Friday, February 1, 2008

Lecture on dada, Tristian Tzara


You already know that for the general public, and for you society people, a dadaist is the equivalent of a leper. But that's only a manner of speaking. When people talk to us at close quarters, they still treat us with the remains of elegance that they owe to their habit of believe in progress. But from ten metres away, their hate starts up again. That's dada. If you ask me why, I wouldn't be able to answer you.

Another characteristic of Dada is that we are always parting from our friends. We part, and we resign. The first person to resign from the Dada Movement was I. Everyone knows that Dada is nothing. I parted from Dada and from myself the moment I realised the true implication of nothing.

If I continue to do something, it's because it amuses me. or rather because I have a need for activity which I exert in all directions. In actual fact, the real dadas were always apart from Dada. Those people to whom dada was still important enough for them to part from it with éclat, were only acting with a view to their own personal advertisement, and proved that counterfeiters have always insinuated themselves with filthy worms amongst the purest and most lucid adventures of the spirit.

I know you're expecting some explanations about Dada. I'm not going to give you any. Explain to me why you exist. You've no idea. You'll say: I exist to make my children happy. But you know it's not really true. You'll say: I exist to protect my country from barbaric invasions. That's not enough. You'll say: I exist because God wants me to . That's a tale to tell the children. You'll never know why you exist, but you'll always allow yourselves to be easily persuaded to take life seriously. You'll never understand that life is a ply on words, because you'll never be alone enough to refuse hate, judgements, and everything that needs a great effort, in favour of an even, calm state of mind in which everything is equal and unimportant.

Dada isn't at all modern, it's rather a return to a quasi-buddhist religion of indifference. Dada places an artificial sweetness on things, a snow of butterflies which have come out of a conjuror's head. Dada is immobility and doesn't understand the passions. You'll say that this is a paradox because Dada manifests itself by violent actions. Yes, the reactions of individuals contaminated by destruction are fairly violent, but once these reactions have been exhausted and annihilated by the continuous and progressive satanic insistence of a "what's the use?", what remains and predominates is indifference. I could, what's more, with the same air of conviction, maintain the contrary.

I admit that my friends don't approve of this point of view. But this Nothing can only be expressed as a reflection of an individuality. That is why it will be useful to everybody, as no one accords any importance to anything but himself. I'm speaking of myself. That's already too much. How could I dare to speak of everyone at the same time and please everybody?

Nothing is more pleasant than to baffle people. The people one doesn't like. What's the use of explaining to them things that can only interest their curiosity? For people only like their own person, their income and their dog. This state of affairs derives from a false conception of property. If one is poor in spirit one possesses a sure and unshakeable intelligence, a ferocious logic and an immutable point of view. Try to become empty and to fill you brain cells haphazard. Go on destroying what you have in you. Indiscriminately. You could understand a lot of things, then. You aren't any more intelligent than we are, and we aren't any more intelligent than you.

Intelligence is an organisation like any other, social organisation, the organisation of a bank, or the organisation of a gossip-session. A society tea-party. Its purpose is to create order and introduce clarity where there is none. Its purpose is to create a hierarchy within a state. To make classifications for a rational piece of work. To separate questions of a material order from those of a moral order, but to take the former extremely seriously. Intelligence is the triumph of good breeding and pragmatism. Life, fortunately, is something different, and its pleasures are numberless. Their price cannot be evaluated in the currency of liquid intelligence.

These observations about everyday conditions have led us to a knowledge that constitutes our minimum of understanding, apart from the sympathy that links us, which is mysterious. We couldn't base it on principles. For everything is relative. What are Beauty, Truth, Art, Good, Liberty? Words which have a different meaning for every individual. Words which claim to make everybody agree, which is why they're usually written with capital letters. Words which do not have the moral value and the objective force that people are used to giving them. Their meaning changes from one individual to another, from one country to another. Men are different, it's their diversity that gives them their interest. There is no common basis in humanity's brains. The unconscious is inexhaustible and uncontrollable. Its strength is beyond us. It is as mysterious as the last particle of the brain cell. Even if we are familiar with it, who would dare state that we could reconstruct it as a viable generator of thoughts?

