Advertisements in The Dial

The first thing I noticed when comparing The Criterion to The Dial was the amount of advertising in The Dial. The names of some of these novels presented do not even sound real. The Goose Man and Rootabaga Stories have intrigued me more than I care to admit. Even though this magazine mostly has ads related to literature, the ads make the magazine feel less pretentious than The Criterion. In The Criterion, there was no explanation of the pieces chosen or any explanation of the magazine’s overall purpose. The Dial seems like a magazine I would actually enjoy or at least I would mind pretending to enjoy. The Criterion did nothing for me. I must admit that the pleasure I got from The Dial was entirely from the advertisements. What’s not to love when it has a header reading “The Color of Life is in These Books.” Which seems like a bit of a stretch considering all the novels sound absolutely boring. Nonetheless, The Dial was a far more enjoyable read.

Interesting point: Scott Fitzgerald seems to approve of the novel Babel stating that “Babel is the love affair of hundreds of thousands of people, one of the most real and human love episodes in recent fiction.”

Dada “Poetry”?

I was struck by two things in the Alfred Stieglitz inspired 291 vol. 2. First, with my limited knowledge of Dada, I always assumed it to be French art movement. Yet, the synopsis of 291 from Blue Mountain lists artists from different parts of Europe and America, and says, “affiliated with the New York Dada.” I’m sure my ignorance led me to assume this, but I find it interesting that Dada was, though short-lived, an international movement, which might contribute to its jumbled nature and qualities of intersection that lend it original characteristics.

I was also struck by the “poem” in vol. 2 on page 3. Let me transcribe a portion:




Relief.  Many minds, many voices would have been unen-

durable to-day.

What a restful voice his.

Silence of snow-covered roof-tops.  New York is best from

the back and from above.

He is telling me this ——- laughing clowns ——-

to find out whether I have dared to live. ——-


—- one

—— two

——- three ——

How can he bear to speak of it if it was real to him?


This section, and the other parts of the poem — which is balanced with drawings of shapes and lines, drawn logos, and other interruptions — reminded me of the style and voice The Waste Land is written with. Though I find the above poem, which I believe is “Mental Reactions” by Agnes Ernst Meyer, to be both more straight forward and surreal, which may seem contradictory. Here, a singular voice seems to be speaking about a concrete place and another person, how unendurable NYC is, and how the man’s voice is peaceful. The surrealist elements come into play with lines such as, “laughing clowns,” and, “How can he bear to speak of it if it was real to him?” which seems to me like a silly, nonsensical thing to wonder. This magazine was dated at “1915-04,” predating Eliot’s magnum opus, but not his own poetics. I like this Dada poem, and if you haven’t you should check out Stieglitz’s photography, he’s a cool dude.




Kingston / Gloucester

One of the things our class has embraced is the picking apart of The Waste Land in order to enhance our critical understanding of the poem. What better place to begin our tour of Modernist art and aesthetics than with Dadaism, a fascinating artistic movement whose luminaries dabbled in the nonsensical and absurd? In order to restrict the dimensions of this analysis to manageable/portable sizes, I’ll focus on our class’ discussion and several pertinent pieces of information I found online.

Earlier today, scanning the Internet for pliable research topics, I stumbled across the origins of Dada. Rising to prominence in the aftermath of the First Great War (redolent of Our Poet’s rise to the mainstream), the Dadaists trafficked in art that was very nearly antithetical to Eliot’s own. The collective of artists who referred to themselves as Dadaists refused to be pinned down by anything but their own terms and labels; Marcel Duchamp, famed New Yorkian avant-gardist, even refuted associations with the movement despite clear collaborations between him and his contemporaries. Cross-pollination seems plausible, with many recorded encounters between several factions of the group (the three headquarters are typically acknowledged as Zurich, New York and Paris). Famously, Duchamp requested permission from Tzara for the usage of the word “Dada, ” to which the second man, the coiner and originally distributor of the term, replied that Dada “was for everyone.”

So now that we’ve begun to clear the air around the mystery of Dadaism, we can start to demystify T.S. Eliot’s association with the group as well. Due to the dissemination of divergent aesthetics in the artistic community, I believe that T.S. Eliot certainly encountered the Dadaist Movement at one point or another, probably by the mid- to late- 1920s at the latest. In order to justify this claim, I turned to a short excerpted piece by Sean Coffer. Eliot, a recently converted Anglican Christian by the publication date of “Ash Wednesday” in 1927, was decidedly NOT that six years prior during the drafting of The Waste Land. The author of this particular paper claims that by edging closer to the aesthetics of the Zurich Dadaists, Eliot positions himself brilliantly into a new era of poetics, for himself and for popular art in general. The article breaks before Coffer’s thesis can be established and verified, requiring some additional extrapolation on my part.

