Living Dada

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Author: Paul Hjartarson
Date: June 2004
From: English Studies in Canada(Vol. 30, Issue 2)
Publisher: Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English
Document Type: Essay
Length: 3,465 words

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When she is dada she is the only one living anywhere who dresses dada, loves dada, lives dada.

Jane Heap writing in The Little Review about the Baroness

IRENE GAMMEL'S BARONESS ELSA is the first book-length, scholarly biography of the German-born Dada poet and artist, Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven. (1) It is a significant achievement. Gammel's biography is a milestone in the current reassessment of the Baroness (2) and of the role of women in New York Dada (and in modernism generally); it is also an important contribution to work in several fields, including the study of how ideas move from one nation, language, and culture to another. By the early twenties, the Baroness had already become a legendary figure in modernist circles. "Paris has had Dada for five years," John Rodker declared in The Little Review in the summer of 1920, "and we have had Else von Freytag-Loringhoven for quite two years"; he adds: "In Else von Freytag-Loringhoven Paris is mystically united [with] New York" (33). The legend of the Baroness continues to grow: a one-person play, The Last of the Red-Hot Dadas, written by Kerry Reid and starring Christina Augello, tours internationally; a recent fashion photo essay in the New York Times Magazine, "My Heart Belongs to Dada," focussed on her life and dress; and Rene Steinke, author of The Fires, is at work on a novel, Holy Skirts, set in Greenwich Village and centered on her life. At the outset of his chapter on the Baroness in New York Dada 1915-23, Francis M. Naumann quotes Rodker's comments regarding the Baroness and terms her "a critical link between the American and European avant-garde" (33). That link is also explored in the recently published collection of essays, The Politics of Cultural Mediation: Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven and Felix Paul Greve. Like Naumann, Gammel quotes Rodker's observation, but her biography, more than any previous study, seeks to understand the role of the Baroness in the mediation of culture.

In the memories, artwork and life writing of modernists involved in the New York scene between 1915 and 1923--Berenice Abbott, Margaret Anderson, Djuna Barnes, George Biddle, Hart Crane, Marcel Duchamp, Jane Heap, Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams come immediately to mind--the Baroness invariably makes an appearance. Usually a very dramatic appearance. In An American Artist's Story, for example, George Biddle describes the Baroness's arrival at his Philadelphia art studio in the spring of 1917:

Having asked me, in her harsh, high-pitched German stridency, whether I required a model, I told her that I should like to see her in the nude. With a royal gesture she swept apart the folds of a scarlet raincoat. She stood before me quite naked--or nearly so. Over the nipples of her breasts were two tin tomato cans, fastened with a green string about her back. Between the tomato cans hung a very small bird-cage and within it a crestfallen canary. One arm was covered from wrist to shoulder with celluloid curtain rings, which later she...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A169457869