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Published by: Noemi-Krisztina Kozma on Feb 08, 2014
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Words and Worlds: Dada and the Destruction of Logos, Zurich 1916  by John Scanlan “If you are alie, you are a Dadaist,! "ichard #uelsenbec$ %rote in 19&'( #uelsenbec$  belonged to the no% %ell)$no%n grou* of *oets and *erfor+ers %ho ca+e together in Zurich during 1916 under the na+e Dada( Whilst Dadaist +oe+ents a**eared in other  *laces, and too$ on different +anifestations, the Zurich Dadaists %ere concerned  *rinci*ally %ith *oetry and *erfor+ance( nd if Dada +ay be defined or understood in +any %ays, it is arguable that to those in Zurich in 1916 Dada %as *recisely about the a+biguity of language and its relation to the %orld, and this %as not only de+onstrated through *erfor+ances and %riting, but also in the atte+*t to resist the $ind of identification that language, see+ingly, cannot esca*e:S*it out %ords: the dreary, la+e, e+*ty language of +en in society( Si+ulate gray +odesty or +adness( -ut in%ardly be in a state of tension( "each an inco+*rehensible, uncon.uerable s*here(#ugo -all /-all, 1996: 00Dada is elasticity itself("ichard #uelsenbec$ /#uelsenbec$, 1992: 11clic$ to enlarge3igure 1 3igure & "ichard #uelsenbec$ /source un$no%n#ugo -all /source un$no%ns the +ediator of sense e4*erience and as a regulator of ideas and conce*ts, the use of language))one +ay een say, of %ords))%as e4tre+ely i+*ortant to #uelsenbec$, #ugo -all and the others /3igs( 1 and &( nd %e +ay suggest that %here "ichard #uelsenbec$ could clai+ that being itself %as a+biguous /i(e(, being, li$e Dada, %as 5elastic, he %as a%are that language both connects and disconnects the indiidual fro+ a %orld of e4*erience7 and %e +ay read %hat the Zurich Dadaists *roclai+ed as suggesting that life %as a $ind of #eraclitean flu4, in %hich all ob8ects, e4*eriences and *erce*tions %ere funda+entally unstable( Life, in short is eer +oing for%ard, %hilst language /%hich, in its attach+ent to categories of understanding, al%ays %or$s in a bac$%ard direction, by contrast, +as$s a $ind of i++anent disorder( he *roble+ %ith language %as not only one of, say, referentiality, but also of the %ay in %hich it gies order, or 5+a$es the %orld))and in this sense the uses of language can be nefarious: “#u+an beings,! #uelsenbec$ added, “are si+*ly ideologues if they fall for the s%indle *er*etrated by their o%n intellects7 that an idea, sy+bol of a +o+entarily *erceied fact, has any absolute reality! /#uelsenbec$, 1992: 9)11(
1( Logos and Identityclic$ to enlarge3igure 2 oster for the first eening at ;abaret <oltaireIn this essay I %ant to suggest that the *lay of identity in language and a**earance that %as a feature of the short)lied ;abaret <oltaire /3ig( 2, %hich the Dadaists established in Zurich in 1916, can be read as an atte+*t to destroy the idea of logos, by %hich I +ean it %as an attac$ on the idea that reason /through the +ediating discourse of identity reeals its o%n *erfectibility in oerco+ing the shortco+ings of the historical *resent, by reaching to%ards a future that %ould be eer+ore *erfect( So %hilst the %ord 5logos translates as 5%ord or 5s*eech its associations are far richer than this, and in general ter+s logos refers *rinci*ally to a series of deelo*+ents %ithin the *hiloso*hical tradition of the West, %hich ta$en together can be understood as an idea of *erfectibility, or of the *o%er of reason to attain such *erfection( s =ar$ ;( aylor has %ritten:>t?he Logos has been inter*reted in arious %ays: latonic for+s, the +ind of the creator @od, the son of @od, the i+age of @od, "eason, S*irit, bsolute Sub8ect, creatie archety*es, nu+bers, geo+etric for+s, and so forth( In each of its incarnations, the logos for+s the ground and *roides the reason for all that e4ists( 3ro+ a logocentric  *ers*ectie, to under)stand anything, one +ust *enetrate a**earances and co+*rehend %hat stands under the surface /aylor, 199&: 1AA)A9(hus, any atte+*t to understand /under)stand as aylor says, 8ustify, or e4a+ine a 5reality beyond a**earance, or the relationshi* bet%een language and such ob8ectiity  beco+es *art of this logocentric tradition, een, it is argued, %hen such understanding ta$es the for+ of a denial of logos /because to deny it is neertheless to affir+ a relation to it, een if it is one of un%elco+e *arentage, for e4a+*le /"orty, 1991: 1'0)11A( 3or our *ur*oses the i+*ortant as*ect of this tradition is found in the %ay language and rational categories create connections bet%een %ords and the %orld, and thus assu+e a  *rinci*al role in the +a$ing of identities( It %as the %orld as *resented by such rational language around 1910 