From "Dada Manifesto"  and "Lecture on Dada" , translated from the French by Robert Motherwell, Dada Painters and Poets (New York) pp. 78- 9, 81, 246-51.
There is a literature that does not reach the voracious mass. It is the work of creators, issued from a real necessity in the author, produced for himself. It expresses the knowledge of a supreme egoism, in which laws wither away. Every page must explode, either by profound heavy seriousness, the whirlwind, poetic frenzy, the new, the eternal, the crushing joke, enthusiasm for principles, or by the way in which it is printed. On the one hand a tottering world in flight, betrothed to the glockenspiel of hell, on the other hand: new men. Rough, bouncing, riding on hiccups. Behind them a crippled world and literary quacks with a mania for improvement.
I say unto you: there is no beginning and we do not tremble, we are not sentimental. We are a furious Wind, tearing the dirty linen of clouds and prayers, preparing the great spectacle of disaster, fire, decomposition. We will put an end to mourning and replace tears by sirens screeching from one continent to another. Pavilions of intense joy and widowers with the sadness of poison. Dada is the signboard of abstraction; advertising and business are also elements of poetry.
I destroy the drawers of the brain and of social organization: spread demoralization wherever I go and cast my hand from heaven to hell, my eyes from hell to heaven, restore the fecund wheel of a universal circus to objective forces and the imagination of every individual.
Philosophy is the question: from which side shall we look at life, God, the idea or other phenomena. Everything one looks at is false. I do not consider the relative result more important than the choice between cake and cherries after dinner. The system of quickly looking at the other side of a thing in order to impose your opinion indirectly is called dialectics, in other words, haggling over the spirit of fried potatoes while dancing method around it. If I cry out:
Ideal, ideal, ideal,
Knowledge, knowledge, knowledge,
Boomboom, boomboom, boomboom,
I have given a pretty faithful version of progress, law, morality and
all other fine qualities that various highly intelligent men have discussed
in so manv books, only to conclude that after all everyone dances to his
own personal boomboom, and that the writer is entitled to his boomboom:
the satisfaction of pathological curiosity; a private bell for inexplicable
needs; a bath; pecuniary difficulties; a stomach with repercussions in
life; the authority of the mystic wand formulated as the bouquet of a phantom
orchestra made up of silent fiddle bows greased with philtres made of chicken
manure. With the blue eye-glasses of an angel they have excavated the inner
life for a dime's worth of unanimous gratitude. If all of them are right
and if all pills are Pink Pills, let us try for once not to be right. Some
people think they can explain rationally, by thought, what they think.
But that is extremely relative. Psychoanalysis is a dangerous disease,
it puts to sleep the anti-objective impulses of men and systematizes the
bourgeoisie. There is no ultimate Truth. The dialectic is an amusing mechanism
which guides us / in a banal kind of way / to the opinions we had in the
first place. Does anyone think that, by a minute refinement of logic, he
has demonstrated the truth and established the correctness of these opinions?
Logic imprisoned by the senses is an organic disease. To this element philosophers
always like to add: the power of observation. But actually this magnificent
quality of the mind is the proof of its impotence. We observe, we regard
from one or more points of view, we choose them among the millions that
exist. Experience is also a product of chance and individual faculties.
Science disgusts me as soon as it becomes a speculative system, loses its
character of utility-that is so useless but is at least individual. I detest
greasy objectivity, and harmony, the science that finds everything in order.
Carry on, my children, humanity . . . Science says we are the servants
of nature: everything is in order, make love and bash your brains in. Carry
on, my children, humanity, kind bourgeois and journalist virgins . . .
I am against systems, the most acceptable system is on principle to have
none. To complete oneself, to perfect oneself in one's own littleness,
to fill the vessel with one's individuality, to have the courage to fight
for and against thought, the mystery of bread, the sudden burst of an infernal
propeller into economic lilies.... Every product of disgust capable of
becoming a negation of the family is Dada; a protest with the fists of
its whole being engaged in destructivc action: Dada; knowledge of
all the means rejected up until now by the shamefaced sex of comfortable
compromise and good manners: Dada; abolition of logic, which is the dance
of those impotent to create: Dada; of every social hierarchy and equation
set up for the sake of values by our valets: Dada; every object, all objects,
sentiments, obscurities, apparitions and the precise clash of parallel
lines are weapons for the fight: Dada; abolition of memory: Dada; abolition
of archaeology: Dada; abolition of prophets: Dada; abolition of the future:
Dada; absolute and unquestionable faith in every god that is the immediate
product of spontaneity: Dada; elegant and unprejudiced leap from
a harmony to the other sphere; trajectory of a word tossed like a screeching
phonograph record; to respect all individuals in their folly of the moment:
whether it be serious, fearful, timid, ardent, vigorous, determined, enthusiastic;
to divest one's church of every useless cumbersome accessory; to spit out
disagreeable or amorous ideas like a luminous waterfall, or coddle them
-with the extreme satisfaction that it doesn't matter in the least-with
the same intensity in the thicket of one's soul-pure of insects for blood
well-born, and gilded with bodies of archangels. Freedom: Dada Dada Dada,
a roaring of tense colors, and interlacing of opposites and of all contradictions,
grotesques, inconsistencies: LIFE
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I don't have to tell you that for the general public and for you, tlhe refined public, a Dadaist is the equivalent of a leper. But that is only a manner of speaking. When these same people get close to us, they treat us with that remnant of elegance that comes from their old habit of belief in progress. At ten yards distance, hatred begins again. If you ask me why, I won't be able to tell you.
