- Between Modernism and Surrealism: Dada in Portugal
In his anthology Textos de afirmação e de combate do movimento surrealista mundial (loosely translated: “Texts of affirmation and opposition of the worldwide surrealist movement”), Mário Cesariny, perhaps Portugal’s most acclaimed surrealist artist, sets out to do just what his title suggests: to reconstruct the history of the surrealist movement as it manifests itself around the world. Although Cesariny confined himself in his subtitle to the years 1924–1976, he actually begins his anthology with a series of dadaist texts dated from the early 1910s, when the movement began. He starts with an excerpt of Tzara’s Seven Dada Manifestos (1916), an excerpt of Hugo Ball’s Fight Out of Time (1916) followed by his Phonetic Poems (1917), and includes an excerpt of Marcel Duchamp’s Ninety-three Documents from 1911 to 1915. Next, Erick Satie’s Venomous Obstacles (1914) makes an appearance, followed by poems by Pierre Albert-Birot (1916), letters from Jacques Vaché to Breton and Aragon (from 1917 to 1918), and Picabia’s excerpt of the periodical 391, among other texts and authors, until dada reaches its zenith—or, its culmination, as it were—with Breton’s Drop Everything (1922), and a final excerpt of Benjamin Peret’s Les parasites voyagent (1923).
Cesariny argues for a strong connection between dada and surrealism. In his preface, he calls attention to the “massive adherence of the dadaists to the new movement,”1 and stresses that, “None of the great writers, of the great painters who came from dada to surrealism (such as Ernst, Arp, Tzara, Péret, Man Ray, Duchamp) changes a line, painted or written, to the anti-speech speech that was being declared since the emergence of dada in Zurich, in 1916” (11).2 [End Page 277]
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It is clear that the Portuguese poet is not alone when he includes the dadaist experience as an integral part of surrealism, whether in its affirmation or its negation of the movement. Marcel Raymond, for instance, goes beyond this assertion in From Baudelaire to Surrealism, where he weaves together the many different -isms to create a comprehensive history detailing the interconnectedness of these movements in France since the nineteenth century. In fact, when analyzing Portuguese literature, it is common to see dada’s presence in both symbolist and surrealist-influenced art, [End Page 278] making surrealism the ultimate dada experience. In another affirmation, dating from 1966, Cesariny proclaimed that “dada was a baptism, a late one, after the child’s birth,”3 arguing that “In the cases of Arp, Schwitters, Man Ray, Richter, and many others, we do not see a contradiction between their triumphant dada periods and the works that they did afterwards, whether these took on a surrealist bent or not” (109).4
The first Portuguese avant-garde movement, modernismo, also referred to as the “first modernism,” was born of the hands of Fernando Pessoa, Mário de Sá-Carneiro, and José de Almada Negreiros in 1915. While there were certainly others responsible for the emergence of modernismo, these three men remain the most recognized and studied artists to have partaken in it. Together, they published two volumes of the periodical Orpheu, and also put together a third volume that was not published at the time because Mário de Sá-Carneiro’s father refused to continue funding the project. Yet this short-lived avant-garde periodical, edited mainly by young artists and surviving for only one year, left an indelible mark on the history of Portuguese literature. It caused “a public reaction of refusal and insult,” as Fernando Cabral Martins states in the foreword of a 1989 facsimile of Orpheu, which included a draft of the publication’s third volume.5 This “public reaction” would become the essence, or even the trademark of avant-garde literature’s reception at...