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Dada Manifesto (1916) – Hugo Ball

German dramatist Hugo Ball’s 1916 treatise on the new Dada movement contains playful language, contemporary references, and a critique of the bourgeois and their use of words.  First read at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, the work shows Ball’s high expectations for the new philosophy: “tomorrow everyone in Zurich will be talking about it.”  Ball notes that “dada” means rather different things in different languages, thus its meaning is subjective and context-dependent.  He alludes to the global impact of the first World War, and cites Dada as the remedy and solution for everything, namely “everything nice and right, moralistic, europeanised.”  Finally, Hugo Ball critiques people’s use of language, desiring his own invented words that match his own personal rhythm.  The final line indicates his desire for truth in meaning: “The word, gentlemen, is a public concern of the first importance.”

On her informative blog “Art History Unstuffed,” Dr. Jeanne Willette explains that Dada was a reaction to the “psychological catastrophe” that was World War I.  It was an “anti-movement movement dedicated to anti-art,” with deliberately nonsensical tactics and a Nihilistic message, i.e. that life is essentially meaningless.  During the war, many artists and writers went into exile in response to the violence.  Dada was founded by German artists who sought escape from their disillusionment in Zurich, Switzerland, a neutral territory.  Hugo Ball and his wife were employed in the Berlin theater before moving to Zurich.  In his new city of residence, Ball attempted to combine music, literature, visual art, and daily life into a “total work of art” or gesamtkunstwerk.

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