Dada East: The Romanians of Cabaret Voltaire (MIT Press)

Dada East: The Romanians of Cabaret Voltaire (MIT Press)

Tom Sandqvist

Language: English

Pages: 448

ISBN: 0262195070

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Dada -- perhaps the most famous and outrageous of modernism's artistic movements -- is said to have begun at the Cabaret Voltaire, a literary evening staged at the restaurant Meierei in Zurich on February 5, 1916. The evening featured stamping, roaring, banging on the lids of pots and pans, and the recitation of incomprehensible "poemes simultanes" Thus a global revolution in art and culture was born in a Swiss restaurant. Or was it?In Dada East, Tom Sandqvist shows that Dada did not spring full-grown from a Zurich literary salon but grew out of an already vibrant artistic tradition in Eastern Europe -- particularly Romania -- that was transposed to Switzerland when a group of Romanian modernists settled in Zurich. Bucharest and other cities in Romania had been the scene of Dada-like poetry, prose, and spectacle in the years before World War I. One of the leading lights was Tristan Tzara, who began his career in avant-garde literature at fifteen when he cofounded the magazine Simbolul. Tzara -- who himself coined the term "Dada," inspired by an obscure connection of his birthday to an Orthodox saint -- was at the Cabaret Voltaire that night, along with fellow Romanians Marcel, Jules, and Georges Janco and Arthur Segal. It's not a coincidence, Sandqvist argues, that so many of the first dadaist group were Romanians. Sandqvist traces the artistic and personal transformations that took place in the "little Paris of the Balkans" before they took center stage elsewhere, finding sources as varied as symbolism, futurism, and folklore. He points to a connection between Romanian modernists and the Eastern European Yiddish tradition; Tzara, the Janco brothers, and Segal all grew up within Jewish culture and traditions.For years, the communist authorities in Romania disowned and disavowed Romania's avant-garde movements. Now, as archives and libraries are opening to Western scholars, Tom Sandqvist tells the secret history of Dada's Romanian roots.

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“revolutionary chorus” of six men in exile performed on the first evening; the next day a certain Mr. Spagovsky entered the stage, according to Marietta di Monaco a blond madman from the northern parts of Russia,33 and sang: “Papra papranitschka—papra papranitschka—nemoiju.” On 27 February the Russians were singing in the Roten Sarafan chorus, and two days later Hugo Ball with Emmy Hennings read passages from Leonid Andreyev’s “grievous legend” The Life of Man. On 4 March the company organized a

of the activist theater of Italian futurism. Marcel Janco dissociated himself from this, packed his suitcases, and left in June 1920 for Béthune together with his brother Jules and his fiancée Lily Ackermann. Unfortunately we don’t have much information about the immediate circum- F O U R cial town in northeast Flanders with about 16,000 inhabitants; the biggest attraction C H A P T E R stances of their little more than one-year-long stay in Béthune, a small French provin- the war. From both

solely stress their different sound values. It is more or less obvious that Tzara by now was trying to break with the tonal and rhythmic qualities of established Romanian poetry. In a letter to Jacques Doucet in October 1922 he explained that already in 1914 he had tried to remove the words from their meaning in order to give a new “global sense” of the verse by the tonality and the auditory contrast.33 According to the American literary theorist Michael H. Impey,34 this “perverse alchemy of

of his linguistic games and puzzles, subtleties, ambiguities and equivocal metaphoric expressions, verbal combinations of sounds, and musical sequences of words and fragments and sentences.71 If Samuel Rosenstock suffered from recurrent headache, Corbière suffered from chronic rheumatism and tuberculosis, which may have been a contributing reason for his distanced flâneur attitude and which, according to Mitchell, was also the reason for his C H A P T E R S E V E N turning to poetry for relief,

orgies of talk characterized by the fact that nobody is listening to anybody because everybody speaks at the same time? What is not possible in a country whose capital appears mostly like a confusing piling up of overlapping events with neither consequences nor logic, where every fragment expresses the city’s disrupted identity? A country where a river, which mostly looks like a big muddy ditch, runs through the capital, a river surrounded by high weed-covered embankments on the top of which

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