Sensory Deprivation

Dada, then, is also an occupation; one could even call it the most elaborate and strenuous occupation there is. Dada has chosen a cultural realm for its activity, although it could just as well have chosen to make its appearance as an importer, stockbroker, or manager of a chain of cinemas. It has chosen the cultural realm not out of that sentimentality which ranks “spiritual values” as the apogee of traditional values. The vast majority of Dadaists know “Culture” through their professions as writers, journalists, artists. The Dadaist has amassed a wealth of experience about how “spirit” is produced; he knows the depressed state of manufacturers of the spiritual; for years he has sat at the same table with much-printed spirit toadies and Manulescus* among the hacks; he has observed the profoundest secrets and the birth pangs of cultures and moral systems. Dada engages in a kind of anti-cultural propaganda, out of honesty, out of loathing, out of profoundest disgust at the lofty airs put on by the confirmed intellectual bourgeoisie. Since Dada is the movement, experience and naiveté, that sets great value on its common sense—deeming a table a table and a plum a plum—and since Dada is unconnected to anything and so has the capacity to make connections with all things, it opposes every kind of ideology, i.e. every kind of combative stance, against every inhibition or barrier. Dada is elasticity itself; it cannot grasp people’s attachment to anything, be it money or an idea, and thus shows an exemplary freedom of character which is absolutely without pathos. The Dadaist is the freest man on earth.

— Richard Huelsenbeck, 1920 from The Dada Almanac

*Georges Manulescu (1871-1911): An impeccable gentleman con-man from Romania whose notions regarding the redistribution of wealth led him to enter some of the loftiest circles of Europe. Arrested 1901.


Blago Bung, Blago Bung, Bosso Fatakal

Hugo Ball et al.

This book contains three vital texts from the German faction of the Dadaist movement as it developed in Zurich during World War I. Here’s Tenderenda the Fantast, the first Dada novel written by Hugo Ball; Richard Huelsenbeck’s Fantastic Prayers, the first collection of Dada poetry; and the little-known Last Loosening, a manifesto written by Walter Serner which provoked numerous brawls at the Cabaret Voltaire and was the source for many of Tzara’s literary provocations (which may be the reason it was suppressed at the time). An interesting layout keeps true to the Dada spirit. MDH

Publisher: Atlas
Paperback: 176 pages

Cut With the Kitchen Knife: The Weimar Photomontages of Hannah Höch

Maud Lavin

Important but overlooked female Dada collage artist. The beautiful reproductions of her prolific work are unfortunately weighed down by an academic, artspeak text. Don’t hold it against her.

Publisher: Yale University
Paperback: 260 pages

The Dada Almanac

Edited by Richard Huelsenbeck

“Published in Berlin in 1920, The Dada Almanac, the only anthology edited by the Dadaists themselves at the time, is still the most immediate and comprehensive document of the Dada movement. It was published to coincide with the end of the First International Dada Fair, an event that galvanized the Berlin Dadaists and underlined their internationalism. And like the fair, which was simultaneously the Berlin group’s high point and last joint venture, it is also the last Dada publication from the Berlin group—or at least from the ‘Central Committee of the German Dada Movement.’… The Almanac is a broad forum for the expected primitivism, provocation, politics, iconoclasm, bluff and humor, but perhaps more unexpectedly it also contains a number of lengthy articles and manifestoes concerned with art and literary theory, which (even if they are often perched on the knife edge between humor and seriousness) give a deep insight into the many divergent preoccupations and contradictions on which the ‘movement’ thrived and ultimately foundered.” Contributors include Richard Huelsenbeck, Tristan Tzara, Francis Picabia, Hugo Ball, Philippe Soupault, Hans Arp, and others.

