Dadaism and German Poetry essay

Dadaism was one of the most influential modernist movements, which produced a profound impact on the development of the 20th century art at large and poetry in particular.  In this respect, it should be said that Germany became one of the major centers of Dadaism, which persisted since the mid-1910s till the mid-1920s. In spite of the fact that Dadaism existed for about a decade only, its contribution in the development of modern poetry and art can hardly be underestimated. In fact, Dadaism was a challenge to the traditional poetry and art. Its rebellious nature encouraged poets belonging to other movements follow the example of Dadaist and launch experiments, which, to a significant extent, changed the development of the traditional poetry and art.

On analyzing the development of Dadaism, it is important to lay emphasis on the fact that Dadaism emerged in response to the dramatic changes in the life of society provoked by World War I. In fact, Dadaism was a response of artists to the military conflict which eventually involved the entire world. Dadaists believed that it was capitalism and imperialism that made the world slipping to the war. As a result, they stood on the anti-war ground and rejected all the ideals associated with traditional art and poetry because they believed such art and poetry to be the product of capitalist system, which Dadaists criticized severely. Therefore, they rejected the traditional poetry as reactionary.

Instead, they developed absolutely unique, different style which could be characterized as anti-art.

At the same time, it should be said that the development of Dadaism was one of the manifestations of the progressing modernism which became the mainstream trend in the early 20th century art and defined its development for many years ahead. In such a context, the anti-war Dadaist movement can be viewed as one of the modifications of modernist movement in response to World War I, which apparently affected poets and other artists, who could not keep from expressing their opposition to the war and policy of leaders of many countries involved in the war.

However, the denial of the traditional art by Dadaists led to the emergence of absolutely new forms and a totally style, which distinguished Dadaist poetry from traditional poetry. In this respect, it is important to lay emphasis on the fact that Germany becomes one of the major centers of Dadaism, which originated from Switzerland. At this point, it is obvious that traditionally close links between German and Swiss artists and poets contributed to the fast spread of Dadaism in Germany, which eventually became the major center of Dadaist poetry and art, at large.

On the other hand, Dadaism proved to be extremely experimental and, as the matter of fact, the audience was unprepared for the adequate perception of Dadaist poetry. Many critics as well as ordinary people refused to accept Dadaist poetry as a true poetry, as art and many works of Dadaist poets remained without the attention of the audience. Nevertheless, they did not want to adapt their poetry to the demands of the public, which they believed was affected by the dominant capitalist culture.

However, the confrontation of Dadaism with the traditional poetry and culture as well as art failed to last for a long period of time. By the mid-1920s Dadaism seized its existence and gave way to other modernist movements which, though, inherited some elements of Dadaism. Among these movements, it is possible to name Surrealism, Nouveau Realism, Pop Art and others. On analyzing the causes of decline of Dadaism at large and Dadaism in German poetry in particular, it should be said that the anti-war origin of the movement played a significant role in its further decline. Germany suffered from a profound socioeconomic crisis after the end of World War I and poets were really disenchanted with the failure of the recovery of the country, when their major goal, the end of the war, was achieved.

As a result, they redirected their attention on other problems and continued their experiments in the field of poetry developing new movements and styles on the basis of Dadaism or preserving some elements of Dadaism.

Among pre-avant-garde poets, that is, those who were forerunners in the programmatic ideals of the Dadaist poets, it is possible to name two key figures in the German scene: Christian Morgernstern and Paul Scheerbart. Christian Morgernstern (1871-1914), born in Munich in a family of painters and subject to constant moving from one city to another, is nowadays one of the most popular German poets of the first half of the twentieth century. his early years in literary circles when he followed the trends of the moment (devotion for Nietzsche, translator of Ibsen, author of a sentimental and metaphysical literature…) were not that successful, rather, he became popular thanks to his witty work which represented a minor part of his whole opus. Morgernstern not only stands out for his sharp sense of humor but also for the innovation he introduced to his poems. his two best known pieces are the phonetic poem “das grosse lalulla”Â  written in 1890 though not published until  1905 and “ fisches naschtgesang” (the nocturnal song of the fish) , a visual poem in which the word is dismissed  and replaced by metric signs of quantity (which allow for  a sound reading). “Fisches nachtgesang”Â  is an anticipation of the Dadaists negation of language (cf.: “lautgedicht”Â  by man ray, 1925), of phonetic and visual poetry, coupled with an admirable sense of humor. According to doctor Jeremias Mueller (1871-1914) it was the most profound poem in the whole of German poetry. in 1897, Paul Scheerbart, a contemporary of Morgernstern, published “ich liebe dich! ein eisenbahroman” (i love you! a railroad novel) with 66 intermezzi, among which the phonetic poem “ kikakoku!”. Scheerbart died some years later due to the hunger strike he underwent to protest against the outbreak of the First World War.

