Dada does St. Julien-le-Pauvre
You were invited - or forewarned - by the myriad posters put up throughout Paris in their signature typography and perhaps even enticed by the proposition of the distributon of silk stockings afterward. What was the to-do about ?
The poster called for a Dada rendez-vous in the garden of St. Julien-le-Pauvre, a medieval church and one-time pilgrim's hospice just a stone's throw from Notre Dame, Thursday, 14 April, 1921, at three o'clock.
"Dadaists passing through Paris, wishing to remedy the incompetence of docents and suspect guides, have decided to undertake a series of tours at chosen sites, particularly those which really have no reason to exist [...] To take part in this first visit is to appreciate human progress, possible destruction, and the necessity of pursuing our action which you will by all means willingly encourage. "*
The usual suspects signed off : Gabrielle Buffet, Louis Aragon, Jean Arp, Paul Éluard, Th. Fraenkel, J. Hussar, Benjamin Péret, Francis Picabia, Georges Ribemont-Desssaignes, Jacques Rigaut, Philippe Soupault, Tristan Tzara and André Breton,
Breton was the man behind the curtain and during the tour he was portrayed in a drawing as pope. The Dada pontiff organized these happenings at "lieux dérisoires" or paltry places, and it's true that you can walk past St. Julien without even realizing that you've passed a structure more venerable even than Notre Dame herself. But the Dadaists went beyond its unobtrusivness to calling it a pathetic, even ludicrous site. This was part and parcel of their animus against monuments to a past and a civilization that they saw as inevitably leading to slaughter of the Great War, and the world, they considered, had suffered quite enough.
So what might a Dada tour have looked like?
Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes was docent. He took a big Larousse dictionary and turned by chance to whichever pages and read their content before a a column or a sculpture, those that you can still see in the church's garden that is also a public park, now as then.
So the next time you come to Paris you can go there with your friends, or put up posters notifying people and convoking them, and before whatever pile of gothic remains you can turn to your portable OED or Merriam Webster and by turning to the first page that opens, explain that the stones thus gazed upon can be explicated by that chance entry in the dictionary, be it the explanation of "phosphine" or a the definition of 'bletherskite." For added fun use the Urban Dictionary instead on your smart phone.
Just be sure to invite me. And have those silk stockings at the ready.
*Saint Julien le Pauvre, jeudi 14 avril à 3 h., rendez-vous dans le jardin de l'église, rue Saint Julien le Pauvre (métro Saint-Michel et Cité). Les dadaïstes de passage à Paris voulant remédier à l'incompétence de guides et de cicerones suspects, ont décidé d'entreprendre une série de visites à des endroits choisis, en particulier à ceux qui ont vraiment pas de raison d'exister, - C'est à tort qu'on insiste sur le pittoresque (Lycée Janson de Sailly), l'intérêt historique (Mont Blanc) et la valeur sentimentale (La Morgue). - La partie n'est pas perdue mais il faut agir vite. - Prendre part à cette première visite c'est se rendre compte du progrès humain, des destructions possibles et de la nécessité de poursuivre notre action que vous tiendrez à encourager par tous les moyens.