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Melchior Vischer, TEXTS FOR DADAGLOBE

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.

1. “The proverbial German chastity still smells like an ancient condom”

In the first of the six texts submitted for Dadaglobe, 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.

2. “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.

3. “The souls of footballs are made out of vagina skin, / very elastic, very elastic, / like a parliament majority…”

Set at the iconic impressionist Pont d’Argenteuil just outside metropolitan Paris, Melchior Vischer’s “Song of a Clothes Iron” is both very erudite in the richness of its references & explicitly obscene, although ending on an “unerotic” note. It again bears some resemblance to Second through Brain in featuring a “falling point of view”, dealing with racial/racist stereotypes, as well as brimming with present-day political & cultural trivia. Its concluding “unerotic” question regarding Apollinaire’s death (in Nov 1918) is valuable clue vis-à-vis its approximate dating.

Although referencing “the world’s first female Dadaist” with “an electric lightbulb hanging from her navel,” the poem’s imagery is proto-surrealist (perhaps in homage to Apollinaire). Based on freely associative flights of fancy, the poem furthers an element of surprise in its many unexpected juxtapositions and non sequiturs (“two champagne buckets demand self-determination”), creating many a strange creature from everyday objects (“a clerical matchstick sings a symphony”), transporting us into an oneiric world where uncanny sentences such as “the yellow tire of the syphilitic car is trying to kiss the carpet dealer’s patent shoe” appear almost commonplace.

4. “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.

5. “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?”

6. “The raging people with dynamo machines for heads & tails of loud steel..

The final of Vischer’s 6 texts sent to Tzara for DADAGLOBE, “Universe” is the most expressionist of his pieces, presenting a very evocative eschatological vision of the end of the world. It can be read as an answer to Jakob van Hoddis’ famous poem “Weltende“, with Vischer transforming the humourous aspects of van Hoddis’ poem into the grotesque mode. Still, Vischer uses many similar metaphors (locomotives falling, floods raging, onomatopoetic means, dynamic verbs of movement). Also, the raging locomotives motif is reminscent of poems answering the train crash of the Forth-of-Tay-bridge in 1879. As elsewhere, Vischer uses conventional tropes & motifs and détourns them for satirical effect.

Introduced by David Vichnar & Tim König

 

Melchior Vischer, TEXTS FOR DADAGLOBE

1. UNTITLED

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’ Gargantuawith her left eye & the harsh Grimmelshausen’sSimplicissimuswith 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 & 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!

2. THE LYRICAL POEM

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 mushylyrical 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.

3. THE SONG OF A CLOTHES IRON ON THE BRIDGE OF ARGENTEUIL

 the heat’s roaring around my bosom,

the silent landscape of Paris,

a clerical matchstick sings a symphony,

in short, a scream,

& the tramway engulfs it

with a fatal furioso together with the embryonic light,

all over, all over,

the servant’s cap is red,

in yellow the kabbalah number gyrates: 606,

the accidental Negro mounts

with great manliness, /terribly stretched/,

a film-diva who long awaited that one explosion,

the gush of blood spilling away far & wide

over the cake that lies on the messenger’s outstretched arms

like a lazy prayerbook,

raisins fall from the sky

and drip thick and heavy onto the pavement & into the water

like green mandarins,

wung, scheng wu, wu wu,

elderly beggars sitting at the bridge railing

give birth to the Chinese,

s

the souls of footballs are made out of vagina skin,

very elastic, very elastic,

like a parliament majority,

the brothel porter recites the lost verses

of Catullus and arias,

the journalist stands before him and surely understands it,

though it be all Latin & Greek.

The yellow tire of the syphilitic car is trying

to kiss the carpet dealer’s patent shoe,

the moon suddenly falls from the sky into the water,

even a director gets murdered,

Shakespeare & I are eating eggs together,

the tragic actress is lying spread on the divan

letting her shame rotate,

then shave, oooh,

theory of relativity reigns o’er the tops of trees,

a piece of jewellery like Wilhelm’s pith helmet,

the glasses are gawking near the samovar,

the midwife’s eating a roastbeef,

while the viceking of India spurts on the wet nurse’s bosom,

Quasimodo howls from the Notre Dame,

two champagne buckets demand self-determination,

the world’s first female Dadaist is passing by,

there’s an electric lightbulb hanging from her navel,

the clothes iron vomits apples & nuts,

now falling off the bridge into the water,

persecuted in the fall by the unerotic question:

does Clemenceau know Apollinaire’s dead?

 

4. THE MARMALADE SURAH ON ALLAH

 Hooray! desert horses are burning,

The purple poppy’s impregnated the hummingbird’s egg,

o how kosher temples sigh

from my liver, hussite churches & lavender altars,

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

white fleas, German frogs & Czech generals

pissing on the peace treaty,

which gives the nations the H2SO4skirmishes,

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!

5. OHO!

 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’ve got 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?

 

6. UNIVERSE

 He holum holum!

Do you see the raging people

with dynamo machines for heads

& tails of loud steel?

 

Bellies are spitting, millions-a-sparkling

canonballs in infinite number.

the mountains dance like hot naiads

& suckle tight onto an indissoluble tangle.
Blue dogs eat the globe

& spit out glowing locomotives

racing skywards.
Like idiots let loose

they drink the universe in rage.

 

& the billygoat stinks hissing

along a tree

& sings like loose larks at the

morning coffee.

Oh rage, locomotive, you skydiver,

burst with a big bang

in the next forest.

 

Steam, dynamo, car,

room, bath, closet.
The emperor is raging in his kennel.

He, holum, holum,

Bim, bam, boo.

The bells of destiny.
The Maenads fly,

dragging the globe behind them.

& shining suns

pop staggering through black

storm clouds.

Hourglasses scrape day & night,

which nestle together like battle-weary

demons.

Holum, holum.

the world is breaking in its fissures,

the pivots crash weakly into the sea

of ​​the universe.

Translated by David Vichnar & Tim König

About Equus Press

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

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