Le venu de Zurich' or Tristan Tzara and the Insolence of the Margin

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Editors: Thomas J. Schoenberg and Lawrence J. Trudeau
Date: 2005
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 8,792 words

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[(essay date fall 1998) In the following essay, Jordache-Martin examines the significance of geography and cultural location in Tzara's work and the Dada movement.]

Among the more recent challenges to modernity is the increasingly layered structure of its model which before the post-structuralist revisions of the past decades, seemed almost monolithic, or, at best, a pattern of elementary divisions and antagonisms which had often missed the complexity of fusions and proximities, the inter-generating (not only the intra/self generating) tensions on which modernity grows.

Recent criticism has repeatedly exposed the simplistic nature of such a vision and the numerous silenced conflicts underlying it. History (personal and communal), tradition, power, desire, and body are but a few of the approaches by which the contemporary critical discourse chooses to intervene and re-map the concerns of modernity. This new space of intervention, at the crossroads, is what the critical jargon calls "a space of negotiation," the siege of the heterogeneous, the fragmentary, and the plural. This is also, perhaps, Habermas's space of "intersubjective communicative action" (x), a space that moves from a critique of reason, to a critique of the subject, in which the subject is no longer "autonomous, disembodied, potentially and ideally self-transparent" (ix), but, to use a Heideggerian syntagm, "thrown to the world" and at grips with it.1 This is not meant to deny a certain universal dimension still inherent in the subject, but only to redefine universalism as a juxtaposition of individual experiences, qualitatively differentiated, a tapestry of "essential finitudes" rather than mere accumulation, synthesis, or abstraction. This modern subject is caught, in Charles Taylor's words, among "webs of interlocution" (36), between the things "modernity casts in relief" and "the things it casts in shadow" (ix).2

The purpose of this essay is to operate such a revision along more recent definitions of cultural location, and to reveal some of "the invisible" traits behind "the visible," canonized image of a writer, Tristan Tzara, whose cultural allegiances have often been all too easily equated with the two cultural and geographical spaces, Zurich and Paris, which have marked his literary career.3 What I will try to show in this essay is that these locations are only provisional stops along a convoluted road which is marked by a whole set of uncertainties of origin and influence that are actually crucial for an understanding of Tzara's work and of the Dada movement. I also hope that this critical exercise, by recovering some of the "latent memory traces"4 in Tzara's work and existential experience, will lead to a reevaluation of the interplay between politics and poetics and open into a broader discussion about the ambiguous nature of cultural and geographical polarities, and a criticism of simplistic causality as epistemological practice. Given the European context of my discussion, I also hope that my argument will echo some of the contemporary concerns over the cultural and geopolitical divisions of Europe.

This investigation started from a simple fact of literary history. In 1925 Samuel Rosenstock,...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420067333