Anthony‘s comment on the Whale Cloth Press thread led me back to the Dada Manifesto, written by Hugo Ball in 1916. I hadn’t read it in years, and it struck me how fresh it still is, so I thought I’d present it here for your dadadelectation—in my own translation, since the ones available online are awful, giving no sense of the brio of the original. There seem to be two versions circulating on the internet; I’ll give a translation of the short version because, well, it’s shorter; for comparison (if you read German), here‘s the longer one.
Dada is a new direction in art. You can tell this because up to now nobody knew anything about it, and tomorrow everyone in Zurich will be talking about it. Dada comes from the dictionary. It’s awfully simple. In French it means “hobbyhorse.” In German: “addio,” “get off my back,” “see you later!” In Romanian: “Absolutely, you’re right, that’s it. Yeah, really, let’s do it.” And so forth.
An international word. Only a word, and the word as movement. It’s simply awful. If you make it into a direction in art, that must mean you want to get rid of complications. Dada psychology, dada literature, dada bourgeoisie, and you, most honored poets, who have always composed with words but never composed the word itself. Dada world war without end, dada revolution without beginning, dada you friends and alsopoets, posterior evangelists. Dada Tzara, dada Huelsenbeck, dada m’dada, dada mhm’ dada, dada Hue, dada Tza.
How do you achieve eternal bliss? By saying dada. How do you become famous? By saying dada. With noble attitude and fine deportment. Until you go crazy, until you pass out. How can you get rid of everything infernalish and journalish, everything nice and neat, everything priggish and brutish and foppish? By saying dada. Dada is the world soul, dada is the point, dada is the world’s best lily-milk soap. Dada Herr Rubiner, dada Herr Korrodi, dada Herr Anastasius Lilienstein.
Which is to say: the hospitality of the Swiss is to be valued above all things, and in aesthetics what matters is the norm.
I’m reading poems that intend nothing less than to do without language. Dada Johann Fuchsgang Goethe, Dada Stendhal. Dada Buddha, Dalai Lama, Dada m’dada, Dada m’dada, Dada mhm’ dada. What matters is connection, and first interrupting it a little. I don’t want words that other people have invented. All the words have been invented by other people. I want my own nonsense, and the corresponding vowels and consonants along with it. If the vibration is seven cubits long, I want words that fit it, seven cubits long. Herr Schulze’s words are only two and a half centimeters long.
So now you can clearly see how articulated language develops. I just let the sounds fall where they may. Words emerge, shoulders of words, legs, arms, hands of words. Ow, oy, oo. You shouldn’t let too many words show up. A verse is an opportunity to get by without words and without language as far as possible. This accursed language, it sticks to dirt like stockbrokers’ hands that have worn down coins. I want the word where it stops and where it starts.
When each thing has its word, the word itself has become a thing. Why can’t a tree be called pluplusch, and pluplubasch when it’s been raining? And why does it have to be called anything at all? The word, the word, the woe’s the worst you ever heard, the word, gentlemen, is a first-class public concern.
A few notes on the translation. I’ve taken more liberties than I would have with a less dadaish text; notably, I’ve rendered “Aalige und Journalige” as “infernalish and journalish,” because the rhyme seemed more important to me than the literal meaning of the rare word “aalig” (‘eely’). Same thing with “Das Wort, das Wort, das Weh gerade an diesem Ort,” where the last half means ‘the woe right here’ (or ‘exactly in this place’) but I chose to preserve the rhyme instead. The word “allerwerteste” looks like it means ‘most worthy’ but in actual usage means only ‘rump, posterior’; it’s a pity to lose the ghost-meaning ‘most worthy evangelists,’ but given a choice between a real rump and a ghost honorific, I have to go with the former. I linked Rubiner because I’m sure of the identification; I’m not quite as sure that Korrodi is Eduard Korrodi (1885-1955), long-time editor of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, and besides I couldn’t find a good page to link to. I have no idea who Anastasius Lilienstein might be. Oh, and note the pun of Johann Fox-gang Goethe, instead of Wolf-gang. Silly, silly dada!
As an example of the kind of thing with which he would have scandalized the public on such an occasion, read his sound-poem (Lautgedicht) “Karawane.”
If anyone whose German is better than mine has a quarrel with the translation, I beseech you to let me know; I’m willing and eager to improve it. (And if anyone wants to reproduce the translation elsewhere, feel free, but I’d appreciate it if you’d accompany it with “translated by Steve Dodson at Languagehat.”)