The secret history of Dada's Romanian roots; how Tristan Tzara,
Marcel, Jules, and Georges Janco, and Arthur Segal influenced the
most famous and outrageous modernist movement. Dada-perhaps the
most famous and outrageous of modernism's artistic movements-is
said to have begun at the Cabaret Voltaire, a literary evening
staged at the restaurant Meierei in Zurich on February 5, 1916. The
evening featured stamping, roaring, banging on the lids of pots and
pans, and the recitation of incomprehensible "poemes simultanes."
Thus a global revolution in art and culture was born in a Swiss
restaurant. Or was it? In Dada East, Tom Sandqvist shows that Dada
did not spring full-grown from a Zurich literary salon but grew out
of an already vibrant artistic tradition in Eastern
Europe-particularly Romania-that was transposed to Switzerland when
a group of Romanian modernists settled in Zurich. Bucharest and
other cities in Romania had been the scene of Dada-like poetry,
prose, and spectacle in the years before World War I. One of the
leading lights was Tristan Tzara, who began his career in
avant-garde literature at fifteen when he cofounded the magazine
Simbolul. Tzara-who himself coined the term "Dada," inspired by an
obscure connection of his birthday to an Orthodox saint-was at the
Cabaret Voltaire that night, along with fellow Romanians Marcel,
Jules, and Georges Janco and Arthur Segal. It's not a coincidence,
Sandqvist argues, that so many of the first dadaist group were
Romanians. Sandqvist traces the artistic and personal
transformations that took place in the "little Paris of the
Balkans" before they took center stage elsewhere, finding sources
as varied as symbolism, futurism, and folklore. He points to a
connection between Romanian modernists and the Eastern European
Yiddish tradition; Tzara, the Janco brothers, and Segal all grew up
within Jewish culture and traditions. For years, the communist
authorities in Romania disowned and disavowed Romania's avant-garde
movements. Now, as archives and libraries are opening to Western
scholars, Tom Sandqvist tells the secret history of Dada's Romanian
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