Dada Culture: Critical Texts on the Avant-Garde

By Dafydd Jones | Go to book overview

The Body of the Voice: corporeal poetics in Dada

John Wall and Dafydd Jones

Abstract: This essay begins with a brief history of the problem of the body in
philosophy showing how various philosophers have approached the problem and
linked it to theory of language. The essay then offers a critique of structuralist/
poststructuralist insistence that there is nothing outside the text, and that the only way
the body appears in it is as a representation or trace. Kristeva says of modernist poetry
that it tries to write in a language that manifests the points of the irruption of the body
into language; semiosis, the bodily aspect of the generation of such symbolic systems
as language. The aim is to work towards a dialectical theory of body and language –
beginning with Tristan Tzara's early manifesto soundings – although the term “dia-
lectic” functions here as a metaphor for interaction. Thus aspects of Dada poetry can
be looked at in terms of the corporeal dimensions of rhythms (as opposed to the
purely linguistic understanding of formal rhythms such as meter), the importance of
contradiction, paradox and nonsense, delirium, body image, and the performativity of
the body – body as sign, such as is seen in the move from a purely verbal drama
where the body is of secondary importance, to the kind of drama where the body is a
significant part of the repertoire of gestures (including language) that make up dra-
matic performance, of whatever kind. What is centrally addressed is the relation
between body and language, and the essay identifies the tension between a radically
systemic and disembodied construal of language and the poetic practice of bringing
into play an elemental dynamic. Language and the elemental body are equally con-
stitutive of symbolic representation and are fused in what the phenomenology of
Merleau-Ponty terms “incarnate logic”. This incarnate logic, or voice, is expressed
both in the movement of bodies across the dreamlike geography of the narrative, and
the paradoxical figures which sustain narrative momentum; thus, space is neither
purely mental nor objective (the observer is in the observation).

-66-

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