Authors: Tristan Tzara

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Romanian-born French poet and essayist

Author Works

Poetry:

La Première Aventure céleste de Monsieur Antipyrine, 1916

La Deuxième Aventure céleste de Monsieur Antipyrine, wr. 1917, pb. 1938

Vingt-cinq poèmes, 1918

De nos oiseaux, 1923

Mouchoir de nuages, 1925

Indicateur des chemins de coeur, 1928

L’Arbre des voyageurs, 1930

L’Homme approximatif, 1931 (Approximate Man, and Other Writings, 1973)

Où boivent les loups, 1932

L’Antitête, 1933

Primele Poème, 1934 (English translation, 1976)

Grains et issues, 1935

Midis gagnés, 1939

Terre sur terre, 1946

Entre-temps, 1946

Le Signe de vie, 1946

Le Fruit permis, wr. 1946, pb. 1956

Phases, 1949

Sans coup férir, 1949

Parler seul, 1950

De mémoire d’homme, 1950

La Première main, 1952

La Face intérieure, 1953

À haute flamme, 1955

La Bonne heure, 1955

Miennes, 1955

Le Temps naissant, 1955

Parler seul, 1955

Frère bois, 1957

La Rose et le chien, 1958

Long Fiction:

Faites vos jeux, 1923

Drama:

Mouchoir de nuages, pb. 1924 (Handkerchief of Clouds, 1972)

Le Coeur à gaz, wr. 1921, pb. 1946 (The Gas Heart, 1964)

La Fuite, pb. 1947

Nonfiction:

Sept manifestes Dada, wr. 1917-1918, pb. 1924 (Seven Dada Manifestoes, 1977)

Le Surréalisme et l’après-guerre, 1947

L’Art Océanien, 1951

Picasso et la poésie, 1953

L’Égypte face à face, 1954

Lampisteries, 1963 (English translation, 1977)

Miscellaneous:

Œuvres completes, 1975-1991 (6 volumes)

Biography

As a young man, Tristan Tzara (tsah-rah), known as Sami Rosenstock until he changed his name in 1915, studied math and philosophy at the University of Bucharest. He wrote poetry in Romanian during this time, but his literary career did not begin in earnest until after he moved to Switzerland during World War I, where he helped to create Dada, one of the twentieth century’s most revolutionary and influential, albeit short-lived, artistic movements.{$I[A]Tzara, Tristan}{$S[A]Rosenstock, Sami;Tzara, Tristan}{$I[geo]ROMANIA;Tzara, Tristan}{$I[geo]FRANCE;Tzara, Tristan}{$I[tim]1896;Tzara, Tristan}

It must be said that “art” and “movement” are words that apply to Dada only in an ironic sense, because its members rejected everything that the word “art” had signified in European culture up to that point and were equally opposed to the idea of an organized, goal-oriented collective enterprise such as the word “movement” implies. Dada began in 1916 in Zurich, a city that hosted many Europeans who were seeking refuge from the violence and hopelessness of the war. The movement consisted of a small circle of young, primarily German-speaking artists and poets, who staged a series of events at a café called the Cabaret Voltaire. These events are now considered the precursors of more recent avant-garde experiments such as the theatrical, improvisational “happenings” of the 1960’s and the “performance art” of the 1980’s.

In part because much of his early work was performed in public, Tzara is considered to have made important contributions to the theater as well as to poetry. Tzara established himself as a creative force and theorist of Dada, and his first major published work, La Première aventure céleste de Monsieur Antipyrine (the first heavenly adventure of Mr. Antipyrine), is an illustration of some of the characteristics associated with the movement: provocation, iconoclasm, disregard for artistic convention, and spontaneity and openness toward new or previously unrecognized sources of inspiration. He pioneered the technique of “automatic writing,” or writing with as little conscious intellectual control as possible, borrowed material from African folk songs, and made use of pure sound unrelated to conventional meaning. He published his first “Dada Manifesto” in 1918, a radical and uncompromising statement that contributed to his reputation as leader of the movement, even though he was only one of several people who were particularly influential during the Zurich phase of Dada.