Another characteristic of Dada is the continuous breaking off of our friends. They are always breaking off and resigning. The first to tender his resignation from the Dada movement was myself. Everybody knows that Dada is nothing. I broke away from Dada and from myself as soon as I understood the implications of nothing.
If I continue to do something, it is because it amuses me, or rather because I have a need for activity which I use up and satisfy wherever I can. Basically, the true Dadas have always been separate from Dada. Those who acted as if Dada were important enough to resign from with a big noise have been motivated by a desire for personal publicity, proving that counterfeiters have always wriggled like unclean worms in and out of the purest and most radiant religions.
I know that you have come here today to hear explanations. Well, don't expect to hear any explanations about Dada. You explain to me why you exist. You haven't the faintest idea. You will say: I exist to make my children happy. But in your hearts you know that isn't so. You will say: I exist to guard my country, against barbarian invasions. That's a fine reason. You will say: I exist because God wills. That's a fairy tale for children. You will never be able to tell me why you exist but you will always be ready to maintain a serious attitude about life. You will never understand that life is a pun, for you will never be alone enough to reject hatred, judgments, all these things that require such an effort, in favor of a calm level state of mind that makes everything equal and without importance. Dada is not at all modern. It is more in the nature of a return to an almost Buddhist religion of indifference. Dada covers things with an artificial gentleness, a snow of butterflies released from the head of a prestidigitator. Dada is immobility and does not comprehend the passions. You will call this a paradox, since Dada is manifested only in violent acts. Yes, the reactions of individuals contaminated by destruction are rather violent, but when these reactions are exhausted, annihilated by the Satanic insistence of a continuous and progressive "What for?" what remains, what dominates is indifference. But with the same note of conviction I might maintain the contrary.
I admit that my friends do not approve this point of view. But the Nothing can be uttered only as the reflection of an individual. And that is why it will be valid for everyone, since everyone is important only for the individual who is expressing himself.--I am speaking of myself. Even that is too much for me. How can I be expected to speak of all men at once, and satisfy them too?
Nothing is more delightful than to confuse and upset people. People one doesn't like. What's the use of giving them explanations that are merely food for curiosity? The truth is that people love nothing but themselves and their little possessions, their income, their dog. This state of affairs derives from a false conception of property. If one is poor in spirit, one possesses a sure and indomitable intelligence, a savage logic, a point of view that can not be shaken. Try to be empty and fill your brain cells with a petty happiness. Always destroy what you have in you. On random walks. Then you will be able to understand many things. You are not more intelligent than we, and we are not more intelligent than you.
Intelligence is an organization like any other, the organization of society, the organization of a bank, the organization of chit-chat. At a society tea. It serves to create order and clarity where there is none. It serves to create a state hierarchy. To set up classifications for rational work. To separate questions of a material order from those of a cerebral ordcr, but to take the former very seriously. Intelligence is the triumph of sound education and pragmatism. Fortunately life is something else and its pleasures are innumerable. They are not paid for in the coin of liquid intelligence.
These observations of everyday conditions have led us to a realization which constitutes our minimum basis of agreement, aside from the sympathy which binds us and which is inexplicable. It would not have been possible for us to found our agreement on principles. For everything is relative. What are the Beautiful, the Good, Art, Freedom? Words that have a different meaning for every individual. Words with the pretension of creating agreement among all, and that is why they are written with capital letters. Words which have not the moral value and objective force that people have grown accustomed to finding in them. Their meaning changes from one individual, one epoch, one country to the next. Men are different. It is diversity that makes life interesting. There is no common basis in mens minds. The unconscious is inexhaustible and uncontrollable. Its force surpasses us. It is as mysterious as the last particle of a brain cell. Even if we knew it, we could not reconstruct it.
What good did the theories of the philosophers do us? Did they help us to take a single step forward or backward? What is forward, what is backward? Did they alter our forms of contentment? We are. We argue, we dispute, we get excited. The rest is sauce. Sometimes pleasant, sometimes mixed with a limitless boredom, a swamp dotted with tufts of dying shrubs.
