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“Why the Police is Taking Note of Us” – Prague Dada Miscellany (Part One)

Equus Press is starting a mini-series of articles which bring first-ever English translations of primary and critical texts to do with the under-explored topic of Prague Dada. This instalment combines three articles published between 1925 and 1927: “Dada Creative”, on the strenghts of German dada, by prominent literary critic Bedřich Václavek, “Dada and Surrealism”, a poetic comparison between the two by the leading poetist Vítězslav Nezval, and “A Popular Introduction to Artificialism”, a playful anti-manifesto by painters Jindřich Štyrský and Toyen. Translation by David Vichnar.

DADA CREATIVE, by Bedřich Václavek (HOST review IV.9-10, July 1925)

 There is one thing Czechs can envy post-war Germany: Dadaism. After the war, a strong dose of dada was found lacking here. We immediately advanced toward a revolution for man, we were ethical, pedagogical and now we want to be constructive, but there has been no decomposition, no forceful purging. That’s why we post-facto snatch at a little dada here and there, but there’s no time for that as these days, impure, mixed shapes are coming into being – and so we’ve had to do without it. We haven’t accomplished its destructive work, which would leave in its wake virgin soil for real work of new builders. Aren’t we going to remain a little too idyllic in that typical Czech fashion?

Dada. We approve of its fanatical destructiveness with which it’s attacked the shallow hustling hullabaloo made about “spirituality” and “art”. Turned toward destroying the products of bourgeois culture, relinquishing the principle of amendment: this is what we miss in it, however much understanding we may have for its concentration on destruction. It was nihilistic, but we’d say with Huelsenebeck that its nihilism was part of life, or we could use Jiří Mahen’s expression: nihilism creative. Dada wanted nothing more than to express its time, matching its fierce tempo, scepticism and relativism, but also its fatigue and doubts regarding any sense-making and thinking. We love it and we fight it.

It was naïve. It wanted a straightforward, undifferentiated, unintellectual life. It taught art to use new material. Rich in modern gradated sensibility, it was the harbinger of the simultaneism of modern art.

Ultimately it reneged on art, having drawn some final conclusions from the new realities. Its members have become impostors of art.


DADA & SURREALISM, by Vítězslav Nezval (Fronta Review, Apr 1927)

Dadaists are furniture removers. They’ve thoroughly dismantled the room of the modern bourgeois. The cornices have tumbled and broken to pieces. On the ottoman lies a timepiece next to blankets and a Monet painting. The floor of the furniture van is strewn with shards of teacups and vases. The needlework sticks out of the dust next to several pairs of boots. Having wreaked this dainty havoc, Dadaists fled the scene.

The surrealists are those Dadaists who found an excuse for this raging spree. They refer to dreaming. While we were asleep, something stronger than us moved us to arrange the room naturally. No-one will believe this excuse. Dadaists are more honest. We can love them. Out of their hatred for the neatly arranged tradition, they set about hitting everything. They kicked out the landlord. Here and there their rage produced a miraculous coincidence. A broken vase, a football and a parasol made for a lovely still-life. We drew our conclusions from it.

We’re standing in that thrashed room. A new order needs to be made. Those who wanted to put the half-broken objects back to their places will be disappointed. What to do with a broken vase on the bedside table? We’ll use its shards to scratch into mud. The adult human, the furniture remover or the charwoman won’t know what to do. One must have much infantile imagination capable of building all that’s necessary out of splinters and pebbles. Which is why the police is taking note of us!


A POPULAR INTRODUCTION TO ARTIFICIALISM, by Jindřich Štyrský & Toyen (Fronta Review, Apr 1927)

Motto: Pythagoras, the first constructor of the necklace, forgot about the bitches.

We manifest Artificialism in visual arts, without any ambition to put pink glasses on the noses of the riffraff, through which they would find their place in the world.

Artificialism introduces a new epoch into painting, marking the union of the two Janus faces. Consequently, no herd will ever roam freely in it.

We’re so modern we’re not even sure we’re contemporary.

We’ve held on to the one innocence: Artificialism’s mirror without a picture won’t be an epidemic like dada etc. used to be.

Realness is only absurd. The future of painting is ensured by its path having been crossed by a nun. If in autumn flowers were to fall, what would leaves do?

Artificialism is an adventure whose end no-one knows about, and it can only be eschewed if you lose it.

Artificialism has no graves, that’s why no-one can give it a bunch of flowers.

We used to love this collection of seconds, but while pondering on it, it’s turned to stone.

And while the ideas you have about Artificialism are acclimatising chez toi, all you love or bark at is just an illusion.

Defences and curses will be powerless.

Artificialism is the gravedigger of your stupidity.

It’s unnecessary to give any importance to anything in this article.

Whether you perish by age or paralysis is infinitely indifferent to us. Another will make us happy.

Articifialism doesn’t uniform.

Why do you protest or sympathise with Artificialism? That’s futile, it remains and will survive you.

1st lesson: an insatiate curse is proof of immortality.

2nd lesson: for the consequences of Artificialism you won’t be held responsible.

Artificialism is an area the fire-fighters always reach too late.

For placing an artificial Venus in your proximity you need safety guards.

Consolation: in the end you’ll all degenerate.

We’ve devised Artificialism, having nothing else to do, and we never thought to dance on the head of this fury.

If only at least sometimes we could find where the hardboiled eggs nest.

Artificialism is no group for variety or identity of opinion.

Painting used to walk around the world like the angels Cherubim and Moccasin only in order to scalp people, feel fruit, break trees and stare into the landscape; merdre, merdre, merdre.

Epilogue: the last lines flow in boredom, blurring the last remnants of considerations, which we may have committed out of ignorance of what we call life.

Translated by David Vichnar

About Equus Press

EQUUS was established in 2011 with the objective of publishing innovative & translocal writing.


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"Modernity today is not in the hands of the poets, but in the hands of the cops" // Louis Aragon
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“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for?…we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us” // Franz Kafka, letter to Oskar Pollack, 27 January 1904
August 2018
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