Poster for Kunstlerkneipe Voltaire, made in 1916 for February 5th
This paper will focus on the tension within Zurich Dada between the fragmentation of language and its reconstruction into a new aesthetic totality. This tension played out in the contrasting visions for the “simultaneous poem” formulated by the two co-founders of the Dada movement, Hugo Ball and Tristan Tzara. Beginning in 1916, Tzara conceived manuscript scores for poems performed by up to 20 speakers at once, meticulously planned to devolve into cacophony. Conversely, Ball’s first simultaneous poem, performed at the Cabaret Voltaire in May 1916, was titled “Nativity Scene—Bruitist,” and sought to reconcile abstract sound with the origin myths of Christianity. In order to account for this rift in Dada, I will situate the development of the simultaneous poem in relation to the divergent interpretations of Richard Wagner’s “Total Work of Art” put forward by Ball and Tzara. I will then track the aesthetic and political implications of Ball’s exit from Dada, in relation to his engagement with the work of conservative legal philosopher Carl Schmitt.