However, the development of theories on phonetic poetry was to come later, with the advent of Dadaism. Hugo Ball, in Zurich and Raoul Hausmann in Berlin began to work, each one on their own and without knowing each other, on a new way of making poetry that annihilated traditional language, indeed, that was phonetic poetry, regularly performed and based on theoretical substance. The first steps were taken by Hugo Ball in 1916 in the cabaret Voltaire with poems such as “karawane” and “gadji beri bimba”, which included dressing-up and performance elements. At the same time, Raoul Hausmann was developing in Berlin his optic-phonetic poems, inspired by Italian futurists.

Only when he read Ball’s phonetic poems published in almanac dada in that same 1916 year, did he realize he was not the inventor of phonetic poetry. nevertheless, we must highlight an essential difference: while ball worked  on words without meaning, Hausmann went far beyond working on random combinations of letters (often being print types), i.e.: directly with sounds as is the case for  poems “fmsbw” and “kp erioum” , thus not allowing for the possibility of creating a new language.

Hausmannís “fmsbw” was the seminal piece of “ ursonate or sonate mit urlauten” (sonata with primigenius) written in 1923 by Kurt Schwitters, the most successful work of the whole Dadaist phonetic production. It is a 45-minute piece structured as if a musical sonata in four movements with a totally fixed score. a piece of major importance that Sschwitters was able to publish ten years after, during his exile in England. Among the variety of his works, it is possible to name the poem “Bildgedichte” , which was created by Schwitters in 1922 and this poem is a typical representation of the 20th Dadaist poem. It should be pointed out that it is totally different from traditional poems since the author mainly focuses on the graphic representation of the poem rather than on the content of the poem itself. In fact, the poem contains a set of letters placed in different parts of the page. Some of them are placed in squares that is probably made intentionally to emphasize their significance. However, the graphical representation is apparently primary for the poet, while the textual representation and contents of the poem are insignificant. In such a way, the poet apparently to show his attitude to the traditional poetry and he wanted to evoke strong emotion in readers because the different, unusual representation of his poem made the audience think about the significance of the traditional poetry, whether there is really more logic and sense in the traditional poetry than in the poetry created by Schwitters. Anyway, this poem was a serious challenge to the traditional poetry and to the audience, though many readers were apparently unprepared for such poems.

In this respect, the poem “Kaspar Is Dead” by Jean Hans Arp is closer to the traditional poetry, but still it is a sample of Dadaist poetry. In fact, the poet creates quite a pessimistic, dark poem where he describes the death and funeral of Kaspar, which creates quite a gloomy impression and evokes negative feeling and emotions because of quite a depressing style of the poem. At the same time, the poet probably attempts to shock the audience by such a focus on the burial ceremony and the death of Kaspar. In actuality, the author could use the death and funeral of Kaspar as a symbol of the decay and degradation of the modern society and capitalist system. This message was absolutely relevant to the post-war and post-revolutionary Germany of the 1920s when the country suffered from socioeconomic problems and degradation. In such a situation, the death and destruction of the traditional social order could have affected the poetry of Jean Hans Arp.

On the other hand, in a way, it is possible to interpret this poem as a symbol of the close end of Dadaism and its decline because by the mid-1920s the movement was almost dead and seized its existence. However, the influence of Dadaist German poets could be traced even in the middle of the 20th century. For instance, the first important outbreak of avant-garde performances, which were closely intertwined with Dadaism, within the post-war Germanic scene took place in Vienna in the 1950s: a group of poets and creators under the name of die wiener gruppe, active mainly during the period 1954-1960. in this group we find some of the main figures of post-war German avant-garde poetry such as Gerhard Ruhm, Konrad Bayer, Hans Carl Artmann, Friedrich Achleitner, Friederike Mayrocker and Oswald Wiener. their contributions, all strongly influenced by Dadaism, are numerous: they initiated the poetic act (der poetische act), precursor of the poetic performance theorized by Artmann and later on by r¸hm; they linked avant-garde practices with jazz, which by that time was the popular music; they introduced the Viennese dialect in avant-garde written poetry, an element also used by Jandl and more recently,  by Ide Hintze, sustaining an uncomfortably political stand, both clearly pacifist and contrary to the rearment of Austria of 1955, coherent with the Dadaist anti-belicist ideals.

Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that the development of Dadaism produced a profound impact on German poetry in the 1910s ”“ 1920s. At the same time, Dadaist influence can be traced in other literary movements of the 20th century However, Dadaism was a real challenge to the 20th century poetry and art because it was directed against traditional styles and values which were the characteristics of traditional poetry and social order. But, the experiments of Dadaists persisted for about a decade only.

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