Exile's Return: A Literary Odyssey of the 1920s

By Malcolm Cowley; Donald W. Faulkner | Go to book overview
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V: The Death of Dada

1: A Brief History of Dada

Tristan Tzara says that Dada was born in 1916, at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich. There is some dispute about this place and date, but Tzara's word ought to be final: after all, he founded Dada. He is a Rumanian, small and graceful, who belongs to a family of formerly rich merchants; educated in France and Switzerland, he adopted French as his native tongue. It is wholly fitting that this new school of art and letters should have been founded in a cabaret, by a young man so thoroughly expatriated that he could not speak more than three words of his native language. It is fitting, too, that Dada should have transferred itself to the two banks of the Seine.

But Tzara was still in Switzerland when he wrote the Dada Manifesto in March 1918. At that time André Breton and Louis Aragon, who would later become the French leaders of the movement, were serving at the front. When these very young soldiers came home after the Armistice, they joined forces with Philippe Soupault, Paul Eluard and others to found the magazine Littérature, which soon became known as a Dadaist review. At the beginning of 1920 they formally invited Tzara to Paris.

That was the period of the great Dada manifestations. At a matinee on January 23 Tzara was introduced to the public. He


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