Expansive Poetics – (Dada Manifestos)

AG: I just referred back to  (Arthur) Rimbaud to check out the tone of the manifesto, of rejecting the old. And here is a Dada manifesto (I don’t know what year that would be? Does anybody know?  [Editorial note – it’s 1918] –  It might have been probably written during World War I, a little bit later than the Futurist manifestos of Italy and Russia.

These were composed by Tristan Tzara who was a Roumanian, who went to Paris and then wound up in Zurich during World War I with Hans Arp, Hugo Ball (Arp, the sculptor, Hugo Ball also a poet, a sound poet), Francis Picabia, a friend of (Pablo) Picasso and a painter and poet, on Mirror Street, or Spiegelgasse Street, in Zurich, two blocks down from where (Vladimir) Lenin was living, writing The State and Revolution. Four blocks from the cafe where (James) Joyce was writing Ulysses, and in the same town where a couple of years before, (Albert) Einstein had either taught, or taught his theory of relativity. (In that period of, say, 1910 to 1920, you’ll find Einstein changing the theory of the material universe with the theory of relativity, Joyce terminating the old history of the Western novel with Ulysses and getting into the cyclical framework – the Einstein-ian cyclical framework, of Finnegans Wake, the Dadaists proclaiming the end of civilization and the beginning of a new visionary real, and Lenin preparing manifestos and living in a room on Mirror Street (Spiegelgasse), from which he left, financed by a rich German, in the sealed train to go to Russia and take over the Revolution

Student: Tom Stoppard has a very funny play.
AG: Yes
Student: ..about that period
>AG: Yeah. I haven’t read that. What is it called?
Student: I saw it.. it’s called Travesties. I just saw it at C.U. (Colorado University) Theatre last..
AG: Yeah
Student: …(no) this spring. Very funny
AG: Travesties?
Student: Yeah
AG: Yeah, I’ve heard about that
Student: (Zurich)
AG: Does it put them all together?
Student: Yeah
AG: All the characters?
Student; Lenin and Tristan (Tzara) and Joyce
AG: Lenin, Tzara and Joyce
Student: Yeah

AG: Einstein was around also at the same time. A lot of other people were involved there because  Zurich was neutral in the war. Actually, what happened was that a lot of the French, Roumanian, Germans (Hugo Ball, German, Richard Huelsenbeck, also – who’s now still alive [1981] as a psychiatrist on Central Park West in New York), all gathered at the Cabaret Voltaire to put on little poetry readings and shows (just like at the Stray Dog Cafe, 1912) – so, five years later, in Zurich, another group of mad poets got together. And Tzara wrote manifestos. Dada prose.

“Manifesto by Monsieur Antipyrine”. (“Antipyrine”, that’s an anti-flame killer, fire-killer. Is that right? – “pyrine”? – flame?)

Student: Retardant.

AG” Flame-retardant, yes. So, anti-war manifesto, in a sense. Their conception, as it’s generally taken to be, was that the entire humanity of Europe had gone mad and was involved in this monstrous war that involved England, France, America, Russia, the Italians, Austria, the Austro-Hungarian Empire – the entire civilized Western world had gone nuts (which was quite true, and which was obvious to all the great poets of the time, including Ezra Pound, who wrote specifically about it – angrily about it). These were, in a sense, draft-dodgers (like the guys who (during the Vietnam War) went off to Canada). People gathered in neutral Switzerland from all over Europe to survey… to do something active, to live, to have an artistic life outside of the war, surveying it in safety in Zurich, which was the financial center. They took over a little cabaret and they had little funny manifestos, and, in that situation, the idea of “cut-up” was born, the idea of taking texts and taking your verses and texts and cutting them up with a razor (actually, taking a newspaper, cutting it up with a razor), putting it into a hat and picking out words and then composing a poem out of the words brought by chance out of the hat (which is actually old Oriental wisdom, such as the I Ching – that is, the chance signals, given anywhere in the universe, or the chance choices, or the chances, emerging anywhere in the universe, (are one) representative of the condition of the universe at that time. It’s part of the universe at that time, so in that sense there is no accident in chance. Chance is the surest and most direct way to take a core sample of the universe as it stands). Does that make sense?

