In order to bind back my discussion to the historical context, I will make several comparisons to Hans Ostwalds Sittengeschichte der Inflation. Ein Kulturdokument aus den Jahren des Marktsturzes from 1931. This book does not attempt a neutral cultural analysis but represents an almost contemporaneous and extensive report that recognized in the inflation everything that was wrong with society. According to Ostwald, inflation was not only an economic process, but mirrored the hedonistic and immoral zeitgeist and brought about prostitution, divorces, even magician and clairvoyants. In its polemical tone, it is an enormously enlightening document and it simultaneously describes and rejects the hyperinflation in a tone that resembles the cultural criticism voiced against Dada in the early twentieth century.

Dada and the Growth of Nothing

Certainly, Dada emerged in 1916 in Zurich, spread all over Europe after the end of the First World War and culminated and ended – at least in Germany – in 1920 with the great Dada exhibition in Berlin. A comparison between Dada and the time of inflation thus faces the problem that Dada preceded the hyperinflation and was not a product of it. I also do not want to imply that – based on the coincidence that Dada basically ended in the moment when the hyperinflation was about to start – that Dada caused the money devaluation. However, the logic and aesthetic of Dada can be seen as a parameter that was used to deal with this economic situation, and also Dada texts explicitly point to money devaluation, and more implicitly performed a logic that undercut any economic rational.

As also Ostwald documents in his Sittengeschichte, the Dada movement belonged to the great cultural forces in the early twentieth century that shook up the bourgeois society of Weimar Germany and attempted to provoke and invigorate their contemporaries with a culture of non-sense that was enveloped in the polysemantic linguistic shrapnel «Dada». This newly shaped word «dada» did not mean anything, but precisely because of that it could be attached to and used for everything. Already the first Dada manifestos from Zurich celebrated «Dada» as something completely meaningless that nonetheless had the power to invade every aspect of a society. [2] The flexibility that is inscribed into «dada» and its potentially ubiquitous presence was understood by the Dadaists as an orgiastic, nonsensical growth that could not be stopped. The Dadaistisches Manifest even attests that Dada has a global impact: «der Club Dada hat […] Mitglieder in allen Teilen der Erde, in Honolulu so gut wie in New Orleans und Meseritz.» [3] In fact, the Dada movement became a rather international enterprise that inscribed its traces not only all over Europe, but also emerged in New York and influenced modern poetry all around the world.

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