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

06 January 2012

Dada in the Netherlands and The Printed Head

The amazing, amazing people over at Atlas Press in the UK publish several very cool series of books. One of my favorite series is called The Printed Head. This series publishes all kinds of hard-to-get-ahold-of things like, for example, a sequence of Federico García Lorca plays that have never before been translated into English, or a sequence of poems by Symboliste poet Saint-Pol-Roux, or Jacques Rigaut's impossible-to-find "Lord Patchogue".

This series is filled with unknown and undiscovered gems. I am a little obsessed. So, when they recently published Theo van Doesburg's "What Is Dada???" I treated myself to one of the 300 copies in print.

"What Is Dada???" is phenomenal, and gives a great picture of what dada became and where dada went after its demise in Paris in the early 1920s.

As you probably know, I am in love with dada, so I found Doesburg's writings pretty wonderful. I want to share some thoughts that Doesburg includes in his list of aphorisms entitled "The Other Sight" which is included in The Printed Head text. This stuff is so cool!

From Theo van Doesburg:

Dadaism. Should a deeper meaning lurk behind "nonsense" than that of normality, then "nonsense" is not only permissible but indeed necessary. Thus shall Dadaism create new supersensible norms.

Portrait painters. [...] Drawing up an accurate formula for a face in paint has no more artistic value than a legal document has literary.

Truth and religion. They cancel each other out. One is a blossoming of life, the other the suppression of life, cause of sickness and coercion into normality. Do you love truth? Then spit poison. Love yourself? Then practise religion.

The value of abnormality. What is abnormal? That which deviates from form rusted into dogma. The denial of this norm makes new value possible. The abnormal is the prerequisite of new values.

Representation and reality. All ages created an idea of life for themselves. That is now in the past. The idea of life is creating an image for itself in us at present.

Tape-measure morality. Vegetarianism is a question of the tape-measure. Hardly a second passes when we are not feasting upon animals or being feasted upon by them. The microscope, caricature of large and small, is a material "other sight". The principle of life is completely amoral. Before every birth there is an annihilation. The morality of the tape-measure is a blind self-defence; if blood had a different colour, vegetarianism and Christianity would have had fewer adherents. By casting ourselves with all of our weakness against this morality of the tape-measure, with no other intention than keeping ourselves beyond the external exchange of forms of life, we deprive ourselves to a great extent of the opportunity to take a creative part in the universal events of life.

The bloated corpses. Every era has its vultures and jackals, which prey on the corpses of perished art, religion or culture. They gorge themselves on it and grow fat contentedly.