Student: Um-hmm

AG: In other words, random chance will give you a pattern of the universe, perhaps more accurately than any pattern imposed by simplifying the universe to conceptions available to the human mind and to formulas available to language and abstraction, such as (the) Einstein-ian relative universe, or (a William) Blake-an slogan, like “The Eye altering alters all”, or Hegelian dialectic, or Communist Manifesto, or E=MC2, or Declaration of Independence, or Immanuel Kant‘s generalizations. If you just pluck at random the words out of a hat, you’ll probably come to a formula to express through which the universe expresses (itself), or comes through, or you come to an expression of the universe. The universe will be expressing itself that way.


“DADA is our intensity which erects inconsequential bayonets to the Sumatral head of a German baby. Dada is without slippers or parallel, which is against and for unity and decidedly against the future. We know wisely that our brains will become downy cushions, that our anti-dogmaicism is as exclusivist as the functionary, and that we are not free and go crying, “Liberty”. Severe necessity without discipline or morality and we spit on humanity.” – (“A Slap on the Face of Public Taste”, except this is more humorous) – “DADA remains within the frame of European weaknesses. It is all the same “de la merde” (of the shit) but it is the shits, but we wish from now to dedicate in various colors” – (it’s not “defecate” but “delicate” in various colors) – “By way of adorning the zoological garden of art and all the flags of the consulates. We are circus masters and go on whistling among the winds of fairs, among the convents, prostitutions, theaters, realities, sentiments, restaurants. Ho Hi Ho Ho bang bang.
“We declare that the auto is feeling that has coddled us sufficiently in the sluggishness of its abstractions and the transatlantics and the noises and the ideas. However, we exteriorize the facility, we seek the central essence and we are happy at being able to conceal i. We do not care to count the windows of the marvelous elite for DADA does not exist for anyone and we would like for everybody to understand that. For it is the balcony of Dada, I assure you.  For where one can hear the military march to come down, cutting the air like a seraph in a popular bath. Pro pithia – to piss – and understand the parabola

DADA is not madness – nor wisdom – nor irony look at me pretty bourgeois.  Art was a jeu noisette – (“jeu noisette“?  – Qu’est que c’est noisette?

Student: Nuts  (“nut-case”)

AG: Art was a nutty game? Art was a nutty plaything?  [Allen continues] – “Art was a jeu noisette, the children assembled the words which have a set of chimes on the end” – (Rhymes, of course) – “when they wept and wailed the strophe, and they put on it the doll’s boots and the strophe became to die a little and the queen became whalebone (baleine) and the children ran until they were out of breath – ( à perdre haleine) – Then came the great ambassadors of feeling who cried historically in chorus.

Psychology Psychology hihi Science Science Science vive la France we are not naive we are successive we are exclusive we are not simple and we are quite well able to discuss intelligence. But we, DADA, we are not of their persuasion, for art is not serious, I assure you.  And if we are to show the crime to utter learnedly ventilator, it is for your pleasure, kind auditors, I love you so much and I assure you and I adore you.

If I cry: Ideal, ideal, ideal, Knowledge, knowledge, knowledge.Boomboom, boomboom, boomboom, I have given an exact registering of progress, law, morality, and all other fine qualities which different and highly intelligent individuals have discussed in so many books, only to say at the end that each one has danced according to his personal boom boom.


Every product of disgust susceptible of becoming a negation of the family is dada; fistic protest with one’s whole being in destructive action: DADA; familiarity with all the means rejected up to the present by the modest sex of convenient compromise and politeness: DADA, abolition of  logic, dance of creation’s impotence: DADA; all the hierarchic and social equations inaugurated for the sake of values by our valets: DADA, each object, all the objects, the feelings and the obscurities, the apparitions, and the precise shock of parallel lines are means for the combat: DADA; abolition of the memory: DADA; abolition of the future; DADA; absolute undebateable belief in every god immediate product of the spontaneity: DADA; elegant and unprejudiced leap from one harmony to the other sphere, trajectory of a word hurled like a discus, sonorous shout, to respect all the individualities and their madness of the moment, serious, fearful, timid, ardent, vigorous, decided, enthusiastic, to peel one’s church of every cumbersome and useless accessory, to spit out like a luminous cascade the disobliging or amorous thought, or to coddle it with the lively satisfaction that it’s all one, with the same intensity in the bush, pure of insects for the blood well-born and gilded with the bodies of archangels, with its soul, freedom DADA DADA DADA; howling of shriveled colors, interlacing of contrarieties and of all the contradictions, grotesques, inconsequentials. Life. ”

