are important affinities and affiliations.

    Really, I'm just trying to find a way to express the significance of it all, then relate it to contemporary movements and disputes. Its not as easy as I thought it would be.