No. 25. Approximate Humanism: Tristan Tzara - Call for contributions
Guest editors: Erica O’Neill and Stephen Forcer
In the last few decades research into Tristan Tzara has made considerable strides, with a much greater understanding now available of his activity within and without the Dada period, his poetic and theatrical outputs, the extent of his connections to art history and philosophy, and his bio-historical trajectory. Equally, there remains much more to be learned about Tzara, who was held in the highest esteem by some of the major figures of his day, and whose work was recognised as important in humanist, scientific, theatrical, philosophical, and poetic terms.
This special issue intends to acknowledge the breadth of Tzara’s contribution to social and cultural history. Under the theme of humanism, we welcome contributions on Tzara and, more widely, on the humanist avant-garde.
Context and Themes
On 5 June 1940, Germany launched a military offensive on north-west France. Paris was swiftly overcome. With thousands of others, Tristan Tzara joined the exodus, taking refuge in the unoccupied south. Between August and September of 1940, while in the village of La Favière on the Côte d’Azur, Tzara completed La Fuite (The Flight). Described by Tzara as a “dramatic poem,” La Fuite would be his most personal stage play, analogizing his flight from occupied Paris and his forced isolation from family during the war. At a broad level, La Fuite deals with history as both cyclical and dynamic, the perpetual repetition of conflict and migration in human history, and the subsequent fracturing of families and friendships. In the context of La Fuite, then, the socio-political features of the contemporary world – such as racial and ethnic violence, and armed conflict in Europe – represent not a sudden and shocking regression from a previous state but rather form part of a continuum which must be understood and resisted.
La Fuite also narrates the flight of individuals from those they love, and the moral and emotional conflict between individual ambition and loyalty to family and other groups. It is a universal story about the complexity of human relationships, through which Tzara exposes a transparent humanism in a language that is very different from Dada and only partially accounted for by surrealism. Indeed, its form and content, La Fuite reads as a complex and little known play text that more properly resembles the major works associated with the Theater of the Absurd but which also pre-dates them. Ethically and philosophically, La Fuite also pre-aligns with Sartre’s explanation of individual and collective accountability as described in his seminal work Existentialism is a Humanism (1946), in which it is argued that we ‘realize ourselves’ in ‘realizing a type of humanity’. In La Fuite Tzara writes as an individual bearing what Sartre calls ‘the responsibility of the choice which, in committing myself, also commits the whole of humanity.’
Thus La Fuite encapsulates a range of major topics targeted by this special issue in relation to Tzara and others with whom he is associated in different ways: the use of avant-garde culture to articulate experiences and choices in contexts of displacement, flight, violence, and conflict; a form of post-war cultural engagement that is at once oblique and profound; the search for new forms of artistic expression that respond to the urgencies of the moment and look forward to the future; the renewal of an age-old humanism; experimental writing as a challenge to theories and practices of translation; Dada and post-Dada; debates about the history, composition, and fundamentals of post-World-War-II avant-garde culture(s), such as the Theatre of the Absurd, neo-Dada, Lettrism, and so on.
This special issue celebrates the depth and difficulty of Tristan Tzara’s humanism by presenting the first English language translation of The Flight, by O’Neill, and which will be introduced jointly by the co-editors.
In addition, we welcome contributions on the work of Tristan Tzara during and beyond the Dada period, and on other figures whose life and work intersect Tzara’s. Within the over-arching focus described above, indicative themes for contributions include the following:
• Experimental writing and displacement/ refuge/ asylum/ conflict
• Family and friendship
• Love and violence
• Free verse and translation
• Absurdism, Humanism, Existentialism
• Play texts, theatre, performance
• Tzara and Romania
• The avant-garde diaspora
• Understanding Tzara and other avant-gardists in new guises, contexts and cultures
• Tzara and the Spanish Civil War/ anti-Soviet insurrection and the Hungarian Revolution
• Avant-garde activism
• Links to contemporary activism
• The avant-garde and progressive living: individuality and collectivity
• Tzara and the avant-garde in relation to contemporary challenges and debates
Please send a title and 300-word abstract, a brief biography (including any institutional affiliations and list of any relevant previous publications) and an optional written sample of your proposed paper to Erica O’Neill (Erica.ONeill@glasgow.ac.uk) and Stephen Forcer (Stephen.Forcer@glasgow.ac.uk) by 1 July 2022.
Please note that we very much welcome proposals from colleagues working in a range of contexts including active Postgraduate students, early career and independent scholars.
It is hoped to communicate decisions by 15 July 2022.
Papers accepted at the outline stage will be due in full (5,000-8,000 words) by 28 February 2023.
Each submitted paper will be double-blind peer reviewed, with final decisions communicated subsequently.
For queries about the special issue, please contact Erica O’Neill and Stephen Forcer at the email addresses above.