We have had enough of the intelligent movements that have stretched beyond measure our credulity in the benefits of science. What we want now is spontaneity. Not because it is better or more beautiful than anything else. But because everything that issues freely from ourselves, without the intervention of speculative ideas, represents us. We must intensify this quantity of life that readily spends itself in every quarter. Art is not the most precious manifestation of life. Art has not the celestial and universal value that people like to attribute to it. Life is far more interesting. Dada knows the correct measure that should be given to art: with subtle, perfidious methods, Dada introduces it into daily life. And vice versa. In art, Dada reduces everything to an initial simplicity, growing always more relative. It mingles its caprices with the chaotic wind of creation and the barbaric dances of savage tribes. It wants logic reduced to a personal minimum, while literature in its view should be primarily intended for the individual who makes it. Words have a weight of their own and lend themselves to abstract construction. The absurd has no terrors for me, for from a more exalted point of view everything in life seems absurd to me. Only the elasticity of our conventions creates a bond between disparate acts. The Beautiful and the True in art do not exist; what interests me is the intensity of a personality transposed directly, clearly into the work; the man and his vitality; the angle from which he regards the elements and in what manner he knows how to gather sensation, emotion, into a lacework of words and sentiments.
Dada tries to find out what words mean before using them, from the point of view not of grammar but of representation. Objects and colors pass through the same filter. It is not the new technique that interests us, but the spirit. Why do you want us to be preoccupied with a pictorial, moral, poetic, literary, political or social renewal? We are well aware that these renewals of means are merely the successive cloaks of the various epochs of history, uninteresting questions of fashion and facade. We are well aware that people in the costumes of the Renaissance were pretty much the same as the people of today, and that Chouang-Dsi was just as Dada as we are. You are mistaken if you take Dada for a modern school, or even for a reaction against the schools of today. Several of my statements have struck you as old and natural, what better proof that you were a Dadaist without knowing it, perhaps even before the birth of Dada.
You will often hear that Dada is a state of mind. You may be gay, sad,
afflicted, joyous, melancholy or Dada. Without being literary, you can
be romantic, you can be dreamy, weary, eccentric, a businessman, skinny, transfigured, vain, amiable or Dada. This will happen later on in
the course of history when Dada has become a precise, habitual word, when popular repetition has given it the character of a word organic
with its necessary content. Today no one thinks of the literature of the Romantic school in representing a lake, a landscape, a character.
Slowly but surely, a Dada character is forming.
Dada is here, there and a little everywhere, such as it is, with its faults, with its personal differences and distinctions which it accepts and views with indifference. We are often told that we are incoherent, but into this word people try to put an insult that it is rather hard for me to fathom. Everything is incoherent. The gentleman who decides to take a bath but goes to the movies instead. The one who wants to be quiet but says things that haven't even entered his head. Another who has a precise idea on some subject but succeeds only in expressing the opposite in words which for him are a poor translation. There is no logic. Only relative necessities discovered a posteriori, valid not in any exact sense but only as explanations. The acts of life have no beginning or end. Everything happens in a completely idiotic way. That is why everything is alike. Simplicity is called Dada.
Any attempt to conciliate an inexplicable momentary state with logic strikes me as a boring kind of game. The convention of the spoken language is ample and adequate for us, but for our solitude, for our intimate games and our literature we no longer need it.
The beginnings of Dada were not the beginnings of an art, but of a disgust. Disgust with the magnificence of philosophers who for 3ooo years have been explaining everything to us (what for? ), disgust with the pretensions of these artists-God's-representatives-on-earth, disgust with passion and with real pathological wickedness where it was not worth the bother; disgust with a false form of domination and restriction en masse, that accentuates rather than appeases man's instinct of domination, disgust with all the catalogued categories, with the false prophets who are nothing but a front for the interests of money, pride, disease, disgust with the lieutenants of a mercantile art made to order according to a few infantile laws, disgust with the divorce of good and evil, the beautiful and the ugly (for why is it more estimable to be red rather than green, to the left rather than the right, to be large or small?). Disgust finally with the Jesuitical dialectic which can explain everything and fill people's minds with oblique and obtuse ideas without any physiological basis or ethnic roots, all this by means of blinding artifice and ignoble charlatans promises.
As Dada marches it continuously destroys, not in extension but in itself. From all these disgusts, may I add, it draws no conclusion, no pride, no benefit. It has even stopped combating anything, in the realization that it's no use, that all this doesn't matter. What interests a Dadaist is his own mode of life. But here we approach the great secret.
Dada is a state of mind. That is why it transforms itself according to races and events. Dada applies itself to everything, and yet it is nothing, it is the point where the yes and the no and all the opposites meet, not solemnly in the castles of human philosophies, but very simply at street corners, like dogs and grasshoppers.
Like everything in life, Dada is useless.
Dada is without pretension, as life should be.
Perhaps you will understand me better when I tell you that Dada is a
virgin microbe that penetrates with the insistence of air into all the
spaces that reason has not been able to fill with words or conventions.