[This project from Fall 2009 has been revised for current publication. The essay below, “With Them Without Words,” explores the idea of a non-dual heritage stretching from Buddha to Friedrich Schlegel to the main protagonist of the research, Tristian Tzara and Dadaism, interpreted with the help of Jacques Derrida. The second text, Mr. Aa An Index, is a poetic ‘dictionary’ of quotes and poetic recombinations of lines from lots of Tzara’s poems. For a one-page chart of the overall perspective, see Dada Non-Dual. For two short appendicies to the project, see Dada Bodhisattva and Tzara Approximation. For Tzara’s own manifestos and statements about Dada, see his page at the Art History Archive.]
With Them Without Words
A word speaks— to whom? To itself:
Servir Dieu est régner,— I can
read it, I can, it grows brighter,
away from “kannitverstan.”
My aim is: to teach you to pass from a piece of disguised nonsense to something that is patent nonsense.
Both the song and the silence my beautiful country of joy
To think through Tristan Tzara’s poetics requires that we enter a practice of poetry, for only with poetry can our language become essential and open space for an encounter with the real outside of ‘reality’ as it is defined. With poetry, we encounter the strangeness of language: it brings us to question our situatedness in it and to respond by re-situating ourselves in it (qua outside it), and thus to re-situate language itself, to lend it a more appropriate being-for-us. Poetry suspends the situation for the sake of re-situation. To respond with poetry is then to enter an active, living signifying process, no longer duped by the dream of set significations. What is outside of what we are, what is an exception to what is or is said to be, becomes what we are, or are in the process of becoming, without goal, without end, in a signifying process in the imago of a becoming-never-finished.
To recognize language as artifice and respond with poetry as a way to re-situate it initiates the non-dual, beginning with the recognition that all dualisms and ‘theses’ are situated in the artifice of language. In such a situation, what is called for is the poetic making of word and world, as a way to show the real beyond the deceit of dualisms and open a space for encounters between beings, events of ‘truth’. Such a non-dual heritage, more generally, is one that pays close attention to the performative aspect of language in various ways. A brief list of some points the rest of the essay will explore includes:
—an ironic stance toward any thesis statement, logic, ‘reason’, ‘philosophy’
—awareness of the transience of words and the inevitability of change
—openness to constant reformulation and rearticulation of basic truths and guiding principles
—priority of communication between spirits, not doctrines, exact meanings, debates
—focus on freedom and justice as ‘human constants’
—emphasis on the chance-like, spontaneous, process-nature of creation
—and finally, insistence that art/poetry and life must never be separated.
This non-dual recognition and response has a heritage as long as humans have dwelt in language. With the help of the Jacques Derrida and his thinking on language, the “desert in the desert,” and messianicity, I will show why Tzara’s Dada is a part of this heritage, later drawing in correspondences between his work and Friedrich Schlegel’s. Along the way, I will try to participate in it, too, articulating a human constant of freedom, life, justice, and futurality that in this essay Tzara will help us define.
Tzara’s response to the deceitful configurations of ideology, philosophy, and argument, was to unite poetry and life: to reignite the being of language. In his cultural context, this meant the harshest nihilism as a way to combat the ‘usage’ of language as a tool for ideologies and influence. He combined his rejection of large scale programs (nations, religions, aesthetic categories) with a general mistrust of words to convey anything at all. Nietzsche had already written years earlier: “That enormous structure of beams and boards of the concepts, to which the poor man clings for dear life, is for the liberated intellect just a scaffolding and plaything for his boldest artifices.” Tzara shares Nietzsche’s (‘non-dual’) recognition that all our truths are constructions built on the shifting sands of words and grammar, as well as the goal of liberating the intellect. But language as artifice can become real only by surrendering to the truth of its artificiality, playfully, for this surrender gives way to a new, utterly singular voicing of it: to give this truth a body by giving way to language-events that proceed from this awareness.
It is important to flesh out, then, what exactly we mean when we say that language is always artifice, for this is the recognition that characterizes the non-dual heritage we are attempting to trace out. Continue reading