Prague Dadaist Melchior Vischer (1895-1975; for more info see here and here) was a prominent figure in early 20s Prague’s artistic scene. After serving briefly in WW1 and then graduating from Charles University, Vischer worked as a theatre critic for the major daily Praguer Presse, where he was an early champion of the work of Franz Werfel, Robert Musil, and Franz Kafka. During the mid-’20s, Vischer and his actress wife Eva Segaljewitsch staged productions of experimental theatre, including Karel Čapek’s R.U.R.The Brno critic Ernst Weiß, meanwhile, writing in Das Tagebuch, compared Second Through Brain in its significance to the innovations of Cézanne, adding: “In every line of this extraordinary work there’s the effortless gift of grace: poetry… Dada is a form, Dada itself is a form for a poet.”
“A bomb which has to burst open with infection the skulls of our dear ‘bourgeoisie.’”
Vischer’s correspondence with Tzara began in late 1918, with Vischer’s polite letter of greetings apprising Tzara of his plan to start the first Dada journal in Prague. A year later (in January 1920) Vischer wrote again, this time with the manuscript of his “Merzroman” aka Sekunde durch Hirn (an allusion to Kurt Schwitters’s “Merz” collages), inquiring if the dada papa couldn’t be tempted to read it. Vischer’s expectations from his dada alignment were nothing short of earth-shattering: in a French salutation to Tzara and Picabia from April 1920, Vischer announces the publication of Sekunde as no less than “a bomb which has to burst open with infection the skulls of our dear ‘bourgeoisie.’”
However lopsided, the Vischer/Tzara correspondence did yield one tangible result. In the summer of 1921, Tzara set out for Czechoslovakia, hoping to gain adherents for his cause at a time when internal strife within the dada group was beginning to jeopardise the future of the entire movement. Tzara’s biographer Marius Hentea records Tzara’s visit to Carlsbad and Prague, which included a meeting with “Melchior Vischer, one of the leading Czech Dadaists,” but yielded “no concrete plans” and Tzara continued on to Tyrol in September.
Vischer, Unveröffentlichte Briefe und Gedichte, ed. Raoul Schrott [Siegen, 1988] 7.
Vischer, Unveröffentlichte Briefe, 14.
Marius Hentea, TaTa Dada: The Real Life and Celestial Adventures of Tristan Tzara (Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 2014) 171.
Until recently, the few critics writing on Vischer raised doubts even as to whether Tzara seriously considered Vischer for the Dadaglobe project, in fact whether he considered the project itself with view toward anything more substantial than self-promotion. These doubts have been definitively put to rest with the 2016 publication, at the Kunsthaus Zürich, of Dadaglobe Reconstructed, a monumental archival compendium approximating as much as possible the shape and form of Tzara’s intended project.
Dadaglobe Reconstructed makes it clear that not only was Vischer integral to Tzara’s project from the get-go (his name featuring right next to Tzara’s in the PR material for New York Dada or April 1921) but all his six anecdotal dada sketches indeed reached their destination and were planned for inclusion. They’re not without humour and typical provocative dada self-propaganda, and will be serialised here over the course of the next couple of weeks.
“The proverbial German chastity still smells like an ancient condom”
The first of the six texts collected in Dadaglobe is remarkable for a number of reasons. Firstly, Vischer speaks of himself as “a Boche”, a pejorative term for German, popular post-WW1 and perhaps indicative of the distance from his own perceived “Germanness.” Secondly, Vischer mentions the publisher of his Sekunde durch Hirn, Paul Steegeman’s “Silbergäule” series in Hannover, as well as quoting a few passages from his novel. Thirdly, Vischer’s scathing critique of the political & cultural climate post-1918 brims with references to the German & “Czechoslainian” politicians of his time, incl. the “poet-general,” an unmistakable reference to Czech poet/general Josef Svatopluk Machar. Fourthly, some of Vischer’s textual experimentation has the whiff of (self-)censorship (to which letters between former Austria-Hungary and France were then frequently subjected ). Fifthly, Vischer touches upon his own “embryonal beginnings” in which there first was “melchior,” then “dada”, in which “melchior was earlier than dada,” thus spoofing jocosely the common tug-of-war among Dadaists regarding primogeniture and fatherhood. All in all, a text of interest not only for the historians and archivists, but a dada mini-gem in its own right.
Introduced by David Vichnar
Melchior Vischer, UNTITLED, a.k.a. “The Grand Boche”
(Dadaglobe Reconstructed [Kunsthaus Zurich, Scheidegger & Spiess, 2016] p. 146)
Here the grand boche, the salon barbarian of the gasgrenadecentury, looks on. His mother bore him on an atlanticsteamer passing near the Turtle Island, reading the immortal Rabelais’ Gargantua with her left eye & the harsh Grimmelshausen’s Simplicissimus with her right. The barely-born embryo cried first “melchior”, then “dada”. Thus, melchior came before dada. (For more detailed information see the considerable piece Second through Brainin the library magnorum poetarum Germaniae et impeii dadaiensis, called Die Silbergäule [// Prof. dr. phil. et ing. paul steegemann-hannover]. Crollosho-sui-cro-schabel-schimel schum! Citizens of Paris! Patriots of the French province, honorable prime ministers from Honolulu! melchior vischer has cheekily rejected the friendship offered by the German strategical crownprince, but still wears very chic suits. Noske, Ludendorff & Foch are even now making much effort to have him arrested. Unfortunately, he’s safely ensconced in the new European armypri//[son] “Czechoslainia”, wherefrom he leaves the ex-emperor Wilhelm-Amerongen’s lett//[errs] unanswered, but still greatly admires the in//[tel]ligence of the German Reich’s-attorney, who officially confiscates even Verlaine’s Women & Men. (The proverbial German chastity still smells like an ancient condom.) Still, m.v. in Prague greets the pioneers of the new French culture-propaganda: which impresses the 1,000 French & black generals deeply. (For he has a sense of intelligence Now he’s walking the streets of the City of Prague, brashly holding in his right hand a sunflower & an erotic sponge, now & then he nibbles on something from his candied intestines, in the left he’s swinging riotously his sabre, which he’s stolen from the jew-eating mayor of Prague, in addition, he sprays raisins and vagina goulash out of his lyrical eyes, in the mean at the same time spit//ting out of his delicious mouth in romantic declamation elect//[ri]ck accumulators, tungsten lightbulbs, silversteeds, & Hradschin ragout (with tip in noble currency please!) meanewhy//[ile] the Czech poet-general Hähä (finally he’s found ho//[me]) all squeaking swinishly is bea//[…] up the freshly-sent recruits & floods Prague’s Hussite “Wenzels//[…]” with patriotic sauce, & so, at this holily genuine cultu//[…]sh plotting, m.v. all awestruck doffs his hat & calls// loudly upon Serner, Picabia & Tzara to come to his rescue. On his skull he’s got gr//[…]ning the luc//[ia]nic saying: vive dada!
Translated by David Vichnar & Tim König