MetaDada Broadside No. 6: Why Are We Dada?

How can one expect to put order into the chaos that constitutes that infinite and shapeless variation: man?
– Tristan Tzara, “Dada Manifesto 1918” (1918)

DBS-Why Are We Dada-Final2

Hand-Engraved-RWhy are we Dada? The very question itself is an oxymoron. Hence we are compelled to ask. The answer to this tenuous question is physically embedded in the web of neurons firing perceptions and impressions at the active screen of our mind; a screen that can’t help but intertwine sensory input with memory and fantasy and dream. We force these wiggling shapes into a flexible mold of reason; a matrix of liquid intent. Imposing our rational mental structures on the world is our illness with some undiscovered bacterial origin or viral mutation. We randomly swivel our heads and ask, “Why?” Rarely, if ever, do we fully recognize what we are doing. We dance the dance of reason, we shovel the muck of progress, we roll rocks endlessly up steep hills of rhetoric. We ask, “why?”Hand-Engraved-L

Thought is made in the mouth.
– Tristan Tzara, “Dada Manifesto on Feeble and Bitter Love” (1920)

H. Michael Sanders and William Boyle. Why?, single-channel video, 4:30 (2009)

I know you’re expecting some explanations about Dada. I’m not going to give you any. Explain to me why you exist. You’ve no idea… You’ll never know why you exist, but you’ll always allow yourselves to be easily persuaded to take life seriously.
– Tristan Tzara, “Lecture on Dada” (1922)


Profile 1: HUGO BALL (1886-1927), Founding Member of the Zurich Dada Group

Photo-BallHugo-Cabaret Voltaire Performance-1916

I don’t want words that other people have invented. All the words are other people’s inventions. I want my own stuff, my own rhythm, and vowels and consonants too, matching the rhythm and all my own. –H. Ball           (

Hand-Engraved-RBall’s lifelong search for philosophical meaning, borne of his strict Catholic childhood and adult rejection of modern language and its contexts (the politics of WWI among them) –  was represented by fellow founder, Richard Huelsenbeck’s claim that the two chose the term “Dada” from a German-French dictionary to imply baby talk.

Ball, formerly a theater director, established the Café Voltaire with singer Emmy Hennings, one of two female founders of Dada, as the venue for all manner of the group’s arts and entertainment.  Quite soon, however, he grew weary of the “increasing nonsense” among the members, and in 1916 withdrew to the Swiss countryside to recover from exhaustion. His latest in a lifetime of malaise was attributed to regression to his  traumatic childhood during his performance of his own genre, sound poetry, which catapulted him back to bleakness.  In 1917, against the proposed international growth of Dadaism, he left the group forever, and married Emmy Hennings three years later.  Soon and ironically, Ball also left his political fervor behind, to renew his Catholic connections. –MEK. Hand-Engraved-L


Marie Osmond recites Ball’s 1916 poem, “Karawane” on Ripley’s Believe It or Not.