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“The Marmelade Surah On Allah” – Melchior Vischer’s Texts for the DADAGLOBE Anthology (Part 4)

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 texts nos. 1, 2 & 3, see here, here, and here).

“White fleas, German frogs & Czech generals / piss on the peace treaty.”

Text no. 4, Vischer’s “Marmelade Surah on Allah”, seems more lyrical than the others, due to its heavy use of the enjambement. It doesn’t seem to have aged particularly well. This poem’s critical barb is aimed at the colourful orientalism of the German writers of the late 19th century, who wrote “Kulturgeschichte”, i.e. history written as stories, enabling its authors thus to gain a wider readership. In addition to this populist overtone, many German historians of the East were diplomats unfamiliar with the scientific methodology of historiography. For instance, Paul Scheerbart used metaphors of colour in his oriental stories and in his theoretical texts on Bauhaus-architecture alike, especially colourful glass-architecture. This combination of rational design and oriental metaphors may have contributed to the ironical combination of the tropes in Vischer’s poem, however obscure and well-nigh unintelligible they may seem to us today.

Introduced by David Vichnar & Tim König

Melchior Vischer, THE MARMELADE SURAH ON ALLAH

(Dadaglobe Reconstructed [Kunsthaus Zurich, Scheidegger & Spiess, 2016] p. 152)

Hooray! desert horses are burning,

The purple poppy has impregnated the hummingbird’s egg,

o how kosher temples sigh

from my liver, the hussite churches & lavender altars,

down Milk Street the beer’s aflowing, chocolate gravy & caviar wine,

white fleas, German frogs & Czech generals

piss on the peace treaty,

which gives the nations the H2SOskirmishes,

walkeroo hu mu shu lu lu lu,

rips the telephones out of the earcups of the world,

greetings to Serner, Tzara, Picabia, Arp & the Pope from Prague,

jams & chicken soups laugh out of all closets,

lyricists & underpants fly through the air,

I’ve got a corset-factory on the Turtle Island,

the wives of famous Parisian politicians praise my belly,

standing on the ocean I drink it up,

till the water underneath my feet turns into sand,

I fall down, yelling & crying at once:

I am a trillionaire, the bottom of the sea belongs to me!

Republican ministers stand on continental shores

in white pajamas, greeting me

me the sheik of the sea,

o how the springs, mollusks & radishes are singing,

Allah ill allah!

you are great Dadallahdada!

Red cows & yellow bears

greet the comfy Ash Wednesday:

Dallahda!

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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