What use have philosophical theories been to us? Have they helped us to take a single step forward to backward? Where is "forward", where is "backward"? Have they transformed our forms of contentment? We are. We quarrel, we fuss, we struggle. The intervals are sometimes pleasant, often mixed with a boundless tedium, a swamp adorned with the beards of moribund shrubs. We have had enough of the considered actions that have swollen beyond measure our credulity in the blessings of science. What we want now is spontaneity. Not because it is more beautiful or better than anything else. But because everything that comes from us freely without any intervention from speculative ideas, represents us. We must accelerate this quantity of life that spends itself so readily here, there and everywhere. Art is not the most precious manifestation of life. Art does not have the celestial, general value that people are pleased to accord it. Life is far more interesting. Dada boasts of knowing the exact proportion that is to be given to art; it introduces it with subtle, perfidious means into the acts of everyday fantasy. And vice versa. In art, Dada brings everything back to the initial, but relative, simplicity. It mingles its caprices with the chaotic wind o creation and with the barbaric dances of savage tribes. It wants logic to be reduced to a personal minimum and literature to be primarily intended for the person who creates it. Words have a weight, too, and are used for an abstract construction. The absurd doesn't frighten me because, from a more elevated point of view, I consider everything in life to be absurd. It is only the elasticity of our conventions that makes a link between disparate acts. Beauty and Truth in art don't exist; what interest me is the intensity of a personality, transposed directly and clearly into its work, man and his vitality, the angle under which he looks at the elements and the way he is able to pick these ornamental words, feelings and emotions, out of the basket of death.

Dada tries to find out what words mean before using them, not from the point of view of grammar, but from that of representation. Objects and colours also pass through the same filter. It isn't a new technique that interests us, but the spirit. Why do you think we should bother about a pictorial, moral, poetic, social or poetic renovation? we all know that these stylistic renovations are only the successive uniforms of different historical eras, uninteresting questions and fashions and facades. We know very well that the people in Renaissance clothes are more or less the same as the people of today, and that Dchouang-Dsi was a dada as we are. You are making a mistake if you take Dada for a modern school, or even for a reaction against present-day schools. Several of my assertions have seemed to you to be old-fashioned and natural; this is the best proof that you were dadaists without knowing it, and perhaps even before the birth of dada.

You will often hear it sad: Dada is a state of mind. You can be gay, sad, distressed, joyful, melancholy or dada. Without being literary, you can be romantics, you can be dreamers, weary, whimsical, shopkeepers, thin, convicts, conceited, pleasant or dada. Later, in the course of history, when Dada has become a precise, everyday word, and when its popular repetition has given it the meaning of an organic word with its necessary content, people will be dada with neither shame nor prejoration, for who today still thinks of literature in terms of calling a lake, a landscape, or a character, romantic? Slowly but surely a dada character is being formed.

Dada is more or less everywhere, just as it is; with its defects, with the differences between people which it accepts and regards with indifference.

We are very often told that we are incoherent, but people intend this word to convey an insult which I find rather hard to grasp. Everything is incoherent. The man who decides to have a bath but who goes to the cinema. The other man who wants to keep quiet but who says things that don't even come into his head. Another one who has an exact idea about something but who only manages to express the opposite in words which for him are a bad translation. No logic. Relative necessities discovered a posteriori, valid not from the point of view of their exactitude, but as explanations.

The acts of life have neither beginning nor end. Everything happens in a very idiotic fashion. That's why everything is the same. Simplicity is called dada.

To try to reconcile an inexplicable and momentary state with logic seems to me an amusing game. The convention of spoken language is amply sufficient, but for ourselves alone, for our inner games and our literature we don't need it any more.

In painting, things happen in the same way. Painters, technicians who do very well what a camera records much better, will carry on with the game. We'll play ours. We don't know why, nor how. With everything that comes to hand. It will be badly done, but we don't care.

The beginnings of Dada were not the beginnings of an art, but those of a disgust. Disgust with the magnificence of philosophers who for 3000 years have been explaining everything to us (what was the use?), disgust with the pretensions of those artists who were god's representatives on earth, disgust with passion, with real, morbid malice applied in cases where it isn't worth while, disgust with a new form of tyranny and restriction, which only accentuates men's instinct for domination instead of allaying it, disgust with all the catalogued categories, with the false prophets behind whom financial interests must be sought, with pride or with illness, disgust with people who separate good from evil, beauty from ugliness (for why is it more estimable to be red rather than green, left or right, tall or short?), disgust, finally, with the jesuitical dialectic that can explain everything and insert into people's poor brains oblique and obtuse ideas with neither roots nor base, all this by means of blinding artifices and the insinuating promises of charlatans.

Dada, after having again attracted the attention of the whole word to death, to its constant presence amongst us, works by destroying more and more, not in extent but in itself. Moreover it takes no pride in these disgusts, they bring it neither advantage nor profit. It doesn't even fight anymore because it knows that there is no point in doing so, that none of this is of any importance. What interests a dadaist is his own way of living. But here we are reaching the places reserved for the great secret.

Dada is a state of mind. That is why it is transformed according to races and events. Dada is applicable to everything, and yet it is nothing, it is the point where yes and no meet, not solemnly in the castles of human philosophies, but quite simple on street corners like dogs and grasshoppers.

Dada is as useless as everything else in life.

Dada has no pretensions, which is how life ought to be.

Perhaps you'll understand me better if I tell you that dada is a virgin microbe that insinuates itself with the insistence of air into all the spaces that reason hasn't been able to fill with words or conventions.

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