that Dada sought to .uestion, %ith #ugo -all in *articular  belieing that only the s*iritual reassertion of logos could destroy the clai+s of reason to reeal all))in other %ords, reasons clai+ to logos had to be destroyed( lthough the .uestion of identity bet%een a**earance and reality has been *roble+atic to an understanding of the %orld since the da%n of *hiloso*hical s*eculation, the *roble+ of bridging the a**arent ga* bet%een the t%o beco+es +ore +ar$ed in +odern society  *recisely because +ore as*ects of our e4*erience of the %orld are no% +ediated than eer before))fro+ the fact that one can no% 5e4*erience situations, lies, or cultures  beyond our o%n /e(g(, through fil+, fiction, etc(, to the co++on*lace act of, say,  *urchasing a carton of +il$ %ithout any $no%ledge of ho% to obtain it %ithout the +ediation of co++erce /this is the ineitable +ediation of +aterial life as a conse.uence of the diision of the field of *roduction( ;ou*le that %ith the historical e+ergence of contrasting %ays of thin$ing about Western assu+*tions about reality /anthro*ology, for e4a+*le, reealed a ariability in beliefs about the nature of the *hysical %orld, and the
 *roble+ of identity beco+es so oerbearing that one can see by the late nineteenth) and early t%entieth)century the ease %ith %hich the nor+ally e4*ansie curiosity of the Western +ind is directed in%ards(  retreat to safety, it see+s, in an atte+*t to *reent  *hiloso*hical s*eculation fro+ +a$ing the ga* +ediated by language into an unbridgeable chas+( In technical or for+al ter+s this %as reflected, for instance, in the deelo*+ent of a  *hiloso*hy that adocated the abandon+ent of s*eculations about the nature of reality /the so)called nglo)+erican analytic school of the first half of the t%entieth century( lready, in fact, by the late 1A9's, the ground%or$ for this %ithdra%al fro+ +eta*hysics %as found in @ottlob 3reges %or$ on the sense, +eaning and reference of language7 although his atte+*t to elaborate the grounds for a fir+ identity bet%een %ords or na+es and an e4ternal ob8ect that these referred to %as of li+ited success))because he found that +eaning had an unaoidable conte4tual deter+ination that allo%ed for a degree of a+biguity /3rege, 19A': B6)09 /1( In trying to +a$e *hiloso*hy scientifically res*ectable, the *hiloso*hers of language %ho follo%ed 3rege, deter+ined that, in language, eery ter+ +ust therefore be una+biguous, or rather, for tal$ of reality to aoid the charge of +eaninglessness, %ords had to refer to one thing or another))%ord +eanings +ust be 5tight and not 5elastic( his +eant that a conce*tion of language ta$en in such ter+s could be understood to hae a bac$%ard directed referentiality function, %hich is to say that language itself %as for the +ost *art assi+ilated to already aailable categories of ordering e4*erience( he i+*ortant *oint about this %ith relation to Dada is that the 5*ro*er use of language reflected a ersion of the logos: that is to say, the *hiloso*hically res*ectable notion of language in the early t%entieth century cannot easily be disentangled fro+ associated ideas of referentiality and identity, %hich su**ose a 5reality to %hich language use, and re*resentations generally /be they erbalCte4tual or +aterial should +atch u* /Wittgenstein, 19B27 @ood+an, 190A( he reason for this %as si+*le))%ords al%ays refer to so+ething( Dada, as %e %ill see, sought to say so+ething about reality, but did not use language in this %ay( f course, this %as not entirely ne% %ith res*ect to Dada))certain uses of %ords /e(g(, in erse or *oetry %ould neer clai+ to reach for such strict conditions of use, but did this entail +eaninglessnessE Was the a**arent ga* bet%een %ords and %orlds not an as*ect of the *roble+ of language  *roiding the grounds for different $inds of ie%s of the %orld /e(g(, scientific as against literary, etc(, that reason)as)logos had sought to oerco+eE s "ichard "orty has said, the basis of this *roble+ is that the realist *icture /%hich de+ands strict association, or a 5tight a**lication of %ords ulti+ately cannot co*e %ith the idea that there +ay be nothing belo% a surface that is 5+ade by the connecting function of language))that actually there is no uniersal +ethod for *roiding the +eans to de)conte4tualiFe %ords and language to get belo% the surface, and *erha*s +ore i+*ortantly the +eta*hors that for+ such a large *art of the re*resentational *ractices of language do not hae any +eaning /"orty, 19A9: 19(&( Worlds in =otionhe *ri+acy of the logocentric tradition in Western thin$ing since the Gnlighten+ent /i(e(, in its association %ith the notion of the *o%er of reason ensured that any e4*erience

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