After the war ended in 1918, Dada evolved in two separate directions: toward Berlin, where an artistic avant-garde thrived until its suppression by the Nazis in the 1930’s, and toward Paris, where Tzara and a growing number of followers continued to perform and publish Dadaist “art” until the early 1920’s. As the French Dada group disbanded, several of its members and much of its subversive energy became part of the Surrealist movement, formed under the strict leadership of French writer André Breton. Unlike Dada, the radical spirit of which some say it betrayed, Surrealism set explicit goals for its practitioners, such as the use of the psychological concept of the unconscious as a source for art and the liberation of society from middle-class taboos. Although Breton received some of the inspiration for Surrealism from Dada, he feuded with Tzara, who for several years remained aloof from the movement.

Tzara married artist Greta Knutson in 1925, and the couple had a son, Christophe, in 1927. In 1929 he began to publish in Surrealist journals, in spite of the tension with Breton. Some of Tzara’s most highly regarded works date from his Surrealist period, including Approximate Man, Où boivent les loups (where the wolves drink), L’Antitête (the antihead), and Grains et issues (seeds and bran). While continuing in the Dadaist spirit, these poems differ from his earlier ones by virtue of a greater reliance on imagery and theme. Tzara is the only major French poet to have played such an important role in both the Dada and Surrealist groups.

Tzara broke with the Surrealists in 1935, mainly for political reasons. While Surrealists had always claimed political and social revolution as part of their program, Tzara became disillusioned with their inability or unwillingness to implement those goals. Attracted to Communism, he went to Spain to show support for the Republicans fighting the Fascists in the Civil War (1936-1939) and joined the French Communist Party when he became a French citizen in 1947. After the German occupation of France in 1940, Tzara was persecuted because of his Jewish origins and political activity. He went underground and joined the propaganda arm of the French Resistance. His newfound commitment to freedom and social justice proved to be an important influence on his poetry. Compared to the more radical experimentalism and dominance of sound over meaning characteristic of his early works, his poetry from the late 1930’s onward displays a greater lyrical dimension, at times idealistic in tone. He left the Communist Party in 1956 after the Soviet invasion of Hungary but nevertheless remained strongly committed to social reform and to a politically inspired concept of poetry as part of the concrete, daily lives of all members of humanity. In his final years he also devoted himself to writing literary and art criticism and to recording the history of Dada and its influence.

BibliographyBrowning, Gordon Frederick. Tristan Tzara: The Genesis of the Dada Poem or from Dada to Aa. Stuttgart, Germany: Akademischer Verlag Heinz, 1979. A critical study of Tzara’s Dada poems. Includes bibliographical references.Caldwell, Ruth. “From Chemical Explosion to Simple Fruits: Nature in the Poetry of Tristan Tzara.” Perspectives on Contemporary Literature 5 (1979): 18-23. A critical study of selected poems by Tzara containing references to nature.Cardinal, Roger. “Adventuring into Language.” The Times Literary Supplement, October 13, 1978, 1156. A review of the first few volumes of Tzara’s complete works, which had just been published in France. Provides a short but useful introduction to several of the major issues in his poetry.Caws, Mary Ann. Introduction to Approximate Man, and Other Writings, by Tristan Tzara. Translated by Caws. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1973. This book is an excellent selection of English translations of Tzara’s poetry, and the introduction provides a helpful guide to each phase of his work.Caws, Mary Ann, ed. Surrealist Painters and Poets: An Anthology. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2001. Contains translations of several prose pieces by Tzara as well as works by many of his contemporaries, providing an overview of the context in which he operated. Includes many illustrations.Marcus, Greil. Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989. A highly original and accessible study of nihilistic movements in art, music, and literature, from Dada to punk rock. Tzara is only one of many figures discussed here, but this book deserves mention because of its broad historical scope and excellent analysis of the relationship between popular culture and the avant-garde.Motherwell, Robert, and Jack D. Flam, eds. The Dada Painters and Poets: An Anthology. 2d ed. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989. A collection of Dada documents including journals, reviews, and manifestoes that hold valuable biographical and historical details of the life and work of Tzara.Peterson, Elmer. Tristan Tzara: Dada and Surrational Theorist. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1971. A study of Tzara’s aesthetics. Includes bibliographical references.Richter, Hans. Dada: Art and Anti-Art. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1997. Through selections from key manifestos and other documents of the time, Richter records Dada’s history, from its beginnings in wartime Zurich to its collapse in the Paris of the 1920’s.Varisco, Robert A. “Anarchy and Resistance in Tristan Tzara’s The Gas Heart.” Modern Drama 40, no. 1 (Spring, 1997): 139-148. Varisco argues that The Gas Heart is a form of anarchy against art, and specifically against the theater.
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