The Textual Ethics of Dada: A Case Study

John Wrighton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Responding to the total devastation and global upheavals of the world’s first industrial war, avant-garde poets in the first decades of the twentieth century undertook the extraordinary task of developing a ‘reality-shattering’ aesthetic and dismantling the verisimilitudes of realism in a ‘momentous turn to toward the ethical.’ Both multivalent, trans-modal, and often contradictory, these experimental and cross-genre innovations and poetic themes emerged in a new, trans-national Dada. Contributing to the burgeoning critical concern of the last decade in studies of twentieth century modernist poetry with the working through of ethics, this paper develops a case study for the textual ethics of Dada. The poems of the controversial ‘first American Dada,’ Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, it is argued, are a preeminent example of an ethical experimentation in Dada, for her poetry in its material and transmodal aesthetic takes as its subject the trauma of being, and performs the dialogic dimensions of inter-human relations. The analysis reveals that while it is resistant to the possibilities of a collective moral code, Dada poesis can profoundly attest to the ethical tension of language troubling humanity in a vital process of historical transformation. By examining three areas of art poesis – ethics and trauma, ethics of the textual body, ethics and desire – the essay advances the first textual ethics of Dada.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)117-140
Number of pages24
JournalTextual Practice
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jun 2016

Bibliographical note

This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis Group in Textual Practice on 27/06/2016, available online:


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