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“Isn’t civilisation like a condom?” – Melchior Vischer’s Texts for the DADAGLOBE Anthology (Part 2)

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.’” [1]

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. [2]

[1] Vischer, Unveröffentlichte Briefe und Gedichte, ed. Raoul Schrott [Siegen, 1988] 7.

[2] Marius Hentea, TaTa Dada: The Real Life and Celestial Adventures of Tristan Tzara (Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 2014) 171.

Dadaglobe Reconstructed

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. For text no. 1, see here.

“Isn’t civilisation like a condom, both exchanging an actual state for ‘as if’?”

A theatre-scene presenting a grotesque subversion of decorum, the second text anthologised in Dadaglobe Reconstructed entitled “A Lyrical Poem”  lampoons the bourgeois literary establishment, esp. what fellow Dadaist Georg Grosz identified as “the regressive bourgeois tendency to hanker after models from a moribund aristocratic past.” Just like Grosz, Vischer’s vignette presents a calculatedly puerile scene with a distinctly political edge, challenging the notion of art as “an aesthetic harmonisation of bourgeois ideas of ownership.” Vischer’s narrative P-O-V is suspended above stage on a chandelier in the loge – a satirical moment bringing aesthetics back to where its aura (supposedly) comes about and grotesquely presenting its “obscene” suppressive elements. The entire vignette depends on the pun of “verdichten”/“condense, compress” but also “ver-dichten”/ “poeticise” – which happens here in the stomach, and our translation renders as “digest.” The equivalence between poeticising, thickening, and processing of food seems to refer to christian reading techniques, as in the tradition of the ruminatio as part of the lectio divina, again grotesquely turning vomit into a holy product and object of reverence.

Introduced by David Vichnar

Melchior Vischer, THE LYRICAL POEM

(Dadaglobe Reconstructed [Kunsthaus Zurich, Scheidegger & Spiess, 2016] p. 150)

Mr Dagobert Swine sat on the chandelier arm of the proscenium loge, eating tin soldiers, trumpets of precious metal, electric dynamos, four tarot games, cheese stocks, two cravats, 16 pieces of chastity belt for use by rabbi women, ¼ kilo of coconut salad, and as desert two Rembrandts and a Picasso sketch. To end on a fitting digestive, 3 million in paper czechoslovak currency. Dagobert’s illustrious stomach digested all that into quietly weeping verses. It was no motorbus with self-functioning watercloset, no tank oiled with masturbatory tears of english suffragettevirgins, no, it was all a nice mushlyrical ragout, balled into an enteric football that would’ve liked to climb up towards the operahouse skies, o how the prayers of gothic cathedrals are humming, o how brightsounding the deaf bodies of abducted virgins, o, o and oh! now sang down below the italian tenor a vocal canzone, an opera glass fell and let its glassplinters flow through the fearful air, who emerged from the silken lingerie of the young countess, but Mr Dagobert Swine only chuckle. He who is swine remains forever a swine. Then as the highly dramatic scene unfolded, Dagobert threw up with a beautiful, bright, soon after dull-clucking burp, much to the joy of the lodge-shooter, who had a silver bowl ready, / on which he served even some oyster rolls / and caught Mr Dagobert Swine’s sour-mixed brawny stomach compote with an elegant hand movement and sublimely simple jesuit eyeroll, followed by a hefty dollar tip. Relieved, almost triumphant, Mr Dagobert Swine let his eyes glide through the house, glad to be taking a break, and shouted in quite the communist fashion: “yeah, yeah, isn’t civilisation like a condom, both exchanging an actual state for ‘as if’?” then he did a “haw-haw.”

The audience also sighed a deeply-struck “haw-haw” /so-to-speak collectively/. But the haw-haw of Mr Dagobert Swine exceeded all other haw-haws.

Translated by  David Vichnar & Tim König

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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
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