The language of Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday” struck this reader immediately as broken and unsure, quickly alternating between peaks of emotional ecstasy and troughs of despair. The formal repetition of the poem’s opening lines (Section I is patterned off of the statement “because I…”) simultaneously evokes both sacrosanct, religious incantations and depressing resignations/lamentations. Yet the structure of the poem’s first portion IS as absurd as a Dadaist painting; it’s spontaneous, fluid and full of expression. The motivation for these rapid mood swings seems to be external to the poem (possibly hidden in plain sight?), and while it’s clear that he grapples with the values of his faith, there’s an underlying pain that translates beyond the poem. The fact that he can’t, or doesn’t, name this Pain might allude to the Dadaist conceit of calling one thing something else entirely; besides, the “naming” of this Pain seems almost superfluous to a comprehension of it (I expand on this below). While I admit that at the time of this writing I’ve only read the first little bit of this poem, I can sense that Eliot wants to exorcise the part of himself that’s riddled with doubt. Perhaps by confronting the most immediate emotional responses by undercutting the intellectual significance of his word usage, Eliot hopes to contrive a more base yet equally true understanding of self-. Some of the Dadaists were pretty pro-intellectual, but also pretty anti-bullshit; Duchamp’s readymades were so controversial because audience’s couldn’t see why Duchamp would so clearly mislabel a toilet a fountain. Maybe it’s a similar conceit; that Faith and the Emotions of Self are seemingly antagonistic entities who nevertheless must coexist, and while understanding and misunderstanding play a key role in the foundations of belief, overationalization will bring him further from any definition that would seek to reconcile them. Art, for both Eliot and the Dadaists, seeks to reconcile some version of Truth with what they already know and can perceive. Eliot’s ultimate struggle as a man of faith is, after all, to become whole with God, despite his fear of knowing too much about the physical world (man’s world) or perhaps not enough; whether he perceives this is possible still remains to be seen.

Most of this article’s info was shamelessly pulled off the Wikipedia page for Dada and a Poetry Foundation reproduction of Ash Wednesday. Additionally, here are several other sources that helped me break down the movement from a specific vantage point:

Dada and The Broom

In the Dada Manifesto, Tristan Tzara states that “Dada is nothing”. The Broom magazine published art and poetry post WWI. In the first issue published there is art by Pablo Picasso. The image I found most interesting was Volume 4 Issue 1. The image is on page 13 following a poem by Louis Grudin. The poem has a similar feel to the Wasteland with multiple characters and narrators. The image on page 13 looks like a two-headed child with one side monstrous and the other normal. Comparing the art to the poem, there is not an immediate correlation. The image is also blocky, looking almost like a work of cubism. The image is childlike and does not logically fit with the poem it follows.

Incomprehensible and Primitive

Dada has a lot going on, to say the least. But in the issue I chose (291 Vol. 12), the works within it directly references several of the ideas within the Dadaist manifesto. Firstly, there is a poem by Katharine N. Rhoades that takes to heart the assertion that a poem that is intelligible is the “wretched lining of a coat for public use; tatters covering brutality, piss contributing to the warmth of an animal brooding vile instincts. Flabby, insipid flesh reproducing with the help of typographical microbes.” The poem is extremely fragmented and aimless. It depicts pointless and incessant motion. Eliot’s utilization of imagism is an adherence to the injunction to be purposefully abstruse. He also uses similar experimentation in form as Rhoades.

The Manifesto also includes the Modernist obsession with “primitive” arts, mentioning the origin of the word dada as originating from “the Kru Negroes” that “call the tail of a holy cow Dada” and how the critics attack them “as a relapse into a dry and noisy, noisy and monotonous primitivism.” In this issue, the cover is a photograph of an African mask. Zayas asserts that “Negro art has re-awakened in us a sensibility obliterated by an education, which makes us always connect what we see with what we know…” In essence, looking at primitive art helps western art release its preconceived notions of representation and reality.  The fifth part of The Waste Land has a similar emphasis on the embrace of primitive cultures.



Cannibale no.1

Through the readings, I was largely struck by the nonsensical nature of the Dada movement, even the name.  From Tristan Tzara’s words in the Dada Manifesto, “I write a manifesto and I want nothing, yet I say certain things, and in principle I am against manifestoes, as I am also against principles,” to the descriptions of the Cut-Up Technique (cut all the words out of an article, shake them up, and the order that you put them bak down on paper will not only create a poem, but will reflect something about yourself), all add up to nonsensical theories.

The periodical, Cannibale, was published in Paris in 1920.  Though I didn’t have time to fully read the whole thing (my French reading brain is much slower than my English one), I thought that what I read seemed to accurately depict what was stated in the Manifesto.  One “poem” in particular stuck out to me, as I could make neither head nor tail of it.

Titled “Suicide,” the poem is just a listing of the alphabet.  I suppose the point of the poem could be that it has no point, in the way that people who feel forced to take their own lives likewise feel that their lives have no point? But beyond that, I have few guesses.


Other phrases in the journal stuck out to me as well, such as small collection of sentences (shown below) that begin with the phrase “Dada is a dog” and describe Dada as being “brutal.”  Why?

Screen Shot 2017-04-04 at 9.23.53 AM.png



The Mask

After reading Tzara’s “Dadaist Manifesto” and Agnes Ernst Meyer’s article from 291, “How Versus Why,” I understand Dada to be an anti-aesthetic movement that seeks to intellectualize art and re-define art criticism as a fluid medium rather than as a fixed set of standards for interpreting the emotions and reactions art produces.  Artists take more of a scientific or investigative approach to expression, and criticism centralizes on evaluating how effectively art conveys an intended political message.  One of the images that I think best expresses these attitudes towards art is the cover of the April 1908 issue of The Mask magazine.  The image shows an abstract drawing that resembles a Rorschach test placed within the center of geometric shapes and seems to represent chaos/disorder within systematic structure, an overarching theme of The Waste Land.