Saturday, June 03, 2006


Richard HUELSENBECK, Birribum, Birribum, 1919


Huelsenbeck was born in Frankenau, Germany in 1892.

He joined the Caberet Voltaire as a result of his friend Hugo Ball. He annoyed the public in a way rivalled only by Tzara, Huelsenbeck annoyed the world with his 'school boy insolence' - he was a loud, noisy upstart and delighted in irritating people.

Huelsenbeck was more prolific a writer than an artist, he was obsessed with Negro rhythms - his public readins of poetry were usually accompanied by a large tomtom drum. Ball said that Huelsenbeck would like to "drum literiture into the ground."Huelsenbeck came to Berlin in 1917 and found a war weary city riddled with corruption. He promptly denounced his Dada colleagues and said that to have any relevance in Germany Dada must be stronger and even mre provocative than in Zurich - it must be ready to 'make literature with a gun'. He joined with other artists Franz Jung, George Grosz, Raoul Hausmann and Johannes Baader who declared himself 'super-dada'. Together they founded the 'Christ & Co. Ltd.' and stormed the Weimar Diet and threw down leaflets declaring themselves rulers of the Globe.

Huelsenbeck and the others created the Club Dada in Berlin which began to flourish and was soon a rival of the Paris Dada movement. Huelsenbeck was a forceful personality and Berlin Dada revolved around him, he was the most political of the Dadas and saw his art as a political weapon. For him Dada was an artistic wing of Marxism.

If anyone wanted entry to Club Dada they first had to be approved by Huelsenbeck - and Huelsenbeck was hard to please, he often took a disliking to people for no good reason, for example he refused membership to Kurt Schwitters on the grounds of his 'bourgeois face'.

The work of Huelsenbeck is angry, political and bleak, he was the true spirit of Berlin Dada and it was only natural that he antagonised the Paris Dadas who were far more theatrical and far less political than he.The best summing up of Richard Huelsenbeck is in his 1916 poem 'The End Of The World' :

This is what things have come to in this world.

The cows sit on the telegraph poles and play chess
The cockatoo under the skirts of the Spanish dancer
Sings as sadly as a headquaters bugler and the cannon lament all day
That is the lavender landscape Herr Mayer was talking aboutwhen he lost his eye
Only the fire department can drive the nightmare from the drawing-room bur all the hoses are broken
Ah yes Sonya they all take the celluloid doll for a changelingand shout : God save the King
The whole Monist Club is gathered on the steamship Meyerbeer
But only the pilot has any conception of high CI pull the anatomical atlas out of my toea serious study begins
Have you seen the fish that have been standing in front of theopera in cutawaysfor the last two days and nights...?
Ah ah ye great devils - ah ah ye keepers of bees and commandments
With a bow wow wow with a bow woe woe who does today not knowwhat our Father Homer wroteI hold peace and war in my toga but I'll take a cherry flipToday nobody knows whether he was tomorrow
They beat time with a coffin lidIf somebody had the nerve to rip the tail feathersout of the trolley car it's a great age
The professors of zoology gather in the medowsWith the palms of their hands they turn back the rainbowsthe great magician sats the tomatoes on his forehead
Again thou hauntest castle and groundsThe roebuck whistles the stallion bounds
(And this is how the world is this is all that's ahead of us).

HUELSENBECK Richard (1892-1974). Avant la Première Guerre mondiale, Richard Huelsenbeck, né à Frankenau en Allemagne, est déjà parmi les jeunes poètes et écrivains expressionnistes qui fréquentent, à Berlin, le café des Westerns et affichent des idées antimilitaristes. Réformé militaire, il arrive en février 1916 de Berlin pour Zurich ou il créa le mouvement Dada. Il revint à Berlin en 1917 et il y publia le premier manifeste Dada en Avril 1918. Ce manifeste était signé par : Tristan Tzara, Franz Jung, George Grosz, Marcel Janco, Richard Huelsenbeck, G. Preisz et Raoul Hausmann. Vers 1930, il fut médecin, comme Otto Gross, sur les lignes maritimes Hambourg-Amérique du Sud. En 1916,il publia, dans la « Collection DADA » : Schalaben, Schalabai, Schalamezomai et les Phantastische Gebete (Prières fantastiques). Il fut psychiatre à New-York sous le nom de Charles R. Hulbeck.

