Disdain for realism in Dada and Eliot


One common thread I noticed running through Tristan Tzara’s “Dada Manifesto 1918” and the magazine I chose to read, East & West, was a negative opinion of art or media that attempts to capture reality as it really is. In Tzara’s work, this is reflected through his distaste for journalism and journalists (“When a writer or artist is praised by the newspapers, it is a proof of the intelligibility of his work: wretched lining of a coat for public use…”), his general distrust of reality (“Everything one looks at is false”), and his belief in relativism (“Some people think they can explain rationally, by thought, what they think. But that is extremely relative […] There is no ultimate Truth”). In “The Artist” in issue one of East & West, this same disdain for art that attempts to capture reality is expressed in the description of a photo-realistic painting in a gallery: “But the position of honor was occupied by a rural scene with a cow painted in what may be called the ‘official’ style […] It was executed with photographic detail that defied all attempt to look at the canvas as a whole, the eye being constantly distracted by minutiae. Thus the hairs at the end of the cow’s tail had been painted with an enthusiasm as touching as it was inartistic” (Kobbé 7). The designation of a photo-realistic painting as inartistic reflects the same disgust for attempts to create art that closely reflects reality that is elaborated in “Dada Manifesto;” Tzara would likely advise the photo-realistic painter that his work is better accomplished by a camera.

I believe this rejection of realism is reflected throughout the poetry of Eliot and other Modernists. There is, in Eliot’s poems, a particular vagueness and obscurity. He does not seek to describe old age as clearly and concisely as he can in “Gerontion;” he does not seek to express his feelings simply in The Waste Land. Instead, Eliot’s poetry embodies this departure from a photographic representation of the world that was celebrated by the Dada movement.

East & West, issue one: http://bluemountain.princeton.edu/pdfs/periodicals/bmtnaar/issues/1899/11/15_01/bmtnaar_1899-11-15_01.pdf


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