Publisher: Atlas
Paperback: 176 pages

Dada and Surrealist Performance

Annabelle Melzer

Tracing the origins of Dada performance techniques in Zurich through the works of Tristan Tzara, Hugo Ball, Jean Arp and other luminaries at the Cabaret Voltaire (1916-1919), this well-documented survey (complete with an exhaustingly informative bibliography) is a fascinating introduction to one of the most infamous artistic and literary movements of the 20th century. Dada was a caustic revolt against what it deemed the complacency of its time, championing random excess as the only alternative to cultural banality and numbness: “I am against all systems,” Tzara declared. “The most acceptable system is a principle to have none.” The book further includes discussion of the relationship between Dada and Futurist performance and the movement’s reception in France (brought there by Tzara in 1920) by the Parisian avant-garde (Breton, Soupault, Cocteau, Aragon and their entourage). It ends with a description of the eventual rift that would occur between Dada, with its anarchic passion for provocation, and the more contemplative Surrealism. MDG

Publisher: Johns Hopkins University
Paperback: 288 pages

Flight Out of Time: A Dada Diary

Hugo Ball

In 1916, Ball founded the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich. It was the performance, exhibition space and headquarters, so to speak, for the Dadaists and their “new tendency in art.” Ball kept records of their early performances and exhibits, documenting the movement’s progress as it unfolded day by day. with conventional language, focusing on sounds not words, creating sound poems. Ball’s involvement with sound poetry (a form of poetry which dispenses with conventional language, focusing on sounds, not words) and the gesamtkunstwerk (total art work) left its mark in Dada circles. Despite gaining an international reputation, Ball remained mysterious, and his Dada Manifesto was rarely studied since it appeared only in fragments and was never printed in its entirety or translated into English until 1974 (this book is a revision of that edition). Fellow Dadaist Hans Arp noted that “in this book stand the most significant words that have thus far been written about Dada… [Ball] forces current attitudes in art and politics to ever more extreme conclusions, only to discover that his method always eludes him. Finally he outruns himself and flees from time itself.” DW

Publisher: University of California
Paperback: 324 pages

Four Dada Suicides

Edited by Arthur Cravan, et al

Selected texts of four writers on the fringes of the Dada movement in 1920s Paris: Arthur Cravan, Jacques Rigaut, Julien Torma and Jacques Vaché. All took the nihilism of the movement to its ultimate conclusion and played a significant role in the formation of the French avant-garde. Their work is viewed as a by-product of their extraordinary lives, as all lived to the limit in the spirit of Dada, with ferocious nonchalance and tragic abandon: Vaché died of a drug overdose; Rigaut shot himself; the other two simply vanished. Complete with notes, sources, translations, related publications and short, insightful biographical introductions to each author followed by a personal recollection by one of their contemporaries. A labor of love and respect. MDG

Publisher: Serpent's Tail

Memoirs of a Dada Drummer

Richard Huelsenbeck

According to the author, “Dada is the only appropriate philosophy for our age.” Huelsenbeck focuses on the Dada movement’s beginning as absurd farce and radical political stance and evolution into as a tool for the development of mankind. In 1936, Huelsenbeck moved to New York, changed his name, started a private psychiatric practice and severed all ties with the art world. From 1936 to 1945 he did not publish anything, then suddenly, from 1949 to 1974, published a series of essays rethinking Dada, claiming he was in a “position to pass fair judgement on Dadaism.” Finally, after “leaving America for good,” he concluded that Dada could not exist in America (as did Duchamp). He also felt that he was unable to explain to America that “Dada was simply a revolt against technology, mass media and the feeling of being lost in an ocean of business cleverness.” “Liberty never existed anywhere,” he wrote, “but America’s attempt (although it has failed) was one of the most sincere attempts.” Longing to get the chaos of Dada back in his life and to be a “Dada hippie” again, he moved back to Europe and died, in 1974. DW

Publisher: University of California
Paperback: 202 pages


Kurt Schwitters

A recently discovered recording of Schwitters reciting his legendary Dada composition Ursonate, on CD. And it goes something like this: “Fümms bö wö tää Uu, pögiff, kwiiee. Dedesnn nn rrrrr, Ii Ee, mpiff tilff toooo? Till, Jüü-Kaa…” SS

Publisher: Wergo
Audio CD