If Dadaism ever deigned to define anything, it was the ideology of anti-institutional expression: art was ultimately for and by the artist. Tzara liberated the term (Art with a capital “A”) from mass opinion and consumerism by first challenging the conventions that surrounded it. Duchamp’s fountain is the perfect example of this, because a urinal –mass-produced and utilitarian— had no value or meaning to members from what Tzara would call the “bourgeoisie” class. This installation challenged how art is defined while presenting something ready-made and without a market outside its original function. Dada did not cater to any audiences. Secondly, Tzara asserted that art should neither be explained nor understood, and this claim separated Dada from most other isms. Gertrude Stein’s articles in Camera Work serve as the literary equivalent, filled with contradictions, repetitions, and run-ons that defy organization. While reading these was difficult, I encountered more of a stream-of-consciousness or abstract thought pattern from them than nonsense. At the same time, the words slip out of focus and make it impossible to come to the end of a sentences with a conclusion.
“Flip-Flap” reiterates both of the previous claims: art does not manufacture feelings for those “who dare not create.” The laugh in Rhoades’ poem is one complete, reactive, and enigmatic definition for Dada. Matisse and his paintings present another. The individualistic nature of each figure, the fact that none are so carefully arranged but seem to have their own motivations, and his linear treatment of these figures all communicate deconstruction, subjectivity, and existential joy.
Before studying this aspect of the modernist era, I was having trouble creating a distinction between it and other literary periods; after anti-manifestos and subjective still-life’s, it’s become easier to understand that while Modernism might echo backward through earlier literary works, it is its own event.