Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

07 October 2010

Francis Picabia and Dada

The most recent text I have been reading is a collection of Francis Picabia's poetry and prose from his pre-Dada period through to the end of his life. It is called I Am a Beautiful Monster and it the most Dada of anything Dada I've ever read.

I find Picabia completely totally delightful for pretty much all of the years leading up to his Dada phase and I find him one of the most exciting, ridiculous, fabulous writers I've ever read for the duration of his time spent with Paris Dada. His critiques of Dada are also interesting -- at least to me -- but I lost interest in Picabia after the last of these.

Still, some of this stuff is just extraordinary!


The following segments are taken from a long poem that is mostly nonsense called Poésie Ron-ron.

I am excerpting just my favorite parts:
Napoleon
one can imagine he amused Paris
he was a member of every circle
and the biggest fusspot
was in love with him
what an example for the children
...
the cholera of times past
was more beautiful than war
the names of all great men
piece of rag at street corners
fed on digestive tablets

And these are from Pensées sans Language:
on a stone
where a pale and delicate
acacia swims
a cubist declared to me
that I was crazy
...
what charming people these artists are
attached to the stretchers of art
I haven't a single penny to buy a work of art
...
like the virginity of men
that of women is a joke
virgins are like military incompetence
dramatic turn of events for bourgeois morality
I see only cowardly morals
...
there you have it monsieur madame
this century has ravishing charm
reforms become useless
one has children when one wants
a simple question of hygiene
to not have them
science is antiseptic
love isn't so on the pillow
humbly admit that you are not unaware of places of ill repute
at polygamous moments
...
what happiness
to have infallible intuition
and to know how to behave
like one of Shakespeare's
great ladies
...
and the moon impatiently mounts the sky
if you know what I mean

The following is an open letter to the poet Rachilde, whose real name was Marguerite Eymery, but who, when beginning her career in Paris, passed out cards reading "Rachilde: homme des lettres" (which explains the "woman of letters" quip below). Rachilde dressed in men's clothing when she was young and wrote scandalous and very sexy novels and plays, but when she became older she became much more conservative and nationalist. Picabia, who loathed nationalism, wrote the following open letter to Rachilde in a Dada review called Cannibale:
To Madame Rachilde
Woman of letters and good patriot
Madame,
You've presented yourself on your own, with your lonely French nationality. Congratulations. As for me, I am of several nationalities and Dada is like myself.
I was born in Paris, of a Cuban, Spanish, French, Italian, and American family, and what is most astonishing is that I have the very clear impression of being all these nationalities at once!
This is no doubt a form of dementia praecox; I prefer, however, this form to the one that affected William II, who considered himself to be the only representative of the only Germany.
William II and his friends were good patriots. Just like you, Madame...
Yours sincerely.

There is a wealth of delightful writing in this collection. This guy was a true character of the modern era. Imagine a man consistently signing his poems, Francis Picabia, the Funny Guy (which he did) or Francis Picabia, the Failure (which he also did, and frequently).