The Dada movement was founded on stuttering. It is even named in babble, an un-name that denies the authority of the name. It produced nonsensical works, illegible texts, unknown sounds, pioneering an aesthetic of interruption in response to the effects of World War I on the modern psyche. The stutter is always an internal response to an external encounter, or in this case, an external shock. The notion of the traumatic is certainly a part of the stutter’s narrative, it is especially so in the work of Dada. Dada was heavily invested in the arbitrariness of signifier and signified, privileging the slippage between the two. While Dada is seen as an art movement, it is also an aesthetic movement that has poetry at its center. One of Dada’s most iconic images is of Hugo Ball in a lobster suit reading his sound poem Karawane, written in his own invented language. It is composed entirely of nonsense words, an entire poem of pallaksh or the maw. Meaning here is happening at the level of sound rather than the lexical level. It is the unconscious of language at its beginning of formation.

The chaos and confusion of Dada’s poetry, as well as its collage and photomontage can be seen here as representing gridlock. Many of these works capture an overwhelming amalgamation of sectioned off words and images collected in a single image that challenges and disrupts the viewer. Early on, some of Dada’s photomontage were said to have caused traumatic side effects in some viewers not unlike PTSD. There is a circulation of violence within the Dada tradition, as it reverberates out of the war, the images perpetuate a certain battlefield aesthetic where one does not know what is going on and becomes subject to a perpetual shock of images. Dada is a battle cry, a rupture in the world of mimesis.

While Dada was seen as a major disruption in the art world, Dadaists were responding to what they already saw as a disruption. They felt that the art wasn’t accurately reflecting the time and that there was already a disjunction between the reality of the world and the work it was producing. Dada arrived when there was already nonsense, just as stuttering arrives when there has already been the unspeakable. The Dada manifesto calls for people to collect their scattered and blasted limbs from the street. The subject is in pieces and this reality should be echoed through their art and certainly through their language. Language should succumb to the same blasting into pieces, to the same loss of the self. They felt that for language and art to remain intact in the aftermath of the war was absurd. What was a violent intrusion into the body and psyche manifests into language, manifests at the level of representation, or rather as a crisis of representation or non-representation, non-mimetic accounts. The idea of a Dada manifesto is itself already a stutter, as the manifesto must necessarily manifest something, it must represent. Dada resists and refuses to manifest, it subverts the authority of its own manifesto. Dada is a continual shifting of tracks and a refusal to track that privileges the misfire. What does get manifested is this distant strangeness, the necessity and impossibility of relation when one is both trying to re-construct oneself and simultaneously comment on the external world. In other words, what we see is a manifestation of the maw.


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