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“Oho!” – Melchior Vischer’s Texts for the DADAGLOBE Anthology (Part 5)

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 & 4, see here, herehere, and here).

Stink is our prayer, our hope, & our time, oh stink!

The brief text no. 5, Vischer’s “Oho!”, brings together issues of progress & disgust, turning both inside out subversively & thereby transforming them. Progress is thematised by various means, quasi-surrealist free associations proceeding from absent gender equality to greek antiquity to automobiles, then to stink, generals & presidents (Wilson), & finally bringing all in connection with cheese, that stinky entity in-between nature & civilisation. Just like “The Song of a Clothes Iron,” “Oho!” features an Apollinaresque touch (automobiles & greek antiquity), and ends on a lyrical point: “Why do arc lamps shine brighter than the moon?”

Introduced by David Vichnar & Tim König

Melchior Vischer, OHO!

(Dadaglobe Reconstructed [Kunsthaus Zurich, Scheidegger & Spiess, 2016] p. 155)

Here comes the boy with the candle,

the girl envies him,

the question here is this:

is it the benevolent or the treacherous phallus?

Like a Greek antique, the policeman creeps on,

swinging his baton olympically,

the prime minister’s automobile pisses

itself out backwards,

it stinks,

why not?

Stink is our prayer,

our hope,

& our time,

oh stink!

The bread-&-cheese, on the other hand,

smells delicious,

the general seems truly christian,

his bloody knife simply not seen,

it’s always just a matter of dioptres,

my dioptre’s blue,

you have an issue with that?

you dog!

Listen! the fish preserve is singing

a notturno by Debussy,

here the sausage salami mounts the scaffold,

whispering, just before the vagina execution, one last greeting

to Wilson,

among the spectators, an irrigator behaves

very cheekily,

the rubber prices are through the roof

& greet the gods of the pharaohs & pederasts,

harebrained, around my pumpkinhead, the sentence roars on & on:

Why do arc lamps shine brighter than the moon?

Why?

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
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