D@d@ist Poetry by Raoul Hausmann
On the 1st of February 1971, Austrian artist and writer, Raoul Hausmann, died in Limoges, France. He was one of the founders of Berlin Dada. Together with Richard Huelsenbeck, George Grosz, John Heartfield, Fritz Jung, Hannah Höch, Walter Mehring and Johannes Baader, he established the famous Club Dada, where all kinds of evening events, poetry performances, and lectures took place. The first staged event, on the 12th of April 1918, with Huelsenbeck’s reading of the Dada manifesto – “Dadaism in Life and in Art,” followed by the Cubist dance performed by George Grosz, ended with Hausmann’s lecture – “The New Materials in Painting”, which investigated man’s “sexopsychic capacity” in art and explored the art of real objects. The lecture, as well as all the other performances of the night, caused a great stir among the public; this is how Hausmann described the atmosphere during the event: “My text, “The New Materials in Painting,” created such a commotion that the management, who was worried about its paintings displayed on the walls, switched of the lights in the middle of my speech, condemning me to darkness and silence.” (Raoul Hausmann, Am Anfang War Dada, 1972).
In 1919, Hausmann and Baader founded the first German Dadaist magazine, Der Dada. The periodical contained drawings, polemics, poems and satires, and experimented with the use of various fonts and signs of different typefaces and sizes. This, as well as the influence of the Expressionist poet, August Stramm, and several Futurist poets, led Hausmann to creating his famous sound poems – phenomes, and the so-called poster poems. Even though similar experiments with language had been already performed by the Zurich Dadaists, Hausmann claimed that he had no knowledge of it at the time, and that his poems were his own invention. “In his own sound poems, Hausmann smashed the language up, isolated individual syllables, broke meaningful elements into pieces and re-assembled the scraps in a different order. Language was robbed of its communicative function; the sounds took on a life of their own; they had nothing more to say. The resulting sequences of sounds created for listeners a new, unfamiliar, acoustic experience. In his “opto-phonetic” poster poems, Raoul Hausmann linked this linguistic expression with a pictorial one. By printing the texts of his sound poems on large pieces of wrapping paper, he gave the sounds visual form. These works were designed to overwhelm the beholder-cum-listener visually and acoustically.” (Dietmar Elger, Dadaism)
One of his most famous poster poems is the two-liner fmsbwtözäupggiv-..?mü, which can easily be quoted with a standard set of typographic signs. This cannot be said about his other poem OFFEA, which incorporates a graphical element in the form of a pointing finger that is not a simple letter or punctuation mark. What both poems have in common is that they consist of a random selection of letters from a letter box. Hausmann conveys the excitement of this experiment with the visual qualities of letters in his autobiography: “After all, letter poems are there to be seen, but also to be looked at – so why not make posters out of them?” (Hausmann, Texte). What he meant by it was that signs are able to produce meaning, but also have an aesthetic value to them, and the poster poems had precisely the capacity to demonstrate the aesthetic dimension of the signs. The first poem uses only the lower case, whilst the second poem appears to be more extended, as it contains lower and upper cases and other typographical features such as the pointing finger. However, the purely aesthetic experience of Hausmann’s poster poems gains a totally new quality once the poems are read aloud. Hausmann did several readings of his poems which, as strange as they may sound, are probably one of the most explicit examples of Dadaist philosophy.