Ayant rejoint à Zurich Hugo Ball, qui vient de fonder le cabaret Voltaire, il canalise l’action dadaïste vers la provocation et l’expérimentation poétique. Avec Janco et Tzara, il réalise, en mars 1916 au cabaret Voltaire, la première déclamation simultanée, inspirée des idées de Barzun, avec le poème : L’amiral cherche une maison à louer . Antagoniste de Tzara, il représente à Zurich l’aile gauche du dadaïsme naissant. Un an plus tard (janvier 1917), Huelsenbeck retourne à Berlin et se consacre à la création d’un dadaïsme berlinois qui est attisé par la situation politique allemande. Il publie un essai en mai 1917, L’Homme nouveau , et donne une conférence sur Dada et sur les activités auxquelles il a pris part à Zurich en février 1918 à la galerie Neumann de Berlin. Cet événement est à l’origine de la formation du premier groupe d’intellectuels révolutionnaires sous l’impulsion du message dadaïste. Au mois d’avril suivant, Huelsenbeck, Hausmann et Grosz organisent la première soirée dada dans la salle de la Nouvelle Sécession. Lors de cette séance publique, Huelsenbeck déclame le premier Manifeste dadaïste allemand, signé par tous les adhérents mais dont il est le principal rédacteur. Les idées contenues dans le Manifeste — le cosmopolitisme du mouvement, la proclamation de Dada comme "disposition de l’esprit" et l’opposition à toute tendance éthique et esthétique — sont alors les mêmes que les idées avancées par le groupe de Zurich dont Huelsenbeck s’est fait le porte-parole ; mais très tôt il va donner un tour politique aux activités du mouvement berlinois. Il affiche ainsi les mêmes idées qui caractérisent la position intellectuelle des dadaïstes allemands : Grosz, Hausmann, les frères Herzfelde, Höch, Baader. En 1919-1920, il collabore à l’organe du groupe berlinois, la revue Der Dada , et il constitue avec Hausmann et Golyschev un "comité central dadaïste" dont le Manifeste se réclame d’un "communisme radical". À partir de février 1920, il organise, avec Baader et Hausmann, une tumultueuse tournée qui les mène, de matinées en soirées dada, à Dresde, à Hambourg, à Leipzig, à Teplitz-Sanov, à Prague, à Karlsbad. Il publie en même temps des ouvrages très polémiques : Dada vaincra ; et L’Allemagne doit disparaître, ainsi que l’une des premières histoires du dadaïsme, En avant Dada . C’est encore en 1920 que, après la grande Foire internationale dada de Berlin, il se fait l’éditeur de Dada-Almanach, une anthologie qui est l’une des plus importantes publications dadaïstes. Mais, dès 1921, il cesse toute activité dadaïste. Après avoir publié quelques romans, il cesse d’écrire, et, plus tard, sous le nom de Charles Richard Hulbeck, s’établit à New York, où il ouvre un cabinet de psychanalyste. Il réalise aussi de nombreux collages qui seront exposés à Paris quelques années plus tard. Dans les années cinquante, alors que l’attention des critiques est à nouveau attirée par le dadaïsme, il publie de nouveaux Manifestes dans lesquels il revendique le rôle de créateur du dadaïsme en Allemagne, nie la mort historique de Dada et, enfin, identifie Dada à l’existentialisme. Son Dada Manifest 1949 est explicitement condamné par Tzara. Il se retire en Suisse et passe les dernières années de sa vie à Minusio, dans le canton du Tessin, où il est mort.

More than forty years, almost half a century, have passed since the Fantastic Prayers were first published, and we pinch our noses to verify that we are still alive. A whole world lies between 1916 and 1960, and mankind has turned around twice on its toes and heels since then. From waltzes to rock and roll, from Cabaret Voltaire to Abstract Expressionism, from the Kaiser's mustache to Dewey's republican handlebar mustache, from the corset to the bra, from glory to publicity, from religion to Billy Graham, etcetera, etcetera, a vertiginous game with changed values.

From the depths of my origins in Hesse and Westphalia, where the people ate, slept and loved because they were certain of their purpose and God's protective power, my existence has turned into something panicky, perhaps terrible but also something great. With the train of time I have moved westward from the west, and now I look out of my window at the New York skyscrapers surrounding my house near and far like steel mushrooms of antedeluvian origin burst out of the primary rock. People come and go in masses; this is considered progress; the lunar rocket is about to be launched, the democratic sense of smell is discovering mathematical geniuses among the loafers in doorways and corners; the girls are glad to be as thin as wafers. But you ask yourself: "Where shall we end if half of mankind has dissolved in air, desire and nylon ... ?"

...As Arp and I are sitting in the large living room of my house on Central Park in November 1958, we try again and again to understand the significance of dadaism for ourselves and for others. Many elements surfaced in me and in the Fantastic Prayers at the same time; resistance against the "civilization" we live in, fury about a purely factual world which leaves out personality and thus creative power, the means of irony and underlying religiousness. Ball turned religious during the times of dadaism, Arp is a religious person today, and I have always been one, without wanting to realize it, perhaps without knowing it.

Religiousness has little to do with faith as it is taught in church. It is no more than the archetypal power of experience surrounding the incisive universal spirit. It is the experience of constructive will in the world which lends wings to the course of the stars despite all the fallen angels and helps man in the course of his life to understand the archetypal symbols of his existence. And deeper than daily thought. The silence behind the noise is the sense of the Fantastic Prayers.

Richard HUELSENBECK, « Préface » à la réédition des Phantastisches Gebete (Zurich,1916, Collection DADA ; Berlin, Malik Verlag, 1920), New York, November 1958 - translations © 2000 by Johannes Beilharz

Réédition récente de l'Almanach DADA, Berlin, 1920