Tristan Tzara and The Cut-up Technique

Art Strategies / Week 2 / Procedural, Aleatory and Instructional

Dadaists and Surrealists have been commonly associated with lack of meaning. Abolishing common-sense, they operated in the territories of weird, grotesque and disorder. Tristan Tzara is known to be one of the founding members of the Dada movement. He was a leader of sorts. despite his dismissal of authority. His statements were contradictions, and his life was immersed in ambiguities. And all of this very interesting when I try to figure out the Dada movement, and the ideals behind it (or the lack of it).

The Dada Manifesto was built using contradictory and ambiguous statements, and was reflective of Tzara’s tendencies. Tristan Tzara, in the Dada manifesto talks about how he is against principles. Yet, he was a determined Communist, which is a political philosophy residing on certain principles. William Burroughs had accused Tzara of consuming his creative energies into becoming a Communist Party bureaucrat (link).

Using disorder, meaninglessness and ambiguity, Tzara had created an instruction set for writing a Dada poem. Underneath, I have posted Tzara’s instruction set, and results when I applied the set to a quote from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.



I believe that instruction sets can be highly instrumental when the purpose is to propagate something. The intent is to spread the instructions, let people indulge, be inclusive, and produce the desired art in multitude. The Dadaists and Surrealists, whatever form they used, were not representing art/ideas for the elite or the bourgeoisie. Hence, incomprehensible pieces of art that defied the traditional practice. Their art was meant to be distributed and to be misunderstood. Hence, the manifestos and theatrical appearances.

And similarly this instruction set by Tzara was meant for people to replicate the Dadaists ideals of inclusivity and challenging the bourgeoisie by mocking them. Through replication, the art/idea gained popularity and the Surrealists/Dadaists gained prominence. Over the years, did they turn into elitists themselves as Burroughs accuses? Or did they not?

A few decades later, Sol Lewitt was using instructional strategy for a similar purpose. To develop a unique style and create it in abundance. Around the same time, William Burroughs and Brion Gysin took Tzara’s instruction set and applied it to the audio format. Unlike Tzara, for Burroughs, this was an experiment and not an instrument in a movement. He derived understandings around the present and the future.

“When you cut into the present, the future leaks out.”
– William. S. Burroughs (link)


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