Then, from a later manuscript given to the editor of a book called The European Caravan, which is a collection of Futurist and Dadaist texts in (19)31, by Tzara:
Take a good look at me!/ I am absurd, I play the fool, I am a mystifier./ Take a good look at me/I’m ugly, my face is expressionless, I am small/I’m like you all!”

“But ask yourself, before you look at me, if the iris through which you send me those watery sentimental darts is not flies’ dung. If your belly’s eyes are not sections of rumors whose glances sometime will emerge from some part or other of your body under the form of a gonorrheal flux.
You see with your navel, why do you deprive yourself of the ridiculous spectacle which we offer you. And lower down, woman’s organ with teeth which swallow everything. The poetry of eternity, love, pure love, naturally, rare steaks and oil paintings, all those who look and who comprehend readily take a stand between poetry and love, between the steak and the painting. They should be digested. They shall be digested.
For I, chameleon change infiltration to convenient attitudes, multi-colored opinions for every occasion, dimension, and price. I do the contrary of what I propose for others.

Further, “Dada Manifesto on Weak Love and Bitter Love” (“Dada manifeste sur l’amour fable et l’amour amer“) “Anti-Dadaism is a disease: self kleptomania, the normal state of man is DADA”
– But the real dadas are against DADA.


Take a newspaper.
Take shears.
Select in the newspaper an article of the length which it is your intention that your poem should be.
Clip the article.

(I presume this would be an article on the German advance on the French or the Italian’s advance at Caporetto, “America Declares War”, on the sinking of the Titanic, or the Lusitania) – [Allen continues..]

Clip the article
Then cut out carefully each of the words which compose this article and put them in a bag.
Shake gently.
Then lay each clipping down in the order in which it comes out of the bag.
Copy conscientiously.
The poem will be like you.
And there you are, an entirely original and charmingly sensitive writer, not yet appreciated by the mob

Here’s where you all blow up, and you are all going to blow up, I swear. The great mystery is a secret but it is known by certain persons. They will never tell you what dada is. To amuse you once more I will tell you something like:

dada is dictatorship of the mind, or
dada is dictatorship of language
or else
dada is the death of the mind
which will please many of my friends. Friends.

DADA is a virgin microbe
DADA is against the high cost of living
corporation for the exploitation of ideas
DADA has 391 different hues and poses according to the sex of the chairman
It is transformed – affirmed – states the contrary at the sme time – unimportant – shouts – goes fishing.
Dada is the chameleon of rapid and interested change
Dada is agains tthe future. Dada is dead. Dead is absurd. Long live Dada. Dada is not a literary school, how!

DADA is not a doctrine to put into practice: Dada – it is to lie: something that goes (qui marche bien) Dada runs into debt and does not lives on its wench. The good God created a universal language, that is why nobody takes it seriously. A language is a Utopia. God can afford not to be successful. Dada also.”

Those are selections from Dada manifestos, which you’ll find in The European Caravan, which I’ll put in the library, which has an extended…  And, I guess, there are several other books which contain some of the basic Dadaist manifestos…

(Audio for the above can be found here, starting at approximately forty-seven minutes in and concluding at the end of the tape)


  1. Dada rides the donkey home which sucks upon your shiny dome.
    And all the while he views your ass with puckered lips and brilliant bass.
    Walk out with me in orchestral light, to take the air of diamond flight.
    Smash all glass houses with our stones and grab all jewelled unbroken bones.
    For dada is the best of all, a diamond hub-capped festival.

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